Links between animal cruelty and domestic violence

Is animal cruelty a “red flag” for family violence? investigating co-occurring violence toward children, partners, and pets

From Journal of Interpersonal Violence

This week in the UK a nation of animal lovers were horrified at the CCTV footage circulated on YouTube that caught a woman throwing a cat in a wheely bin. For all who cannot comprehend the motivation to perform such an act of cruelty this article may offer some clues as it examines links between animal cruelty and interpersonal violence. Such links have been recognized throughout history. This study highlights formal indications of support by policy makers for a link between animal- and human-directed violence through recent legislation. Several U.S. states have started to codify colloquial belief in these associations with the development of mandated cross-reporting systems for child protection and animal welfare agencies. The research considers if the identification of animal cruelty in a home may serve as a reliable red flag for the presence of child maltreatment or severe domestic violence.


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Cross-reporting legislation, which permits child and animal welfare investigators to refer families with substantiated child maltreatment or animal cruelty for investigation by parallel agencies, has recently been adopted in several U.S. jurisdictions. The current study sheds light on the underlying assumption of these policies—that animal cruelty and family violence commonly co-occur. Exposure to family violence and animal cruelty is retrospectively assessed using a sample of 860 college students. Results suggest that animal abuse may be a red flag indicative of family violence in the home. Specifically, about 60% of participants who have witnessed or perpetrated animal cruelty as a child also report experiences with child maltreatment or domestic violence. Differential patterns of association were revealed between childhood victimization experiences and the type of animal cruelty exposure reported. This study extends current knowledge of the links between animal- and human-directed violence and provides initial support for the premise of cross-reporting legislation.

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Article information:
DeGue, S., & DiLillo, D. (2008). Is Animal Cruelty a “Red Flag” for Family Violence?: Investigating Co-Occurring Violence Toward Children, Partners, and Pets Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 24 (6), 1036-1056 DOI: 10.1177/0886260508319362

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