Signs and Symptoms of Animal Maltreatment

Animal maltreatment encompasses a wide continuum of neglectful and abusive behaviors by humans towards animals. The most prevalent animal victims are domestic companion animals and domesticated working animals.


Physical Signs of Animal Neglect or Cruelty

  • extremely thin or emaciated animals
  • wounds that are open or recently healed
  • injuries that appear to be ongoing or untreated
  • signs of multiple wounds or injuries
  • limping, inability to walk or stand normally
  • neck wounds from embedded collars or restraints
  • skin or fur that is infested with parasites, fleas, ticks
  • skin conditions that have been untreated (often hair loss, rashes, dryness-scaling)
  • matted fur, excessively dirty coat, overgrown nails (due to inadequate care and grooming)
  • heavy discharge from eyes or nose
  • observation of an animal being struck or physically abused
  • observation of deliberate animal fighting
  • extreme lethargy, disorientation or confusion
  • behavioral problems (especially aggression)
  • dehydration
  • obesity

Environmental Signs 

  • animals tethered, chained or tied up for long periods of time
  • inadequate food and/or water (including unsanitary food and water)
  • presence of toxic materials, poisons, trash, broken glass or other objects that can cause harm
  • insufficient protection (shelter) from weather elements
  • cages or kennels that do not allow for normal movement or are overly crowded with too many animals
  • presence of objects used for training fighting animals or evidence of fighting activity

“Owner” Considerations

  • owners describe that injuries occurred in a manner that is illogical or has major discrepancies
  • a child’s description of a how an animal was injured varies significantly different from the descriptions of adults in the home
  • family has had many animals with little explanation or concern about what happened to previous animals
  • a general lack of concern about the condition of pets or learning about proper care for animals
  • continual lack of concern regarding the seriousness of a medical condition
  • disregard for the pain/discomfort an animal is experiencing due to an injury or illness
  • lack of follow up on serious medical issues that require veterinary care
  • history of using multiple veterinarians to hide patterns of injuries or neglect
  • minimal concerns about their inability to properly care for animals
  • primarily focused on keeping aggressive animals
  • previous histories of animal cruelty or neglect
  • nonchalance or indifference toward an animal’s cause of injuries