Correlates of cruelty to animals in the United States: results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions

J Psychiatr Res. 2009 Oct;43(15):1213-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2009.04.011. Epub 2009 May 20.


Objective: To examine the sociodemographic, behavioral, and psychiatric correlates of cruelty to animals in the US.

Materials and methods: Data were derived from a nationally representative sample of adults residing in the US 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.

Results: The lifetime prevalence of animal cruelty in US adults was 1.8%. Men, African-Americans, Native-Americans/Asians, native-born Americans, persons with lower levels of income and education and adults living the western region of the US 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.

Conclusions: 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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Animal Welfare / statistics & numerical data*
  • Animals
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / epidemiology
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / psychology*
  • Demography
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Personality Assessment
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult