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Animal Neglect and Abuse

  • May 22, 2018 11:39 AM EDT

    In a recent Specialty Update we report on the findings of a retrospective study that provides us with an estimate of the prevalence of neglect and abuse of dogs and cats, risk factors, as well as current laws regarding the reporting of such incidents in the United States. This study is the first of its kind to report on the frequency of signs of abuse in dogs and cats that had been submitted to a large veterinary diagnostic laboratory in the U.S.

    Although the Animal Welfare Act was signed into law in the 1960's, it only provides standards for the humane treatment and care of animals bred for sale, exhibited to the public, used in biomedical research, or transported commercially. 

    In general, the types of maltreatment of animals include:

    • Neglect - failure to provide food, water, shelter, grooming or sanitation, or veterinary care resulting in poor physical condition, debilitation, or death

    • Abuse - willful negligence, failure to provide care, or maltreatment resulting in harm regardless of the intent. Abuse includes:

      • Physical abuse (non-accidental injury) - infliction of blunt or sharp-force injury (e.g. beating, kicking, throwing, stabbing, burning, choking, etc)

      • Emotional abuse - threatening an animal by gestures or yelling leading to a fragile emotional state

      • Sexual abuse - a sexual act or physical abuse involving the genitalia, rectum, or anus

    • Cruelty - any intentional or neglectful act that causes unnecessary pain or suffering

    Whereas animal cruelty is a crime in all states, laws and provisions vary from state to state, as do the definitions of "neglect," "abuse," and "cruelty." 

    Criminal investigation of animal neglect or abuse cases by law enforcement or animal care or control agencies is heavily dependent on the reporting of known or suspected cases. Veterinary and animal care professionals are knowledgeable about animal husbandry and welfare and are often among the first to encounter victims of animal neglect or abuse. Not all cases are straightforward, however, and cases may be complicated by situational family violence or abuse. In fact, a strong link has been established between animal abuse and family or community violence.

    Although animal cruelty is unlawful in all states, states also vary in their regulations and requirements regarding the actual reporting of known or suspected animal neglect or abuse. Laws are continually evolving, however in the U.S. - as of Spring 2018 - 17 states have mandatory reporting of animal abuse, 21 states have non-mandatory reporting laws, and 12 states have no laws enacted regarding the reporting of animal neglect or abuse. [Abuse Reporting Requirments by State]

    People may be relunctant to report cases of animal neglect or abuse due to fear of reprisal. There may be a concern for their own safety or the safety of their staff should the accused seek retribution. Concerns have also been expressed regarding liability - and thus legal action - should a report of suspected neglect or abuse be determined untrue or unfounded. Individuals should be aware that many states provide immunity from liability, and certainly thorough documentation of history and physical examination findings in a detailed medical record (including photographs, x-rays, etc.) is helpful for substantiating cause for concern and minimizing civil or criminal liability exposure.

    Learn more about: Animal Abuse and Neglect