Animal Abuse: What it is and What it Isn’t

Animal Abuse: What it is and What it Isn’t

Animal abuse is best described as "overt and intentional acts of violence towards animals" according to the RSPCA.



If you know anything about me you will know that I’m all about animal welfare. I love my dogs about as much as anyone could love their canine buddies. They are members of my family and I would do pretty much anything in my power to keep them happy and healthy.

As you may have already guessed by now, I don’t have a lot of time for pet owners who don’t step up and treat their dogs and cats (and farm animals and hamsters) properly. Nobody should leave a dog chained up without food, water or shelter or ‘train’ a dog through intimidation and punishment.

On the other side, one issue we face as animal owners comes in the form of do-gooders who have no idea what constitutes actual abuse.

These interfering troublemakers have so little understanding of what a dog actually needs to be well cared for that they call in complaints to law enforcement authorities about perfectly well looked after dogs.

In this post, I’ll have a look at what is - and what isn’t - a case of animal abuse or neglect.

If you see an animal in distress, then yes, by all means, report. But for Pete’s sake, if you don’t happen to agree with putting a sweater on a dog, just look the other way and let your dog gambol around au naturel.

There are also people who say that dogs who have their hair dyed are ‘suffering.’

That’s just so much nonsense. As long as the dye used is animal-safe, the dog has no idea what colour it happens to be.

Fluffy and beautifully groomed, that poodle in a show clip doesn’t feel foolish. Instead, it probably feels rather loved having spent so much time with its owner or groomer while being brushed and pampered.

A recently groomed standard poodle in white with dyed hair highlights on paws head and tail

Here’s Where I Draw the Line on Animal Abuse

Animal cruelty laws differ from country to country. For example, the Animal Welfare Act in the United Kingdom makes docking (for cosmetic reasons) illegal yet the Animal Welfare Act in the United States allows docking as long as it’s performed by a vet. Factory farming is also under fire, but in the United States many of these farming practices are exempt.

Let’s start with some pretty obvious forms of animal cruelty:

Dog fighting clearly includes acts of violence that can leave dogs severely injured or, in some cases, dead. This is a barbaric practice. Whatever punishments that are doled out to those involved is just not harsh enough.

Physical abuse, such as beating and whipping, is just as horrific as domestic violence or child abuse and is simply unforgivable. Chaining a dog up outside for long periods, particularly without providing adequate food, water or shelter is clearly animal neglect.

Poor conditions, overcrowding and breeding females too young and too often are why puppy mills are such a heartbreaking example of cruelty to animals.

Puppy mills are commercial dog breeding facilities which are out to make a profit.

They provide pet stores with ‘stock’ for their shelves and have little care for the conditions the dogs are bred and kept in.

If you have your heart set on a puppy, please visit a reputable animal shelter, humane society or a proper dog breeder (have a look at the Australian National Kennel Council website) or, if you have a particular breed in mind, most have breed organisations that list decent breeders that meet certain standards.


2 dogs fighting. A classic case of animal abuse produced for the rawmate blog

Some Animal Abuse isn’t so Obvious

Those are the big, obvious types of animal cruelty and I sure hope nobody in our pack would consider beating their dogs, locking them in a car on a hot day, failing to feed them or provide them with enough fresh water. What isn’t so obvious is abuse or neglect inflicted on companion animals by owners that fail to provide what I consider to be a basic standard of care. For example, dogs that do not get regularly groomed will develop mats. Yes, mats can be unsightly, but that’s not really why I get my britches in a twist over this. Mats can be incredibly painful, pulling on a dog’s skin every time they take a step. When the hair is matted solidly right down to the skin, it forms a thick, felt-like layer that can hide everything from fleas to flesh wounds.

Regular grooming also deals with trimming toenails.

Left to their own devices, a dog’s nails can grow so long they curl around and under and can cause awful, painful problems with gait.

Younger dogs that are still growing can actually develop alignment issues because they don’t bear weight or stride properly because it’s painful to walk. Dew claws (those on the inside of a dog’s legs, but higher up above the foot) also need to be trimmed to avoid having them curve around and pierce the skin.

Dental care is also critically important to maintaining a dog’s good health. Have you ever had a toothache? You know how that can impact every aspect of your life. A dog is no different and yet vets see tooth decay and rotting gums so bad that a dog will find it excruciating to eat. That’s animal cruelty in my book. So is feeding a dog so much that they become morbidly obese, barely able to heave themselves over to the food dish to gorge on the next unhealthy, too-large meal the owner is providing. Heart disease, diabetes, joint deterioration - being fat isn’t good for anybody and your dog is no exception.

Muzzles, Leashes, and Collars - Tools or Torture Devices?

While it’s unlikely an animal owner is going to get called out for taking their ‘plump’ pooch for a walk, just wait to see what happens when a ‘concerned citizen’ sees a dog with a muzzle on. No, it’s not cruel for a dog to wear a muzzle (as long as it fits well and the dog has been properly introduced to the muzzle). Some dogs are snappy. Some are fearful. Some aren’t good with other dogs. A responsible owner who has their dog fitted with a proper muzzle and then goes out for a walk is protecting everyone including you and your kids, while also protecting the dog. Should the dog snap at someone, even when provoked, who pays the price? The dog. And, sometimes, the dog pays with its life.

There is much controversy over collars as well. To most people a prong or pinch collar looks like a barbaric torture device. What most people don’t understand is that a properly fitted collar is one of the most humane training devices, designed specifically to not harm your dog.

A leash is a widely accepted tool and obviously not as controversial as either muzzles or some collars. What people generally don’t know is that using the wrong leash, or using it improperly, can have just as much of a detrimental effect on your dog as an improperly fitted collar. If your dog constantly pulls or lunges on the leash, or is just generally reactive to it, it can be harmful to him and not a pleasant dog walking experience for you.


An emaciated street dog that is possibly homeless and living on the street

Crates Are Not Puppy Jails

Crate training is another misunderstood practice among those who don’t know anything about basic dog psychology.

A dog feels secure in a den, a safe place to sleep and fully relax, and that’s just how your dog sees their crate.

A proper crate needs to be the right size for your dog, it should be comfortable in there with a soft bed and some toys for entertainment and snuggling.

No, I’m not advocating your dog should be in the crate for hours and hours and hours on end, but if you need to go out for a bit and your dog has the habit of chewing or going through the garbage, or if in the case of a puppy it isn’t fully housebroken, then a crate is a safe, secure place to be until you return.

Crate training should be part of every puppy’s early learning and can make a huge difference down the road in terms of your dog’s mental health and the safety and security of your favourite slippers.

A Working Dog is Not an Abused Dog

Some farm dogs or law enforcement dogs work long hours beside their handlers.

Does that mean they are abused?

No. A well-cared-for dog with a job is mentally stimulated, probably fit and has companionship all day long.

Am I saying that no farmer or police officer has ever abused a dog? No. But let’s be sensible here and get our facts straight before calling for an investigation.

Working Dogs 3 x working line german shepherd puppies at 10 weeks old

Dogs Are Not Little Furry Humans

Let’s just all remember, that though we love our dogs to pieces, they are dogs. Not humans.

We need to do what’s best for them, not what’s most convenient for us.

Dogs will give their lives for us and the least we can do is feed them properly, take care of their grooming and meet their needs for physical and mental stimulation.

They need to be trained to be good dog citizens, comfortable knowing their place in the pack.

At Rawmate we are constantly striving to learn more about our dogs’ needs. We don’t take them for granted. We know we need to pay the vet bills, ensure pet insurance premiums are up to date and provide the highest quality food and take whatever steps are necessary to keep our dogs happy, healthy and fulfilled.

If you aren't prepared to do this at a bare minimum. You shouldn't have a dog or be thinking about getting one.

It's that simple!

Matt Joseph

Staff writer

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