Human maltreatment of non-human animals is a serious ethical and social problem. Maltreatment of animals is often complex and of varying degrees of severity. Various definitions of animal cruelty, maltreatment or abuse (hereafter referred to as animal cruelty) exist in the literature. Ascione (1993) defined animal cruelty as “socially unacceptable behavior that intentionally causes unnecessary pain, suffering, or distress to and/or death of an animal” (228). This definition provides an indication of the complexity that animal cruelty behaviour presents. Animal cruelty has been described to be a multidimensional construct including amongst other aspects severity, duration, frequency and empathy (Ascione, Thompson, & Black, 1997; McPhedran, 2009b). Vermeulen distinguished between two dimensions; physical and mental animal cruelty. Physical animal cruelty and neglect can inflict pain, injuries and in very serious cases death of the animal whereas responses to mental cruelty might be less obvious but have the potential to cause negative emotional states (e.g. anxiety) and physiological stress resulting in overt behavioural expressions at a later date. Defining animal cruelty presents a difficulty for researchers due to varying perceptions for example age, gender, and culture of people e.g. participants’ definitions of animal cruelty and researchers’ definitions may be completely different and therefore validity of responses may be questionable (Pagani, Robustelli, & Ascione, 2010). Furthermore, contrasting socially and culturally sanctioned (harmful) activities, resulting from differing attitudes towards different species are difficult to account for when defining animal cruelty (Becker, 2001). Consequently, creating a global definition of animal cruelty is challenging.
Connor, M., Currie, C., & Lawrence, AB. (2018). Factors influencing the prevalence of animal cruelty during adolescence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1-24. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260518771684