Adopting a pet from an animal shelter or a rescue organization is a great way to add a “fur baby” to your family.  Many pets without homes languish in shelters or spend long periods with foster families–why buy from a breeder when so many dogs and cats are waiting for a forever home?  Adopting from a shelter or rescue can come with a few drawbacks, and one is that little may be known about the animal’s history. If the animal was a stray picked up off the streets or abandoned at the shelter, there will be no information at all about his previous life.  Even if the animal was voluntarily surrendered, the owner may or may not be truthful when disclosing information about the pet. While there is always some risk that an adopted pet has suffered from abuse, that does not mean he or she cannot have a meaningful place within your family.  Many abused pets can adjust to a new home with love and proper training. Read on to learn how to recognize when an animal has been abused and how to help your pet safely acclimate to a new home and a new life with you.


What Is Animal Abuse?

Animal cruelty or animal abuse can range from neglect of an animal to outright physical abuse.  Examples of neglect would be:

  • Providing insufficient food and water
  • Providing no shelter
  • Leaving animal on a rope or in a cage

Signs that an animal has been abused include:

  • Poor physical condition, such as a filthy or matted coat or open wounds
  • Unusually shy or aggressive behavior, especially toward to owner
  • Cowering, hiding, or urinating in the presence of certain objects, such as a belt or a broom


How To Help An Abused Animal Adjust

Whether you know in advance that your new pet has been abused, or you figure it out once you bring him home, there are certain steps you can take to help him adjust to life in his new home.

  • Provide your pet with a safe space.  This can be a kennel, a separate room, or a space created with baby gates or exercise pens.
  • Allow your pet to retreat when scared
  • Feed your pet separately from other pets
  • Provide positive feedback by playing with toys, providing treats, or going on long walks
  • Seek help from a professional trainer


How Often Does Animal Abuse Occur?

It’s difficult to say exactly how often animal abuse occurs.  It’s not like abusive pet owners to submit data on their behavior!  But nationwide, people are treating animal abuse more seriously. As recently as 1990, animal cruelty was only a crime in ten states, but it is now a felony in all 50 states.  The FBI started recording data on animal cruelty in 2016, so statistics are not yet available. But tracking animal abuse over time will demonstrate how pervasive it is.

While adopting a pet who has suffered from abuse can be trying, be patient with your new pet.  Remember, he does not know that you brought him home to give him a better life. He only knows that he has been mistreated before and that he is now in a strange place with strange people.  Time and love may be just what he needs. At AMC, many of our patients are pets who have been rescued, adopted, and have been previously abused. Our knowledgable and experienced staff know how to make your pet feel most comfortable, and can help you with this too. Let us know with your next visit if you believe your adopted pet has been previously abused. We can help answer the questions you may have to help your furry family member.