Animal Cruelty: What Is It, Types & How to Report Animal Cruelty

Animal Cruelty Dog
Image from Pixabay

Cruelty to animals comes in many guises – from the deliberate vicious attacks on the defenseless to the suffering caused by indifference or neglect. But all stem from the attitude that animals are ‘less than’ us, and that they can be traded and treated as if they were inanimate objects.

When we understand that animals are here with us, not for us, we treat them as equally deserving of their autonomy as any and every non-human animal. They too have a right to life, a right to fulfil their own natural behaviors, and a right not to be harmed, exploited or abused.

What Is Considered To Be Animal Cruelty?

Any act that causes animals to suffer when there is a way to prevent or stop it constitutes cruelty. That might be a deliberate and preplanned act of abuse or it might be leaving an animal to suffer when action could be taken to help.

The law, however, has a different view. Treatment that is undeniably cruel to dogs, for example, is legal for pigs. And a cat in your home is protected unlike a cat in a laboratory. The law contorts and contradicts itself because governments wish factory farming and animal experimentation to continue but here at Million Dollar Vegan, we believe that cruelty is cruelty, no matter the species or situation of the victim.

Acts Of Commission

This is the active and deliberate harming of an animal, such as whipping a horse or using an electrified goad to move a cow.

Acts Of Omission

This refers to neglect that causes suffering, such as failing to get treatment for a sick animal in your care or failing to keep domesticated animals safe from predators.

Types Of Animal Cruelty

Sadly, there are many ways – both legal and illegal – in which people are cruel to animals.


Abuse often constitutes physical violence. Undercover investigations on factory farms and slaughterhouses often reveal workers abusing animals – kicking, punching and beating them, even stubbing cigarettes out on them. This is malicious and indefensible behavior.

Abuse can also be psychological. In the dairy industry, for example, newborn calves are routinely taken from their mothers, which causes deep distress to both. Knowing the suffering this causes and doing it anyway, is another serious form of animal abuse.


Any time we use an animal for our own gain – whether that is financial or because we get pleasure from the activity – we are exploiting them. This can range from the very mild (such as dressing up a dog for a photo to get likes on social media) to the deeply distressing (such as force feeding geese to produce foie gras). In between these two extremes are thousands more examples because society has seen and treated animals as expendable ‘things’ for a very long time.

And so we breed dogs who suffer serious genetic conditions because we like the way they look. We lock wild animals in zoos, circuses and aquaria and we go along for an hour or so to point and laugh at them. We buy and sell animals – both alive and dead – like commodities. And we exploit their reproductive abilities to get what we want from them – whether that is their babies, their flesh, their milk, eggs, fur, fins, feathers, skins or anything else.

Human Predation

This type of cruelty is often driven by the bully’s mantra that might is right. The notion that we are ‘top of the food chain’ or that ‘animals were put here for us’ all too often gives the green light for the commission of appalling suffering.

The obvious area for this is in the farming of animals. The caging, forced breeding, branding, tail-docking, stealing of young, trading and transporting of animals are the precursors to an inevitable, violent death. It is a form of predation that most people are too uncomfortable with to participate in personally, but instead it is common to pay someone else to do it instead.

Predation happens wherever there is animal farming – including fur farms, shrimp farms, and bear bile farms – and also in the wild, where animals are hunted on land or dragged from the sea. The predation of wild animals for human consumption is what brought us Covid-19. The predation of animals kept inside squalid factory farms is likely to bring us the next pandemic.


Animals in factory farms are routinely neglected. After all, how can a worker give individual care to the tens of thousands of chickens crammed inside one shed among many more sheds on each farm? Millions suffer to death in those sheds without any treatment or care at all.

The animals people buy as ‘pets’ are also commonly neglected. The dog who is not walked regularly, or is chained, and left outside in extreme weathers is suffering neglect. As is a rabbit locked alone in a hutch or a cat being tormented by fleas.


The suffering of animals inside laboratories is so severe that special licenses are given by the government to permit it. If anyone else caused that pain and distress, it would constitute a criminal act. Animal testing began centuries ago when people knew little of the sentience of animals and there were no laws to protect them. That it continues today is shocking, especially as science has progressed so far as to make animal research obsolete. There are better, faster, cheaper, more effective ways to get the desired results, and yet the deliberate infliction of legally sanctioned suffering continues on a global scale.

There seem to be two main reasons for its continuation: almost all biological, veterinary, medical and disease researchers have been trained to test on animals, and there is no impetus for them to change. But also because vast industries have sprung up in support of animal testing – from the manufacturers of medical devices, cages, racks, straps and other laboratory equipment to the companies that supply the feed and those that dispose of the bodies. There is a lot of money involved and money has a way of talking louder than ethics.

Animal Cruelty Statistics

Animal Testing

It is difficult to know just how many animals are used and killed each year in laboratories. Some countries, such as those in Europe, keep detailed records while the United States, for example, excludes rats, mice, fish, amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates from its figures, even though these sentient beings make up 90 percent of the animals used.

Even where official figures are kept and released, they do not tell the complete story. Many animals are killed because they are not needed for a particular study after all, or because they are not the right ‘fit’ for it, and their lives are not counted.

Perhaps the true figure will never be known, though estimates suggest up to 22 million animals are used and sacrificed in the United States each year and 115 million worldwide.

Factory Farmed Animals

The animal agriculture industry is responsible for the largest number of victims by far with over 1.3 billion farmed animals being slaughtered every week. In one week, more farmed animals are killed than the combined human death toll of all wars throughout history. It is a figure so huge we have to force ourselves to remember that every one of them is an individual with a distinct personality and preferences, and none of them want or deserve to die.

Even this is not the whole story. Millions more don’t even make it to the slaughterhouse. They suffer and die inside cages and farm sheds, in crates and feedlots and inside cramped transportation trucks. More die in barn fires or when farms flood or when the trucks transporting them are involved in an accident.


Animal breeders make money out of breeding and selling animals. Often, conditions at puppy or kitten mills – or at breeders of guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits or birds – are dire. Animals are cramped in unsanitary conditions, denied friendship, exercise, and fresh air. They are kept alive just so long as they keep giving birth. Their young are taken and their fate is a roll of the dice. They may end up in a loving home where their needs are researched and met, or they may end up all but forgotten in a cage, or worse.

In the United States, 69 million households have a dog, 45 million have a cat, and 3.5 million have birds. No one knows how many of them experience cruelty.


Fish are exploited for their flesh, for the aquaria trade, and for the pet trade.

So many aquatic animals are dragged from their homes that official figures do not count them individually but by weight. However, campaigners say it could be as high as 2.3 trillion individuals a year. Add to this all the animals accidentally caught – the sharks, dolphins, porpoises, turtles and even diving seabirds who get caught in the nets – and the figure rises higher still.

And then there are all those fish bred and raised in farms. There, these creatures who belong in the wide oceans or flowing rivers swim in circles in filthy, cramped pools. Many sicken and die (as is common on all factory farms). An estimated 120 billion farmed fish are slaughtered each year.

The aquaria and pet trades exploit still more, and these fish spend their whole lives in a tiny, barren tank or pool so we can spend a few minutes of ours looking at them.

What Is The Most Common Animal Cruelty?

When there is cruelty all around us, that is a hard question to answer but these are among the most common acts of cruelty…

Animal Fighting

The barbaric medieval practice of setting one animal on another while bets are placed as to who will ‘win’ should be consigned to history, and yet animal fighting continues all over the world. In almost all countries in the developed world, dog fighting, bull fighting, badger baiting and cock fighting are banned, but still they continue illegally. The Humane Society estimates there are 40,000 dog fights in the United States but these fights take place away from public view, and the number of victims will never be known for sure.

Animal Hoarding

Often animal hoarders start out with the best intentions. They see an animal in need and they act. But then they cannot stop. They try to help every animal in need but before they know it they have become part of the problem. Their homes fill up, and they are unable to give their charges the individual care they need and deserve. Every year, 3.500 hoarders in the US come to the attention of the authorities.


Breeders may be big businesses or individuals trying to make a quick buck. Both have their eye on the profit, while the wellbeing of animals often comes a very distant second. There are countless incidents of people buying from a breeder only to find out how sick that animal is when they get them home. Conditions at some breeders are so disgusting that the breeders are charged and convicted. However, such is the low status of animals in our society that few are ever jailed.

Entertainment Animals

When we exploit animals for our own entertainment we may be committing an act of cruelty, too. It is true that some animals love to perform – dogs love to do agility, horses love to run in a herd – but when we force animals to perform at a time and in a way that suits us, that is a very different matter.

Wild animals should never be in a position where they are performing for the public. This is not what they would choose to do, and many are trained with force and violence. Even when there is no overt abuse, life on the road for a wild animal is a cruelty in itself. Being held in cages, transported over long distances, forced into an arena where people are screaming and shouting, often kept alone without companionship of their own kind, and unable to perform their natural behaviors is undoubtedly cruel.

There is also cruelty in sport including whipping a horse to make them run faster, or training greyhounds by setting them on live quarry. Both horses and dogs may be abandoned or killed when they age or lose their form. Or they may be sold on and on in a downward spiral of neglect.

Factory Farming

By far the largest number of animal victims are harmed in factory farms. Billions are trapped in cages, crates and sheds, and denied everything that makes their life worthwhile. Factory farming is the systematic and industrialized exploitation of living beings on an immense scale. Nothing is natural, nothing is left to chance. On the day they are born, the day they will die is already decided.

Almost all meat in the US and elsewhere comes from factory farms.

Fur Farming

While some animals are trapped in the wild for their skins, others like mink and foxes are bred and caged inside factory farms. There, they suffer physically and mentally. In appalling conditions, they pace back and forth, back and forth. Self-harm is commonplace.

Very few people on Earth need the fur of animals to keep warm, and yet we take it all the same. We discard their bodies like trash.

Horse Slaughter

Is there anything more cruel than sending an animal you once cared for to slaughter because you no longer want that responsibility? It is common for people who get bored of caring for a horse or can no longer ride them to simply discard them. Since there are no horse slaughterhouses in the US, thousands endure punishing journeys to Mexico or Canada.

Horses are sensitive creatures, often nervous and highly strung. The journey is terrifying for them, and what awaits them may be even worse. In 2019 alone, 53,947 horses were shipped from the United States to Mexico for slaughter.

Animal Cruelty And Domestic Violence

Just as kind people are kind to animals as well as other humans, those who are cruel often pay no heed to the species barrier. Where there is domestic abuse, any animal who lives there may be harmed, too.

Research has consistently shown a strong link between animal cruelty and violence towards people including domestic abuse and child abuse. This can take various forms. An animal may be harmed as a way of controlling a partner, or a child who is abused may take out their own frustrations and anger on a ‘pet’.

One study found that when reports of animal cruelty were investigated, 82 percent of the families were identified as having children who were at risk of abuse or harm. In another study, 46 percent of those arrested for animal cruelty had also been arrested for domestic abuse.

Animal Cruelty Laws

Most countries have animal cruelty laws in place but these vary widely in scope, strength and enforcement. Typically, there are different laws for farmed animals, for those kept in laboratories and for those we see as ‘pets’. This means that the illegal treatment of a dog may be legal for a pig, despite these two animals being sentient, intelligent, social and similar in so many other ways.

On paper, at least, some animals have some protection. But for those systematically exploited by industries, protection laws may be both weak and poorly enforced.

Poor as this system is, we must report animal cruelty if we witness it or come to learn of it. Sometimes this is all we can do for animals. Meanwhile, lawyers and compassionate politicians are working hard to improve legal representation for animals, strengthen laws and hold abusers to account.

How Can We Stop Animal Cruelty?

Animal lovers may be contributing to animal cruelty every day without realising it. The worst suffering happens on farms, in slaughterhouses and in laboratoires, so if we eat animal products or buy animal-tested goods, such as household cleaners, toiletries and other items, we are funding the very suffering we abhor.

We can take a few minutes to audit our own lives, and ask the question: am I funding suffering? Once we know, we can take steps to reduce or eliminate it. Changing our diet is probably the single biggest thing we can do to prevent animal suffering.

We can also avoid circuses, zoos, and aquaria. We can avoid dog and horse races. And we can be vigilant. If we see an animal being harmed or neglected, we can – and should – report it.

Recognizing Animal Cruelty

If an animal is being treated with violence or aggression, or is being neglected and uncared for, whether that is in a farm, at a zoo, in the street or in a home, that is cruelty.

Reporting Animal Cruelty

If you witness cruelty to animals, call the relevant authorities. In the US, that would be your local animal control agency or 9-1-1 if you don’t know who else to call. If in doubt, contact the Humane Society. In the UK, the RSPCA will respond to cases of cruelty and neglect – just call 0300 1234 999.


There is so much suffering in the world, and we often feel helpless in the face of it. The news brings us images of children in war zones, families left starving after famines, and wildlife fleeing from rapidly spreading forest fires. It can be overwhelming.

But we are not powerless. There are actions we can take that will reduce the amount of suffering in the world, and it starts with an honest examination of our own lives, actions and choices. But we can do it. We can make a difference!

Remember the story of the little boy throwing starfish back into the sea after they had been washed up on the beach. “But there must be thousands of them,” said a man who was passing by. “I’m afraid you won’t be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up another starfish and threw them into the ocean. “It made a difference to that one,” he said.

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