Animal Abuse

Did you know?1

Cruelty to pets within a home is an example of domestic violence. Intentional animal cruelty can also be one of the earliest and most dramatic indicators that an individual is developing a pattern of seeking power and control by inflicting suffering on others.

Research shows that there are definite links between animal cruelty and human violence. Many studies in Canada and the U.S. have demonstrated this connection. Some of the key findings are:

  • Violent offenders often have histories of serious and repeated animal cruelty in their childhood and adolescence.
  • Cruelty to animals is widely recognized as a warning sign that a child may need help to prevent further violence.
  • Family pets are often targets in domestic violence, and threats of violence toward a pet are often used as a means of control by an abusive spouse.
  • Many victims of domestic violence remain in an abusive situation out of concern for the safety of their pet.

Why Should I Be Concerned About Animal Cruelty?

Cruelty to pets within a home is an example of domestic violence. Animal cruelty is often accompanied by other forms of violence and abuse, such as child abuse, spousal abuse and abuse of older adults.

  • An abused spouse or child may find it easier to disclose animal cruelty than mistreatment of themselves or another family member. The evidence of animal cruelty may be more readily observed and lead to an investigation that uncovers other forms of abuse.
  • There is a growing awareness that young people who deliberately abuse animals are at risk of developing other violent tendencies.
    There is some indication that children who witness cruelty to animals may demonstrate more aggressive behaviours.

How Does Animal Cruelty Impact Victims of Domestic Violence?

For many victims of domestic violence, their relationship to their pet is their strongest positive connection with another living being.

  • In abusive relationships, pets are often targeted by the abusive partner and threatened or killed in order to exert power and maintain control over the victim.
  • Since emergency shelters are often unable to accommodate pets, many victims (up to 50% in some studies) delay leaving an abusive situation out of fear for what might happen to their pet.

What Should I Do If A Child Discloses Animal Cruelty?

Contact the Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) or your local SPCA/humane society. Their staff can discuss the case with you to determine appropriate action. If warranted, an Animal Protection Officer will investigate and work to protect the animal.

Child and Family Services Authority (CFSA) could also be informed. Social workers are aware of the fact that animal abuse can be an indicator of other problems in the home.

How To Get Help

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911.

If you suspect that a child is being abused or neglected by a parent or guardian, report your suspicions immediately. Call the police, your local Child and Family Services Authority or the 24-hour Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-387-KIDS (5437).

For help in your community or for more information, please call the 24-hour Family Violence Info Line toll-free in Alberta at 310-1818 or visit Help is available in over 170 languages.

Materials and Resources

The SPCA has resources on animal cruelty and its links to family violence. In a family violence situation, an abusive person may threaten to or actually harm a pet as a method of control.

For more information about family violence, see the Materials and Resources web page.


1The following content paraphrases Alberta SPCA’s August 2013 publication The cruelty connection – The Relationships between Animal Cruelty, Child Abuse and Domestic Violence. Retrieved June 2, 2014 from

Modified: 2014-06-02
PID: 15694