What to Do When You See a Pet Being Abused or Neglected

How to Tell if a Pet is Being Starved


A casual observer might be able to pick up on signs that an animal has been neglected or abused. Even if you don’t witness overt acts, an animal may carry symptoms of abuse and neglect with them, as well as in their surroundings.


When it comes to cases of malnutrition and outright starvation, for example, here are some of the things you can look out for.


Dogs have varied body shapes, and some breeds are rather thin even when they’re healthy. Most of us are not accustomed to seeing thin dogs due to the epidemic of pet obesity that we are currently dealing with.  


Dr. Jennifer Coates, a veterinarian in Fort Collins, CO notes that professionals use established guidelines like the “Body Condition System” to determine if an animal is potentially being underfed and malnourished, or in extreme situations, starved. For example, a dog would be classified as having a body condition of 1 out of 7 (emaciated) if the “ribs, lumbar vertebrae, pelvic bones and all bony prominences” are visible at a distance and the animal has “no discernible body fat” and an “obvious loss of muscle mass." 


Coates also notes that a dog may be “very thin because of a health condition, even if it is being treated.” While the moral high road is to err on the side of caution when it comes to protecting animals, Coates says it may be wise to find out more about the dog's circumstances before judging the situation, and when in doubt, “call your local Animal Control Agency and leave it to them to contact the dog’s owner.”


How to Tell if a Pet is Being Abused or Neglected


While there are many noticeable signs of abuse in pets, it is sometimes best to look for a combination of factors before taking action. A pet might appear to be skinny or dirty or be outdoors during cold or hot weather or in an unkempt yard, but it can be next to impossible for a passer-by to determine when the legal threshold for neglect or abuse has been reached. 


Among the signs of potential animal neglect and abuse that you can look for are a poor coat and body condition (with untreated open sores and obvious wounds being most telling); a lack of food, water, shelter, and sanitation; abandonment; an animal that is tied or caged with little room to move, stand, or turn; chains or other objects that have embedded into an animal’s skin; evidence of a dog fighting operation; or too many animals living on a single property, which could be a sign of hoarding.


Dr. Coates reiterates, “Taking matters into your own hands can be dangerous. If you come across an animal that you suspect has been neglected or abused, bring it to the attention of your local Humane Society or Animal Control Agency and let them take it from there.”


What Happens to Pets After They Are Removed from Abusive or Neglectful Owners?


While we might breathe a sigh of relief when an animal is removed from an abusive or neglectful situation, this certainly doesn’t mean the pet is out of the woods. These animals are sometimes held as evidence and may be unadoptable until their cases are settled. Animal abuse cases are notoriously difficult to prosecute. It can take months, or even years, until it’s resolved.


Thankfully, there are procedures (voluntary surrender, animal forfeiture, protective orders, etc.) that the authorities can use to make sure that animals who have been neglected or abused don’t just end up back with the people who did them wrong in the first place.


How to Know What You Should Do


So what should you do when you suspect that an animal is being abused or neglected? The best advice is to temper one’s concern with careful thought and consideration. Unless an animal’s life is in immediate danger, it’s best to report the situation to humane authorities and let them pursue it through the proper legal channels.