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Connection between Animal Abuse and Human Abuse

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Whiskers, Paws and Love Inc. Team

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    Domestic Violence impacts more than 10 million people in the United States a year. And of the households where domestic abuse occurs, seventy-one percent (71%) of the pets in these households are also victims of abuse. Pets are often targets of domestic violence because it allows the abuser to exert power and coercive control over their victim. And pets are usually an important source of emotional support for abuse victims. Survivors who experience co-occurring animal abuse often experience more severe and frequent abuse than those without animal abuse. (According to "National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. (2022). Domestic Violence and Pets") Therefore it is important to recognize the signs of both animal and human abuse and as you’ll see the signs are quite similar.

    Signs of Animal Abuse

    Pets, like people, can be abused in different ways. There is obvious physical abuse, but pets can also be emotionally abused which can then result in different signs of distress.

    Physical Abuse on Animals

    Physical Abuse can manifest in different forms. Some signs may include:

    • Signs of injuries, especially those that don’t appear to be treated or cared for
    • Lack of human care
    • Parasites and extremely matted coats
    • Malnutrition
    • Individual is seen striking or kicking the pet

    Emotional Abuse on Animals

    Emotional abuse of an animal can mimic physical abuse in specific actions of the abuser, but also have an emotional impact on a pet. Our pets view us as their people, pack, or whatever term you like to use, and they freely offer us their unconditional love, but also require our help to keep them safe and sound. Not reciprocating the emotional bond or even not meeting their basic needs can bring emotional distress to them. Some signs of emotional abuse can include:

    • Abandonment
    • Unsanitary conditions
    • Constantly confined
    • No access to fresh water or food
    • Lack of human interactions

    Many of these abuses could be viewed as both physical and emotional abuse.

    Fear-Based Abuse on Animals

    Abuse can also manifest into a pet’s reactions to different situations and actions. This is most demonstrated in fear or anxiety-based reactions. Some signs of this can include:

    • Hostile, aggressive behavior or showing severe signs of distress
    • Overly submissive or fearful behavior
    • Bites, scratches, or attempts to flee when approached or petted
    • Unprovoked whining, whimpering, or crying
    • Reflexive reaction with certain hands, feet, or motions

    This fear-based aggression shows emotional distress of an animal.Pets have no voice to cry out for help. They can’t alert authorities or have a quiet talk with their veterinarian. So please be the eyes and ears of any animals you may encounter that you believe are being abused and if needed, call your local authorities.

    However, it must be noted that not all these signs immediately point to a domestic violence situation or even active animal abuse. These signs could point to an animal having bad experiences in the past, but as anybody that has worked with rescued animals can tell you, many pets come in with fear or anxiety-based behaviors just from the process of going through abandonment and the shelter/rescue experience due to emotional toll, but many of these pets once they feel safe resort back to their happy and healthy selves.

    Financial Abuse on Animals

    One form of abuse often overlooked is controlling a person by controlling their access to financial resources. This would manifest indirectly towards a pet and some signs of this can include:

    • Denying medical care or to a victim’s pet
    • Denying food to a victim’s pet
    • Denying grooming to a victim’s pet

    This denial of basic care to a pet may present as the pet being injured with no signs of treatment, severely underweight or extremely matted hair. These signs are very similar to signs of physical abuse, but the excuses for these signs may be the victim saying they don’t have enough time, or the pet isn’t in that bad of condition.

    Signs of Human Abuse

    Unfortunately, the signs of abuse of a partner can mirror those of animal abuse. However, since we as human beings can process our experiences in different ways than animals, we can be better at hiding these abuses.

    Physical Abuse

    Physical abuse for humans can also be exhibited in many ways, and some include:

    • Black eyes or bruises
    • Busted lips
    • Red or purple marks on the neck
    • Sprained wrists

    Most victims will try and explain these away due to accidents or clumsiness, but reoccurring signs can point to abuse.

    Emotional Abuse

    Emotional abuse will also manifest in different ways depending on that person and some of these signs can include:

    • Anxiety and apprehension
    • Unusual sleep habits
    • Apologetic or meek
    • Loss of interest in daily activities
    • Depression or suicidal thoughts 

    Remember these signs may show in different forms and sometimes you just notice that the person is acting differently than they have in the past or appears much more anxious.

    Fear-Based Abuse

    These signs can also be different because we, as people, can try and avoid abuse by not trying to agitate the abuser. These fear or anxiety abuse signs can include:

    • Anxiety or nervousness when away from home and/or abuser for too long of a time
    • Overly anxious to please their partner
    • Children may seem overly timid, frightened, or extremely well-behaved when on specific partner is around
    • Victim makes excuses for bruises as accidents.

    Financial Abuse

    As stated, a form of abuse is controlling a person by controlling their access to financial resources. Some signs of this can include:

    • Fear, anger, guilt, shame, or anxiety about money.
    • Lack of control over finances, or not having access to financial information or resources.
    • Sudden change in financial situation, or unexplained withdrawals or transfers.
    • Isolation from family or friends, or being prevented from seeking financial help or advice.

    Again, this type of abuse is meant to retain control over a person and not allow them to make independent choices that could result in them leaving an abusive situation.


    Helping someone who is a Domestic Violence victim can be a very delicate matter. Learning warning signs may help make you feel more comfortable being a sympathetic ear or urging the person to reach out to professionals that can help. If you are in a domestic violence situation and want help, please reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or www.TheHotline.org.