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A tragic, yet not uncommon occurrence among pet owners is that
of animal abuse. It is hard for many of us to believe how someone
could inflict harm on such loving and devoted creatures, but it
happens. More often than not, it is the stray and wandering dogs
that have been abused. We must be aware of how to take the right
precautions when welcoming a pet into the family, who may have been
abused. You want to make sure the animal knows it is now in a safe
and loving home where it will be cared for properly.
"Some warning signs of abuse and neglect can lead to behavioral
issues of aggression, barking, destructive behavior, disobedient
behavior, and inappropriate elimination that may have lead to owner
punishment" said Dr. M.A. Crist, Clinical Assistant Professor at
Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine. "Conditions that are
suggestive of animal abuse are animal welfare issues such as a poor
physical state, abandonment, the collar grown into the neck, matted
coat, ectoparasite infestation, and no veterinary care. Physical
injuries such as bruising, eye injuries, fractures, repetitive
lesions or injuries, internal injuries, gunshot wounds, drugs,
poisons and drowning are also evidence of abuse. Environmental
concerns such as the large numbers of animals, overcrowding with
dead animals present and human welfare issues with the owner not
able to afford to feed a pet, fighting the animal, or a ritualistic
sacrifice are other conditions that an animal may be a victim of
Oftentimes, if an animal is shy, it is difficult to tell whether
or not they have been abused in the past. Is it shyness, or fear
caused by the abuse?
"Most of the times it is fear triggered from the original abuse"
said Crist. "Correcting this behavior is not always easy but
rehabilitation can occur. Patience and time with the pet will take
pressure off the pet and help speed the healing process. With a
severe fear that was caused by abuse and causes the dog to become
injurious to themselves, a veterinary behavior specialist is
recommended. This specialist can prescribe some behavior
modification medication to deal with the fear if needed. If this
fear causes the dog to react aggressively toward people, then a
behaviorist will be able to address this issue as well."
If you have adopted a stray who you believe might have been a
victim of abuse, there are several things you can do to ensure
whether or not abuse has occurred.
"Have your veterinarian perform a thorough examination on the
pet. Interestingly enough not all pets who behave as they have been
abused were abused" said Crist. "Sometimes the public tends to
associate a withdrawal behavior to sudden movement as an abused
animal and this may not be the case. Veterinarians have to be
sensitive to the possibility that the abused pet could be the
victim of owner-induced abuse or neglect. We have to regard these
concerns for the welfare of the patient but as well as other
animals in the household. Veterinarians also have to be sensitive
to the issue that the client might be a victim of an abusive
relationship and that providing veterinary and foster care for the
pet may provide an escape from the abusive relationship."
The veterinarian will document all findings on the thorough
"The pet's mental status and initial behavior are evaluated and
monitored" said Crist. "Most often animals that are depressed
initially often exhibit behavior changes as their physical and
emotional status improves. Laboratory tests and whole body
radiographs are performed. Pictures or videos of any wounds,
traumatic injuries, neglect, or collars or leashes embedded in the
neck are gathered for evidence. All of these elements can make a
powerful case for animal cruelty."
Abused pets may have issues like food guarding, stress around
strangers, phobias of loud noises, or fear of children, if they
have been abused by them. There are several treatment options that
can help your pet overcome these fears, or at least to make him
feel safe and secure whenever these situations occur.
"If your pet has a food guarding issue, you might consider not
having a buffet of food" said Crist. "It might be recommended to
keep the pet in another room or place a baby gate to separate the
pet with an interactive toy or another canine companion. Holidays
usually bring guests and if your pet gets stressed with strangers
it might be beneficial to board your pet. If your pet will not
tolerate a boarding facility, as some abused pets do not do well at
these types of facilities, ask a family friend that the pet has a
good relationship with to babysit. Phobias of loud noises or
thunderstorms are best treated with repeated medications prescribed
by an animal behaviorist with short acting anti-anxiety medication.
Do not put a fearful dog in a backyard because it is not protected
from other humans or children entering the yard and setting up an
unpredictable situation. Placing a dog in a crate can be stressful
and if they are not used to it or it gives them a physical boundary
they have to defend it may make matters worse for an abused
Tragically, pet abuse happens every single day to sweet and
harmless animals, so the need to recognize and document animal
abuse is important to reduce animal cruelty.
About Pet Talk
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& Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.
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