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

Michael G. Vaughn, Qiang Fu, Matt DeLisi, Kevin M. Beaver, Brian E. Perron, Katie Terrell, Matthew O. Howard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Citations (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1213-1218
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Psychiatric Research
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 2009 Oct

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors are grateful for support from NIH Grants: DA021405 (Dr. Howard) and K07CA104119 (Dr. Fu).

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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