How to Tell if an Animal is Being Mistreatedfinity
Veterinary disinfectant, a scalpel, sutures; these are all vital tools of the veterinarian trade, but there’s another tool that cannot be bought. That is the tool of observation.
If you find yourself treating the same animal repeatedly or there’s a certain pattern to their injuries, their owner might be mistreating them. While this isn’t always the case, understanding what to look for and how to identify the signs of animal neglect or abuse will make an immense difference in your patient’s life.
Even the most experienced animal care professional can miss the small signs that an animal is being abused in their own home, so it’s important to stay vigilant. Remember, it’s better to say something and be wrong than to see something and do nothing.
Signs That an Animal is Being Mistreated
The signs of mistreatment may not be entirely behavioural, and they won’t be the same for every animal. Whether it’s active abuse or neglect, animals respond in their own way to mistreatment, so there is no defined list of characteristics. Furthermore, being a veterinarian means your patient shies away from you (due to the unfamiliar environment). However, it also means you have greater insight into their overall health, which can help you pick up signs of abuse or neglect.
That said, there are some signs and symptoms that appear commonly in neglected or abused animals. If you see any of the following, further investigation into the animal’s wellbeing or living situation is essential.
Signs of Neglect
- Excessive matting
- Overgrown nails
- Ingrown collars
- Chain or rope injuries around the neck
- Severe dental disease from poor feline or dog dental care
- Excessive external parasites (i.e., fleas, tics)
- Diseases for which vaccines are easily available
- Depressive or anxious presentation
Signs of Physical Abuse
- Injuries to more than one location of the body
- Injuries in different stages of healing
- Injuries that have gone untreated/bones that have been set inappropriately
- A changing story about how the injuries occurred
- A history inconsistent with the presenting injuries
- Failure to seek medical attention quickly enough
- The owner has a general disinterest in the animal’s health, care, or outcome
When it comes to animal behaviour, any mistreated animal will likely exhibit unexplained tail tucking, flinch from human contact, avoid eye contact, or whine when approached. They might even get aggressive with you as a means of protection.
What to Do if One of Your Patients is Being Mistreated
Noticing any of these signs is reason to dig deeper into your patient’s treatment history, their environment, and what their owners are like. This begins by asking the owner questions about the animal.
Ask open-ended questions and be aware of any assumptions you may carry about the pet owner, as these can colour the conclusions you draw. If it’s an older animal or one who’s been your patient for a while, check through their medical history for patterns in their injuries.
If you suspect that one of your patients is being abused or neglected, your job as a veterinarian is to report it as a suspected abuse case. Escalate it to your superior and they will report it from there, making sure to give them as much information as possible about why you suspect your patient is being mistreated.
From there, your superior will contact the government or the SPCA to report the suspected case. The owners, the animal’s environment, and their medical history will be investigated to determine if abuse is occurring.
While the idea that someone could be abusing one of your patients is horrible, making the effort to report your suspicions can make a world of difference for our furry little friends.
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