Veterinarian-written / veterinarian-approved articles for your dog.

Animal Cruelty: Signs and Prevention of Cruelty to Dogs

We must work together to end animal abuse.

Animal cruelty is an upsetting problem that is more common than any of us would like to believe. Domestic animals rely on humans for shelter, food, water, and kindness. Too many of them receive the opposite. It's important to know the signs of animal cruelty and what to do if you see it.

There are two types of animal cruelty, and it's important to distinguish between them and understand the difference.

Animal Neglect

This type of cruelty occurs when people don't understand or can't afford proper pet care. It is not necessarily done with malicious intent. Below are some ways in which a dog may be neglected by a person who isn't aware of or doesn't have the means to properly care for the pet.

  • Dog is left outside without proper shelter for the weather conditions.
  • Outside or inside dog is not fed often enough or is not fed the proper diet, resulting in malnutrition.
  • Dog is left outside without proper food or water for the weather conditions.
  • Dog has a medical condition that is not identified or noticed by the owner.
  • Owner has too many dogs and/or other animals to care adequately for all of them (these are animal hoarders).
  • Dog has a medical condition that the owner can't afford to address.

Animal Abuse

This is cruelty that is performed with intent. A person beats, stabs, burns, or otherwise harms a dog purposely. Here are some things to know about animal abuse.

  • Adults or children with emotional problems may abuse animals.
  • People who abuse animals are more likely to be violent toward other people.
  • Households where animals are abused by adults are also highly likely to contain abused children.
  • Children who abuse animals are extremely likely to be violent toward other people when they become adults.
  • Dog-fighting is animal abuse.

Signs of Animal Cruelty

All 50 states have laws against animal cruelty, but law enforcement officials must be made aware of the problem before they can act. It's important to know how to identify the signs of neglect or abuse to dogs.

It is not usually possible to tell from an animal's behavior whether he is being abused. Some dogs are aggressive, fearful, or timid for reasons other than abuse. Therefore, it is necessary to look for clues in the dog's environment and on the dog himself, such as:

  • Open wounds. A dog that is being abused or used for dog-fighting will often have open wounds that appear to be untreated.
  • Signs of multiple healed wounds. Abused dogs have often suffered wounds multiple times; they may have scars or missing body parts like ears and parts of the tail.
  • Chronic injury that isn't being treated. An injury or illness may be untreated due to lack of education or finances or because the pet is being maliciously abused.
  • Emaciation. Extreme thinness, usually with many bones visible, is often seen in abused dogs. Starvation is a common sign of animal abuse.
  • Flea or tick infestation. This may be due to lack of knowledge or finances or because the animal is abused and not being taken care of in any way.
  • Matted fur, overgrown nails, dirty coat, and fur covering eyes. Many dog breeds require routine grooming, and they all need intermittent nail trimmings.
  • Weakness or inability to stand. This may indicate malnutrition or dehydration as well as injury.
  • Dog is tied up alone outside for long periods or always, without adequate or clean food and water or human contact. It is recommended that, if you see a dog in this situation, observe the area at different times of day to ensure that it is a consistent condition and not simply a one-time mistake.
  • Dog is outside during bad weather without shelter. Outdoor dogs need shelter from wind, rain, snow, heat, cold, and sun.
  • Dog is in a cage that is too small for him to be able to stand up or turn around. This could also be seen in cases of too many dogs kept in the same cage.
  • Poor sanitation of the area in which the dog is kept. This usually manifests as feces covering the area where the dog is housed and often the dog himself.
  • Dog's collar or chain is too small and may be embedded into the skin of the neck. As dogs grow, they need new collars, and there should always be space for two fingers between the neck and the collar. When a collar or chain is too small for a dog's neck, it will dig into the skin and cause pain and infection.
  • A person hitting, kicking, or otherwise physically harming a dog.If you see someone actively harming a dog, do not confront the person; you may put yourself at risk of injury, as well. If possible, record the incident without being observed to be doing so. If that isn't possible, observe as much as you can about the situation, and call 911.

A dog that is being treated for a medical problem may appear to be unhealthy to an onlooker, especially in the cases of chronic skin condition and lameness. Observing an animal over time can help you to determine if abuse or neglect is occurring.

A Note About Puppy Mills

A puppy mill is a dog breeding situation where many puppies are produced without regard to the puppies' care or to limiting genetic disorders. Puppy mills engage in animal abuse. Not all breeders run puppy mills. There are many who care for the dogs extremely well, and they take care to breed dogs as free from inheritable conditions as possible. The hallmarks of a puppy mill are listed below.

  • Puppy mills are strictly run for profit. There is no concern for maintaining or improving breed standards or decreasing the prevalence of any genetic diseases in the breed. There is no emotional attachment by the owners to the dogs in these operations.
  • Basic veterinary care is not provided to the breeding dogs or puppies in puppy mills.
  • In fact, simple physical care such as cleanliness, exercise, and proper sustenance is not provided.
  • The dogs are fed the cheapest food available without regard to nutrition.
  • Living conditions are extremely uncleanly.
  • Dogs are often kept in tiny cages 100% of the time. They do not go outside. They don't exercise, play, or receive love of any kind.
  • When a female dog stops producing puppies, she is usually killed
  • Puppies born with major, visible defects are killed.
  • Puppies from puppy mills almost always have infections such as giardia, whipworm, roundworm, kennel cough, and upper respiratory infection.
  • Puppy mill puppies often have genetic disorders common to their breed.

You can help put an end to puppy mills by:

  • Not buying puppies from pet stores, at swap meets, or online.

    • When asked, pet stores will deny that they purchase dogs from puppy mills. However, this is generally the only source for pet store puppies. Proper breeders would never sell dogs to a pet store because they want to meet every buyer in person to ensure that their puppies are going to good homes.
  • Adopting a dog from a rescue group or shelter is the best way to acquire a new dog.

    • If you can't find the dog you are looking for that way, and you feel that you must use a breeder, make sure that you are able to visit the facility and see for yourself how the dogs are housed and cared for.
  • Understanding that just because a dog has pedigree papers does not mean that he did not come from a puppy mill. In fact, most puppy mills puppies do have papers. This only signifies that pedigree records were kept for the puppy's ancestors. In fact, puppy mill puppies often come with falsified pedigree papers. Pet stores will often cite the presence of papers as proof that they don't buy from puppy mills. Don't be fooled.

What to Do If You Suspect the Neglect or Abuse of a Dog

If you see someone actively physically abusing a dog, call 911. If you suspect abuse or neglect of a dog, call your local animal control department or animal welfare agency. You can find contact information through a google search. If your community doesn't have a department for animal cruelty cases or isn't able to handle them, contact the Humane Society of the United States at 202-452-1100 or 866-720-2676, and ask to speak with an abuse expert.

Document the details of any incidents or conditions that you observe related to the abuse or neglect that you are reporting including dates, times, places, and the descriptions of any people involved.

We must all work together to protect dogs from abuse and neglect.

ADDENDUM: The FBI has reclassified animal abuse as a felony. This will begin in 2016, and it means that the worst dog abuse cases will be prosecuted the same as murder, burglary, and arson. This is a great step forward in the fight against dog abuse and, by extension, domestic violence.

You May Also Like These Articles:

The Yellow Dog Project: What Does the Yellow Ribbon Mean?

Autism Service Dogs

Microchipping Dogs

Dehydration in Dogs

How to Be Prepared for Your Dog's Veterinary Bills

Pet Insurance = Peace of Mind

Cold Weather Tips for Dogs

Springtime Hazards for Dogs - Slideshow

Foods Toxic to Dogs - Slideshow

Adopting A New Puppy

How to Introduce Dogs and Children

Disclaimer: This website is not intended to replace professional consultation, diagnosis, or treatment by a licensed veterinarian. If you require any veterinary related advice, contact your veterinarian promptly. Information at is exclusively of a general reference nature. Do not disregard veterinary advice or delay treatment as a result of accessing information at this site. Just Answer is an external service not affiliated with

Notice: Ask-a-Vet is an affiliated service for those who wish to speak with a veterinary professional about their pet's specific condition. Initially, a bot will ask questions to determine the general nature of your concern. Then, you will be transferred to a human. There is a charge for the service if you choose to connect to a veterinarian. Ask-a-Vet is not manned by the staff or owners of, and the advice given should not delay or replace a visit to your veterinarian.