Children's experiences of companion animal maltreatment in households characterized by intimate partner violence

Shelby Elaine McDonald, Elizabeth A. Collins, Nicole Nicotera, Tina O. Hageman, Frank R. Ascione, James Herbert Williams, Sandra A. Graham-Bermann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Cruelty toward companion animals is a well-documented, coercive tactic used by abusive partners to intimidate and control their intimate partners. Experiences of co-occurring violence are common for children living in families with intimate partner violence (IPV) and surveys show that more than half are also exposed to abuse of their pets. Given children's relationships with their pets, witnessing such abuse may be traumatic for them. Yet little is known about the prevalence and significance of this issue for children. The present study examines the experiences of children in families with co-occurring pet abuse and IPV. Using qualitative methods, 58 children ages 7-12 who were exposed to IPV were asked to describe their experiences of threats to and harm of their companion animals. Following the interviews, template analysis was employed to systematically develop codes and themes. Coding reliability was assessed using Randolph's free-marginal multirater kappa (kfree=90). Five themes emerged from the qualitative data, the most common being children's exposure to pet abuse as a power and control tactic against their mother in the context of IPV. Other themes were animal maltreatment to discipline or punish the pet, animal cruelty by a sibling, children intervening to prevent pet abuse, and children intervening to protect the pet during a violent episode. Results indicate that children's experiences of pet abuse are multifaceted, potentially traumatic, and may involve multiple family members with diverse motives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)116-127
Number of pages12
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Childhood trauma
  • Domestic violence
  • Pet abuse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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