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What is Animal Abuse? - Definition & Facts

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  • 0:04 Animal Abuse Definition
  • 1:30 Animal Abuse Statistics
  • 2:42 Animal Abuse Signs
  • 3:22 Puppy Mills
  • 4:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Animal abuse includes both deliberate harm done to an animal as well as the failure to properly take care of an animal. In this lesson, you'll learn more about animal abuse, how to identify it, and the legal side of the issue.

Animal Abuse Definition

When we think of abuse, we often think of the physical act of hitting or striking something. That isn't the only definition to abuse, animal or otherwise. Animal abuse can include deliberately hurting or harming an animal. However, it also refers to situations where a human fails to properly take care of an animal under their care. This means that neglecting an animal is considered a form of abuse.

Until recently, animal abuse wasn't tracked consistently by any state or federal agency, making it difficult to estimate the total number of cases of animal abuse that occur. Animal abuse may also be referred to as neglect or cruelty. Specific laws may vary based on state, but generally speaking, it's illegal to withhold food, water, shelter, veterinary care, or a clean and safe living environment from an animal under your care. All of these would be considered a form of animal abuse or, more specifically, neglect. It's also typically illegal to purposefully inflict any type of harm on an animal. This is considered physical animal abuse and is often called animal cruelty.

Finally, animal hoarding has gained attention through TV shows and other media outlets. An animal hoarding situation is one where an owner simply has too many pets to adequately take care of all of them properly. Often, the owner has good intentions, but these scenarios can turn into animal abuse cases where outside organizations need to intervene for the well-being of the animals.

Animal Abuse Statistics

Any animal may be the victim of abuse. However, pit bulls are the most commonly reported type of animal abused. Pit bulls are often used in dogfighting, which is a specific form of animal cruelty and is very much illegal in the United States.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, one study conducted in the late '90s showed that approximately 70% of domestic (human) abuse victims reported their abusers also targeted the family pet(s). This indicates that it's not uncommon for abusers to harm both animals and other humans.

Currently, all 50 U.S. states have at least some felony provisions in their animal abuse laws. A felony is a serious crime that results in one or more years in prison. Arson, homicide, and burglary are examples of felonies. Starting in 2016, the FBI will be monitoring and tracking animal abuse in its National Incident-Based Reporting System , or the NIBRS. This is the same system used to track homicides in the USA. The FBI's definition of animal cruelty includes torturing, tormenting, mutilation, maiming, poisoning, or abandonment.

Animal Abuse Signs

Identifying animal abuse can be as easy as knowing what to look for. There are often tell-tale signs when an animal is being abused in addition to actually seeing an animal be hit, kicked, or physically abused.

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