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Links between Animal Abuse, Child Abuse and Domestic abuse

1. Overview

1.1 Children and animals have one thing in common - both are easy to hurt. Where serious animal abuse has occurred in a household it may indicate an increased likelihood that some other form of violence is occurring and that children may be at risk of harm. Violence against pets is also used in some cases to coerce, control and intimidate adults and children to remain in, or be silent about, their abusive situation.

1.2 If a child is cruel to animals this may be an indicator, in some cases, that serious neglect and abuse have been inflicted on the child.

1.3 The NSPCC found in one study that out of 72 women in a refuge, 86% had animals in their home and in 80% of those homes the reported abuser had been violent to the pets. A study by the RSPCA found a high association between animal cruelty and families identified by social services as having child abuse or neglect issues (Canadian Voice for Animals UK)


2. Professionals working with children and families should:

  • Incorporate questions and be observant about the care and treatment of family pets in assessments of children and their families, as this may provide useful information about family functioning and/or violence within the household;
  • Incorporate questions about the behaviour of children or young people towards animals within assessments of children or young people who are harming others;
  • Include planning for the safety of animals in the household when planning with victims how they, and their children, may become safe;
  • Whilst not making any assumptions, consider the possibility that children who are repeatedly harming animals may have been abused themselves or may be living in a climate of violence (NSPCC, 2004).