Abstract: Prevalence and Correlates of Cruelty to Animals in the United States (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

11776 Prevalence and Correlates of Cruelty to Animals in the United States

Sunday, January 17, 2010: 8:45 AM
Pacific Concourse M (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Michael Vaughn, PhD , Saint Louis University, Assistant Professor, St. Louis, MO
Brian Perron, PhD , University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Assistant Professor, Ann Arbor, MI
Matthew Owen Howard, PhD , School of Social Work, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC
Purpose: Cruelty to animals, frequently referred to as animal cruelty, is defined as treatment of animals that causes gratuitous, unwarranted or unjustifiable suffering or harm (including death). Animal cruelty is gaining recognition as a serious social issue. Despite this recognition, research on the epidemiology of animal cruelty is sparse. Existing research suggests that males and persons with lower educational attainment are more likely than their counterparts to commit acts of animal cruelty. However, other sociodemographic relationships to animal cruelty, such as racial, ethnic, regional, and income differences remain largely unexplored. A major limitation of studies to date has been their use of small and nonrepresentative samples leading to uncertainty regarding the generalizability of prior animal cruelty findings. The purpose of this study was examine the correlates of lifetime animal cruelty in relation to sociodemographic characteristics, antisocial behaviors, and lifetime mood, anxiety, and personality disorders, and estimate the strength of associations between animal cruelty and these characteristics while controlling for sociodemographic factors and substance use/psychiatric disorders.

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.