Animal Mistreatment: How to Identify and Report Animal Cruelty

Animals are leaving our workforce, entertainment venues, and even our plates to spend more time in our homes and affections at this time in history. But we must confront the reality of their long history of suffering, including as pets.

In the late 19th century, dogs were routinely drowned to control companion overpopulation and prevent rabies transmission through bites. Pets were routinely abducted and subjected to testing or scientific experiments without anesthesia during the middle of the 20th century. Despite the fact that today dogs, cats, and other “pet” animals enjoy greater protection than in the past, many are still mistreated, and billions of animals continue to endure unimaginable suffering on factory farms around the globe.

animal cruelty

What Is Abuse of Animals?

Abuse of animals typically refers to either deliberate action that causes injury to an animal or inaction that results in harm to an animal. Examples of intentional acts of cruelty include dogfighting and animal torment. An example of neglectful animal abuse is neglecting to provide a dog kept outside with water or shelter. It is essential to recognize that the current legal definition of animal cruelty is inconsistent. What is considered animal cruelty in one circumstance is not in another. For instance, it would likely be considered neglectful to routinely expect canines or cats to go 28 hours without food or water, whereas farm animals such as cattle or sheep can be transported for up to 28 hours without food or water. Differences in the legal definitions of key terms such as “animal,” “abuse,” and “neglect” are primarily to blame for the inconsistency in defining animal abuse. Many laws intentionally exclude the most commonly domesticated animal species. Different sources also disagree on which specific behaviors constitute abuse.

What Kinds of Animal Abuse Exist?

Improper Confinement

Two principal types of improper confinement exist. The first is leaving an animal in a vehicle in extreme heat. In recent years, there has been a rise in both awareness and legislation surrounding this issue. Currently, 31 states either prohibit the confinement of animals in vehicles under hazardous conditions (such as extreme heat) or safeguard those who break into vehicles to rescue an animal they suspect is in distress. The other type of improper confinement considered animal cruelty is neglecting to provide an animal with adequate food, water, shelter, and exercise while it is confined for an extended period of time.


Animal fighting is a cruel practice involving the pitting of two or more creatures against one another for entertainment. Observers of the bouts will frequently engage in wagering. Dogfighting and cockfighting, which entails roosters, are two of the most common forms of fighting. Typically, a dogfight or cockfight will continue until one of the combatants is killed or unable to continue.

Another form of animal combat involves the use of bait animals. In hog catching, a dog is timed on how quickly it can subdue a feral hog with its tusks removed, and in rat baiting, a dog is timed on how quickly it can exterminate a number of rats in a pit.

The third form of animal fighting involves at least one human and multiple animals. Bullfighting, in which a human attempt to subdue, immobilize, or slay a bull — typically with swords or other weapons — is a popular example of this.

Most nations prohibit animal combat, though laws vary by species.

Animal Experimentation

Animal experimentation involves testing the efficacy and safety of pharmaceuticals and cosmetics on animals. Although there has been an increase in laws restricting or prohibiting the use of animals in cosmetic research, it is still common practice in medical trials.

Animal Suffering Attributable to Factory Farming Each year, billions of animals are harmed by factory farming. In order to increase the economic viability of meat production, animals are confined in filthy, overcrowded conditions, bred for unsustainable and painful growth, and repeatedly impregnated with little or no respite between pregnancies.


Neglect is a broad term that generally refers to failing to provide adequate care for an animal, resulting in its suffering. This can include failing to provide water, having too many animals to adequately care for each, failing to provide necessary medical care, or leaving an animal outside in frigid temperatures.


Beating is a form of intentional animal cruelty that can have legal consequences in many countries around the world, including all 50 states of the United States. According to a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, using positive reinforcement techniques, such as giving treats or attention, rather than negative ones, such as thrashing, generally results in greater animal welfare and greater attentiveness to the handler.

Which Animals Are the Most Frequent Victims of Animal Mistreatment?

When considering the actual actions performed against animals that cause them harm, the animals that are most frequently abused are those that are most frequently farmed. This is due to the fact that standard factory farm practices, such as tail docking in piglets and beak clipping in chickens, would be deemed cruel if conducted on a pet without direct veterinary supervision. In addition to agricultural animals, dogs, cats, horses, and birds are also subjected to significant levels of cruelty.


According to data from animal welfare organizations and local government, there were 138,407 cases of dog and cat abandonment in Spain in 2018. However, only 661 instances of dog and cat mistreatment and abandonment were identified as such, and only 459 cases resulted in an investigation or detention. This indicates that less than one percent of suspected cases of dog maltreatment resulted in an arrest.

dog cases


Due in part to their association with witchcraft and evil, cats have a lengthy and traumatic history of being mistreated. Cats have been subjected to a longer period of ambivalence and suffering than their canine counterparts, which has resulted in a higher incidence of most types of intentional maltreatment.

cat cases


In addition to their position as companion animals, horses are frequently employed by their handlers to perform services. This means that in addition to traditional forms of neglect and intentional abuse, they are also susceptible to substance abuse. Overriding—riding a horse too far or too quickly for too long, transporting without adequate food, water, or pauses, and soring are examples of prohibited practices. The final method involves inflicting pain on a horse’s limbs to compel them to travel in a particular manner; it is most common among competing horses.

horse workforce


Due to the ease with which they can be obtained and a general lack of knowledge regarding their needs and appropriate care, birds are typically the most severely affected by neglect. Abuse and neglect of birds are exacerbated by the fact that they are exempt from many animal welfare laws. This means that even when they are maintained in conditions of neglect and abuse, it is frequently not considered a crime.

bird protection

How to Recognize Animal Cruelty

Recognizing animal cruelty can be difficult. Consider providing resources or speaking with the animal’s caretakers if the situation appears secure and you suspect cruelty or neglect is occurring. Frequently, guardians lack the knowledge and resources necessary to provide animals with the necessary care.

Outward Indications of Cruelty

Important physical indicators of animal cruelty include:

  • A look of underweight
  • Untreated wounds
  • Denim blazer
  • Broken bones or hobbling
  • Unprovoked hostility
  • Flinching
  • Whimpering or whining

Environment-Related Indicators of Cruelty

The animal’s environment can provide additional indications. Look for:

  • Absence of sustenance or water
  • Absence of shelter
  • Constantly exterior
  • Dirty or hazardous environment
  • Frequent confinement in confined spaces
  • Frequent tethering absent of oversight

Where is animal cruelty most prevalent?

The majority of animal cruelty occurs in factory farms. Inflicted suffering includes confinement in confined spaces, a lack of natural light, castration without anesthesia, suffocation, and force-feeding, among a seemingly endless list of other forms of torture.

Animal Abuse Facts

Why Do Humans Mistreat Animals?

People mistreat creatures for various reasons. Occasionally, as in the case of animal combat, it is for amusement. Numerous hoarders will assert that they are attempting to rescue and assist animals. Some animals are abused or neglected due to a lack of knowledge about appropriate animal care or a deficiency of resources to meet their needs. Many animals are mistreated for sustenance production. Each case of animal maltreatment and neglect is unique and must be treated as such.

Relationship With Domestic Abuse

One of the most disturbing reasons people abuse animals is to manipulate those who adore them. By displaying violence toward the animals in a home, abusers can maintain control over their victims through their concern for their own safety and the safety of the animal. This association is now referred to as “the link.”

Repercussions of Animal Cruelty

Animal cruelty can have both mental and physical consequences. Abuse and neglect can result in aggression, fear, broken bones, and suffering for the animal. Witnessing animal cruelty can cause mental distress and can be used to control domestic violence victims, exposing them to further physical violence.

Animal Abuse Cases

Each year, a number of new cases of animal cruelty and neglect are decided by courts across the nation. Animal Law Center at Michigan State University has an extensive collection of case summaries in its library. Situations range from stabbings to the abandonment of stolen animals throughout the United States.

State Legislative Tendencies to Stop Animal Abuse

In 2014, South Dakota became the last state to add a felony provision to its animal cruelty law. This means that in each of the fifty states, animal abusers could be charged with a felony instead of a misdemeanor, resulting in harsher penalties.

First Versus Subsequent Offenses

The first offense of animal cruelty or neglect is typically treated more leniently than subsequent offenses. Despite this, only Iowa does not have a law authorizing a felony penalty for a first offense of animal cruelty or neglect.

Modifications to Federal Tracking

In 2016, the federal government began separating animal cruelty from “other” offenses in its national crime reporting system. However, only about one-third of the nation’s population resides in communities that utilize the system to submit crimes. Although the data is incomplete, preliminary findings indicate that one case of animal cruelty occurs for every 33,00 persons.

How to Report Abuse of Animals

If you suspect animal cruelty or neglect in your community, you can contact the local shelter or animal control agency. These professionals should then be able to refer you to the appropriate authority or other resources that may be able to assist you. Additionally, they can provide additional direction on how to proceed.

The Way Forward

Abuse of animals is a tragic reality on every continent. Abusers have had an effect on every animal species. Thankfully, we can alleviate the distress of animals at the hands of humans by working together. Donating to organizations like Beyond Fences can aid in reducing the number of animals that are chained in yards or roaming the streets. Pets for Life aids in the provision of veterinary care and spay/neuter procedures for pets living in destitution. Donating your time or other resources to your local animal shelter can assist in providing the highest quality of care for animals in temporary housing. If available in your community, another option is to foster the companion of someone fleeing domestic violence so that they can leave without worrying about their pet’s safety. Every animal deserves an existence without pain and suffering. Together, we can realize that ambition.

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