For those of us who love our furry family members, it’s unthinkable that animals could fall victim to abuse and neglect. Yet animal cruelty is a harsh reality.

Pets have no voice to cry out for help, so it’s up to us to speak for them. You may think there’s little you can do but stand by helplessly. In fact, each of us has the power to make a difference in the lives of abused and neglected animals. Recognizing signs of cruelty and reporting the problem can help save a life.

Cruelty can take many forms in addition to physical violence. Unintentional cruelty occurs when people don’t understand proper pet care, and is not necessarily done with malicious intent. Even people who consider themselves animal lovers can perpetrate unintentional cruelty through neglect or hoarding by failing to meet their pets’ basic needs. Intentional cruelty occurs when people know an animal is being neglected, harmed or injured. Intentional cruelty through neglect or direct violence is often recurring, with pets experiencing pain and distress over an extended time.

Below are signs to look for that may indicate pet neglect or abuse.


Physical signs

  • A tight-fitting collar embedded in the pet’s neck
  • Open wounds/sores, signs of healed wounds or a chronic injury/illness left untreated
  • Poor skin condition (patches of hair loss, scaly skin, rashes)
  • Extremely matted fur/filthy coat
  • Infestation of fleas or ticks
  • Severely overgrown nails, curled under and causing pads to bleed/weep pus from an infection
  • Extreme thinness to the point where bones are visible
  • Limping or inability to stand/walk normally
  • Extreme weakness or visible signs of confusion
  • Severe physical distress requiring veterinary care
  • Cowering in fear or acting aggressively when the owner approaches
  • Multiple pets in the same household that cannot be adequately cared for
  • Multiple injured pets
  • Person seen kicking, hitting or abusing a pet


Environmental signs

  • The pet is tied up outside for lengthy periods without adequate food, water and shelter.
  • The pet is kept outside in extreme heat or cold without access to adequate shelter.
  • The pet is housed in unsanitary living conditions littered with feces, urine or garbage.
  • The pet is kept in cages/kennels that are not big enough to allow them to stand, turn around and make normal movements.
  • The pet is left unattended in a vehicle in extremely hot or cold weather.
  • The pet is crying/howling in a vacant apartment/house.
  • Multiple pets are kept in overcrowded kennels (ie. backyard breeders/puppy mills).
  • Offensive odours coming from a home/yard (constant smell of ammonia or feces).
  • Pet owners who constantly have puppies or kittens, but no adult or aging pets.

These signs by themselves do not necessarily mean an animal is being neglected or abused. It’s important to examine the entire situation before jumping to conclusions. Sometimes it’s easy to mistake an animal that is sick, but receiving veterinarian care, for a pet that is being neglected or abused. Behaviour alone is not a good sign of cruelty since there can be other causal factors; physical condition is a better indicator.

In some cases, pets who are victims of cruelty may not show any signs at all and can bond with their abusers just as children can. Deciding whether or not an animal is being neglected or abused means being as observant as possible when you think something is wrong.

Preventing animal cruelty is a key part of the NS SPCA’s mission. In 2016, they responded to 1,648 cruelty calls. If you suspect or witness an act of animal cruelty or even if you’re unsure, please call the SPCA immediately (toll-free: 1-888-703-7722; local 902-835-4798). All calls are confidential. You can also file a confidential online complaint at Never take matters into your own hands.

The worst thing you can do if you witness or suspect animal cruelty is nothing. Be a hero. If you see something, say something.