Child Maltreatment

Significant findings associating child maltreatment to animal maltreatment are available. The presence of animal maltreatment may be a sentinel for child maltreatment and maltreated children are also more likely to harm animals.


  • The presence of animal cruelty in a home environment may often be an indicator of underlying behavioral or emotional issues with adults and/or children in that home. Extreme animal cruelty is not normative behavior for children.
  • Investigation of animal abuse is often the first point of social services intervention for a family in trouble.
  • Individuals that harm animals often have patterns of emotional, physical and sexual abuse toward humans.
  • Children that abuse animals often are reenacting animal cruelty they have witnessed being done by adults.
  • The presence of animal abuse may be related to other forms of criminal behaviors, exposing children in the environment to potential harm.
  • Abused or neglected animals present a higher safety risk to children than animals that receive humane and proper care.
  • Companion animals may be one of the only consistent sources of non-conditional love and support for children in abusive and neglectful homes.
  • Harm or threat of harm to a child’s companion animal may be used to coerce and intimidate children to comply with abuse and to not report abuse.
  • The strategic use of animals (or talking about them) can yield valuable risk assessment data for investigators.
  • The presence of a calm, safe animal may be a source of comfort and support for children during emotionally difficult experiences such as investigations, court testimony, etc.

Selected Research Findings

DeViney, Dickert, & Lockwood (1983)

  • At least one person in 60% of pet-owning families being investigated for child abuse and neglect had abused animals.
  • At least one person in 88% of pet-owning families being investigated for physical child abuse had abused animals.
  • In one third of the families, the children had abused the animals, using them as scapegoats for their anger.
  • The rate of dog bites and attacks in these homes was 69%, compared with 6% in a control group.

Ascione, Friedrich, Heath, & Hayashi (2003)

  • Sexually abused children were five times more likely to abuse animals than were children who were not sexually abused.

Duffield, Hassiotis, & Vizard (1998)

  • 22% of children who sexually abused other children also had histories of sexually abusing animals.

Robin, ten Bensel, Quigley, & Anderson (1984)

  • 91% of abused children institutionalized for delinquency and emotional disturbances said they had had special pets, and
  • 99% showed very positive feelings toward these pets.
  • Youths reported that abusive adults had frequently punished or intimidated them by killing, harming or removing their pets.

Hutton (1983, Britain)

  • 82% of the families investigated by the RSPCA were also known to social services departments.
  • 61% were known to probation departments.

DeGue & DiLillo (2009)

  • 62.2% of individuals reporting engaging in animal abuse had also experienced child maltreatment or exposure to domestic violence.
  • Individuals reporting abusing animals are more likely to report a history of sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect than non-perpetrators.

Implications for families, communities and professionals working with children:

  • Link informed individuals are more able to identify and intervene with both child maltreatment and animal maltreatment.
  • Cross-reporting can improve human welfare, animal welfare and public safety.
  • Humane education programming with children can potentially increase empathy toward both animals and people.
  • The incorporation of animals (or discussion of them) by Link informed professionals can strengthen investigative outcomes in child maltreatment cases.
  • Use of animal-assisted interventions may be beneficial for children during investigations and/or courtroom testimony.