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Skirting the issue: discussing the links between animal abuse and family violence in veterinary practice

02 July 2023
11 mins read
Volume 14 · Issue 6
Table 1.


Family violence is a significant public health issue in New Zealand which requires a collective commitment to address. Links between family violence and animal abuse are widely accepted and cases of family violence can present in the veterinary clinic as an abused animal. As animal healthcare providers, veterinary professionals are well-placed to recognise the abuse of animals and respond to victims by offering support and referral to specialist agencies. To do this, veterinary professionals need the knowledge and confidence to discuss the links to family violence with their clients. Currently, New Zealand veterinary professionals receive little to no education regarding links between animal abuse and family violence. This study comprised two phases. Phase one (reported here) was an anonymous online survey of New Zealand veterinary nurses and veterinarians. The survey collected quantitative and qualitative information regarding knowledge and confidence in practice aspects of managing cases of animal abuse where links to family violence may apply. The results showed that they feel unprepared in this area of practice. The results then informed the second phase of the study, the development of an educational workshop about the links between animal abuse and family violence.

Family violence is a major global public health issue (United Nations, 2022). New Zealand has high rates of family violence, with one-in-three women experiencing family violence in their lifetime (Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, 2019; Fanslow et al, 2021). Family violence takes many forms including intimate partner violence, child abuse and elder abuse (Family Violence Act 2018). Although not officially listed as a form of family violence, pets or animals can also be abused. International research over the last 40 years recognises that the abuse of animals is linked with violence in families (Ascione et al, 2007; Krienert et al, 2012; Newberry, 2017). New Zealand research identifies the coexistence of family violence and the abuse of animals, and recognises complexity of the problem (Roguski, 2012; Jury et al, 2018). Family violence is a multi-factorial issue that intersects with gender, race, financial status and has its basis in power, coercion and control (Lloyd, 2013). From a veterinary perspective, coercion and control within families can result in the abuse of animals (Roguski, 2012). The effects of family violence are far-reaching and multi-generational, affecting the educational and healthcare systems, the families of victims, communities and the welfare of both companion animals and rural animals (Hassall and Fanslow, 2006; Are You OK, 2017; McEwen, 2017).

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