Methods: Data were derived from a nationally representative sample of adults residing in the U.S. Structured psychiatric interviews (N = 43,093) were completed by trained lay interviewers between 2001 and 2002. Personality, substance use, mood, and anxiety disorders and cruelty to animals were assessed with the Alcohol Use Disorder and Associated Disabilities Interview Schedule (DSM-IV) version. Multivariate logistic regression analyses were conducted with simultaneous entry of sociodemographic (i.e., region of residence in U.S., urbanicity, race/ethnicity, sex, age, marital status, educational background, unemployment status, and individual and family income) and diagnostic (i.e., lifetime alcohol abuse/dependence, drug abuse/dependence, nicotine dependence, pathological gambling, major depression, dysthymia, bipolar disorder, social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and specific phobia) and family history of antisocial behavior control variables. Adjusted odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals are presented to reflect association strength and significance.
Results: The lifetime prevalence of animal cruelty in U.S. adults was 1.8%. Men, Native-Americans/Asians, native-born Americans, persons with lower levels of income and education and adults living the western region of the U.S. reported comparatively high levels of cruelty to animals, whereas Hispanics reported comparatively low levels of such behavior. Cruelty to animals was significantly associated with all assessed antisocial behaviors. Adjusted analyses revealed strong associations between lifetime alcohol use disorders, conduct disorder, antisocial, obsessive-compulsive, and histrionic personality disorders, pathological gambling, family history of antisocial behavior, and cruelty to animals.
Implications for policy and practice: Cruelty to animals is associated with elevated rates observed in young, poor, men with family histories of antisocial behavior and personal histories of conduct disorder in childhood, and antisocial, obsessive-compulsive and histrionic personality disorders, and pathological gambling in adulthood. Given these associations, and the widespread ownership of pets and animals, effective screening of children, adolescents and adults for animal cruelty and appropriate mental health interventions should be deployed.