What might it mean if a child or youth is engaging in more serious or repeated acts of animal cruelty?

Animal cruelty may be an early indicator of aggressive or anti-social tendencies for some children and youth or may be associated with child maltreatment in the child’s environment that is being “acted out” on animals. For other children, animal cruelty may be symptomatic of mental health issues or reactions to trauma experiences. Deliberate acts of violence toward animals by young children are often indicators of significant levels of psychological and emotional disturbance and call for a thorough animal cruelty “offense specific” evaluation and therapeutic intervention.

Animal cruelty is one of the diagnostic features of Conduct Disorder in children and youth in the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition), and Colorado Revised Statute 18-9-202 includes provisions for ordering evaluation and treatment. Law enforcement, prosecutors and judges are encouraged to fully utilize the Statute for any child or youth that has engaged in serious or repeated acts of animal cruelty. Finally, it is appropriate to order “offense specific” evaluations, case specific supervision conditions and treatment relevant to the diagnostic issues presented by the specific child or youth.