Responding to suspected cases of animal cruelty

Doctor filling out a form on a clipboard
In this article:
  • Find resources to identify, address, document, and report suspected companion animal abuse and neglect.
  • Learn the FBI’s definition of animal cruelty and what it encompasses.
  • Understand the role of the veterinary team in reporting suspected animal cruelty.

For veterinary professionals dedicated to protecting the health, welfare, and safety of animals, encountering a case of suspected maltreatment, cruelty, neglect, or abuse can be both morally distressing and practically overwhelming. Nevertheless, it is our responsibility to respond.

The following resources will help you and your team prepare for, identify, and address these difficult situations when they arise.

The veterinarian’s framework: Guidelines to plan and respond

It is crucial to have a plan in place for recognizing, documenting, and responding to animal cruelty before encountering it in practice. The veterinarian’s framework for identification and response to suspected or known animal maltreatment is a free AVMA resource designed to help you and your team do just that.

In it you will find:

  • Definitions
  • Signs of maltreatment
  • Steps to file a report
  • Mitigating risk
  • State reporting obligations
  • Directory of state animal cruelty laws
  • Sample forms

Read the guidelines

For additional background, specifically on the link between animal cruelty and harms to people, please see AVMA's 2011 Practical Guidance for the Effective Response by Veterinarians to Suspected Animal Cruelty, Abuse and Neglect.