Is animal abuse an indicator or precursor for child abuse?

There have been many scholars and researchers that have found a link between the way people treat animals and the way they treat humans.  Beck (1981) argues that “animal abuse has been long over-looked as an indicator, monitor, and even precursor to the antisocial behaviors people inflict on each other, including child abuse and neglect, spouse beating, rape and homicide.”

The child abuse factor was explored in a study done by DeViney, Dickert, & Lockwood (1983) where 53 families with pets and who were also “involved with the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services for reasons of child abuses” were interviewed for the study.  The majority of the respondents were the adults within the households.

It was first important for the researchers to define animal abuse by determining the criteria:

  • Observable pain and suffering done to an animal that is beyond societal norms
  •  Causing the inhumane death of an animal
  •  Animal abandonment where it cannot survive
  •  Failure to provide care, nutrition, or inhumane constraints

The study found that the bulk of these families exhibited a lack of care for the pets in the household.  However, many also reported great affection for the animals.  Although there is compelling evidence of a link between child abuse and animal abuse, the findings of the study and the relationship between the two types of abuse remain a complex issue.


Beck, A.M. (1981).  Guidelines for planning pets in urban areas.  In Bruce Fogle (ed.) Interrelations between People and Pets.  Springfield, ILL; C.C. Thomas pp.231-240.

DeViney, E., Dickert, J., & Lockwood, R. (1983).  The care of pets within child abusing families.  International Journal for the Study of Animal Problems, 4:  21-329.

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