Animal Abuse/Domestic Violence

In 2013, the American Humane Association stated that “71% of pet owning women entering women’s shelters reported that their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control victims” (Facts About Animal Abuse & Domestic Violence, 2013). In addition, The Animal Legal Defense Fund (2014) states that people who mistreat animals are “five times as likely to harm humans” and virtually half of the victims who remain in violent households do so because they fear for their pet’s well-being (ALDF, 2014).

Evidence of the links between child abuse, animal abuse and domestic violence is drawn mainly from studies which relate to cases of serious abuse.

Key findings include:

  • Cruelty to animals by children could be an indicator that serious abuse and neglect have been inflicted on the child.
  • When serious animal abuse occurs in a household it is likely there may be some other forms of family violence occurring.
  • Children present during violence in the home may also be at increased risk of abuse.
  • In some circumstances, acts of animal abuse may be used to intimidate women and children. They coerce and control the victims so they will remain in, or be silent about, their abusive situation.
  • The actual abuse or threat of abuse to a pet can prevent women leaving situations of domestic violence.
  • Ongoing childhood cruelty to animals has been linked to an increased likelihood of violent offending behavior against humans in adulthood.
  • There is an increased likelihood that the adults and children in the household could have been bitten or attacked by the abused pet.
  • Aggressive or sexualized behavior from a child toward their pet may be associated with later abuse of vulnerable adults or other children unless the behavior is recognized and treated.

It appears from these and other studies that animal abuse can be a part of a pattern of family violence, which can include domestic violence and child abuse. However, this does not imply that adults who harm animals are also violent to their partners and/or children and children who are cruel to animals don’t necessarily go on to be violent adults. Assessment along with investigation are keys to determining whether there are any links between these factors and the possible risks to the safety and welfare of children, animals and adults.


1 Department of Health, Home Office, Department for Education and Employment (1999) Working Together to Safeguard Children: A Guide to Inter-Agency Working to Safeguard and Promote Welfare of Children, London: The Stationery Office.

2 Tapia, F. (1971) ‘Children who are cruel to animals’, Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 22, pp. 68 – 72.

3 Friedrich, W. N., Urquiza, A. J. and Beilke, R. L. (1986) ‘Behaviour problems in sexually abused young children’, Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 11, pp. 47 – 57.

4 Piper, H. and Johnson, M., Myers, S., and Pritchard, J. (2001) Why Do People Harm Animals? The Children’s and Young Persons’ Perspective, Manchester Metropolitan University and RSPCA.

5 DeViney, E. Dickert, J. and Lockwood, R. (1983) ‘The care of pets within child abusing families’, International Journal for the Study of Animal Problems, 4, pp. 321 – 9.

6 Hutton, J.S. (1983) ‘Animal abuse as a diagnostic approach in social work: a pilot study’, in Lockwood, R. and Ascione, F.R. (eds.)(1998) Cruelty to Animals and Interpersonal Violence: Readings in Research and Application, Indiana: Purdue University Press, pp.415 – 420.

7 Ponder, C. and Lockwood, R. (2000) ‘Cruelty to animals and family violence’, Training Key, 526, pp.1 – 5. (Published by the International Association of Chief of Police).

8 Adams, C. J. (1998) ‘Bringing peace home: a feminist philosophical perspective on the abuse of women, children and animals’, in Lockwood, R. and Ascione, F. R. (eds.)(1998) Cruelty to Animals and Interpersonal Violence: Readings in Research and Application, Indiana: Purdue University Press, pp. 318 – 340.

9 Ascione, F.R. (1998) ‘Battered women’s reports of their partners’ and their children’s cruelty to animals’, Journal of Emotional Abuse, 1 (1), pp. 119 – 33.

10 Merz-Perez, L., Heide, K.M. and Silverman, I. J. (2001) ‘Childhood cruelty to animals and subsequent violence against humans’, International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 45 (5), 2001, pp. 556 – 573.

11 De Viney et al (1983) op cit.

12 Duffield, G., Hassiotis, A. and Vizard, E. (1998) ‘Zoophilia in young sexual abusers’, Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, 9 (2), pp. 294 – 304.

13 Ascione, F.R. (1993) ‘Children who are cruel to animals: a review of research and implications for developmental psychopathology’, Anthrozoos, 6, pp. 226 – 47.

14 Bell, L. (2001) ‘Abusing Children – Abusing Animals’, Journal of Social Work, 1(2), pp. 223 – 234.

15 Boat, W.B., (1999) ‘Abuse of Children and Abuse of Animals: Using the links to inform child assessment and protection’, in Ascione, F.R. and Arkow, P. (eds.) (1999) Child Abuse, Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse: Linking the Circles of Compassion for Prevention and Intervention, Indiana: Purdue University Press.

16 Bond, H. (2002) ‘Pet projects’ in CareandHealth Magazine, December 11th, Issue 26, pp. 46 – 47.

17 NSPCC/RSPCA (2001) Making the Links (conference report). Intervet UK Ltd (2001) Forging the Links (conference papers), Intervet UK ltd.

18 Munro, H. M. C. and Thrusfield M.V. (2001) ‘Battered pets: features that raise suspicion of non-accidental injury’, Journal of Small Animal Practice, 42, pp. 218 – 226.