Since the earliest days of animal protection, veterinarians have played central roles in working with animal welfare investigators and law enforcement authorities to aid animals that have been victims of human abuse and neglect. Animal cruelty cases are being treated with more respect than at any time in the past. Increased public concern for the animals that share our communities, a proliferation of university human-animal studies and animal law courses, and stronger scientific support for the links between animal abuse and human violence and for the therapeutic benefits of animals have combined to help generate a new renaissance of interest in animal well-being. This increased attention is helping professionals to do their jobs better and to accord greater protections for animals; the problem of unwanted horses focuses additional attention on equine veterinarians, who may see more abandoned and abused horses than ever before. Practitioners who become involved in responding to animal abuse not only help address the needs of individual animals that may suffer, but fulfill their veterinary oath to use their skills for the betterment of society.

In all states, animal cruelty is a crime. There are both civil and criminal avenues for prosecuting animal cruelty depending upon the facts of the case, and in 46 states aggravated cruelty is a felony within the criminal code. Several major cities have assigned prosecutors specifically to the growing caseload of animal cruelty crimes. By reporting suspected cruelty to local law enforcement or animal care or control agencies, the veterinary practitioner is taking the first step to resolve potentially unhealthy, dangerous, and/or criminal situations. These agencies will investigate the complaint and take appropriate action. The recent addition of veterinary forensics to the armamentarium of practitioners working in animal welfare offers additional opportunities for the prevention of animal maltreatment. While concerns regarding veterinarianclient relationships and economics may keep veterinarians from reporting suspected cases of animal cruelty, the health and well-being of both animal and humans alike may rest on veterinarians’ willingness to report and to testify. Practitioners who report animal cruelty are therefore helping to make their communities safer for all.

Resource Type

  • Document


  • Horses
  • Rescue and Retirement
  • Welfare

Publish Date

July 2, 2018

Revised Dates