Despite being a widespread problem, people often do not take animal cruelty seriously. Animal abuse is a sign of other psychological issues and should be seen as a major red flag.

By Vaishnavi Parashar: Animal cruelty in India has recently come into the limelight after several cases of animal abuse were highlighted in the news. A need has arisen to make stricter amends to the already existing Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, of 1960. A movement has been picking up speed on social media and people who are speaking for animals have created a hashtag for it: #NoMore50

But what is the psychology of a person who inflicts violence against the voiceless? From cases of puppies being burnt alive to cats being drowned and cattle being raped, India has seen it all.

“Animal cruelty is committed for a variety of reasons in India. Some do it out of ignorance or poverty, while others do it for fun. Individuals may harm animals as they feel animals are not as valuable as humans,” says Dr Tannu Saini, a psychologist.

She further added that animal abuse is never acceptable, regardless of the justification.

It’s important to continue to raise awareness of the law against animal cruelty and to work to change the atrocities against animals in India.

Unmasking animal abusers: A psychological analysis of animal cruelty
Unmasking animal abusers: A psychological analysis of animal cruelty

Animal abuse is a psychological issue that has several probable psychological causes signifying deeper mental health issues:

  • Low empathy: Individuals who don’t feel compassion for animals are more prone to cause them pain and suffering. They might not be concerned about the welfare of the animals or they might not comprehend that animals experience pain and suffering in a similar way as people.
  • Callous-unemotional traits: Characteristics of the callous-unemotional type include a lack of empathy, guilt, or regret. These characteristics increase the likelihood that a person will act aggressively or negatively, including abusing animals.
  • History of animal abuse or neglect: Those who have abused or neglected animals as children are more prone to do so as adults. This could be a result of them having learned that using violence to solve issues or treating animals with disrespect is acceptable.
  • Mental health disorders: There is a higher chance of animal abuse in people who have certain mental health disorders, such as conduct disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and psychopathy. These illnesses can make it difficult for a person to rein in their urges and comprehend the effects of their actions.
  • Substance abuse: Abuse of drugs or alcohol increases the likelihood of dangerous or impulsive behaviours, such as cruelty to animals. A person’s ability to make sound judgements and decisions can also be affected by substance misuse.
  • Environmental factors: Animal abuse risk can also be increased by exposure to violence or cruelty in the household or community. This is due to the possibility that youngsters who experience violence may come to believe that it is a legitimate means of resolving disputes or that animals are not deserving of respect.
  • Anger and frustration: Angry and disappointed individuals may become aggressive towards animals. They can view animals as targets for their rage and be powerless to restrain their urges to harm them.
  • Sadism: Some people find enjoyment in causing suffering to others. Sadism is the term for this. Sadists could find it amusing to torture animals and delight in seeing them suffer.
  • Childhood abuse: Adults who have experienced abuse as children are more inclined to do so. This may be because they have come to believe that using violence to resolve conflicts is a legitimate strategy.
  • Beliefs that animals should not be treated with respect: People who hold this opinion are more prone to abuse animals. This opinion could be influenced by a person’s lack of compassion for animals or by religious or cultural beliefs.
  • Lack of understanding regarding animal care: People who are unable to give animals the correct care are more inclined to abuse them. This is due to the possibility that they are unable to recognise or understand the demands of the animals.

It is crucial to remember that not everyone who abuses animals possesses these psychological traits.

Unmasking animal abusers: A psychological analysis of animal cruelty


The link between human and animal violence was first brought to light in 1751 through a series of illustrations called the ‘Four Stages of Cruelty’.

These illustrations depict the graduation hypothesis or the idea that animals are the first victims before perpetrators progress to other forms of violence. Over the last 60 years, there have been multiple studies from sociological, psychological, legal, social welfare, and medical perspectives that highlight the impact of animal cruelty and its relation to other forms of violence.

Although there are differing opinions as to the explanation behind the link between animal cruelty and other criminal offences, the existence of the link itself is indisputable.

“Studies have repeatedly shown that persons who inflict cruelty on animals are highly likely to demonstrate aggression and violent tendencies towards other vulnerable members of society,” says Shreya Paropkari, a consultant with Humane Society International/India and a lawyer.

She also mentions that by intervening and addressing animal cruelty cases promptly and effectively, we have an opportunity to prevent potential escalation in human violence, thereby enhancing public safety.

She adds that people look up to the police force to uphold justice and protect the vulnerable, including animals. The laws relating to animal cruelty need to be strengthened and consistently enforced.

“When acts of animal cruelty go unnoticed or unpunished, it erodes the public’s faith in law enforcement and creates a perception of indifference towards injustice,” says Paropkari.


Early childhood experiences and trauma can play an important role in the development of animal abuse tendencies.

Early exposure to violence, abuse, or neglect increases a child’s likelihood of developing later aggressive or harmful behaviour towards animals.

Dr Saini tells us that this behaviour can develop in children for a variety of reasons. First, children who see abuse or violence may come to believe that cruelty to animals is acceptable as a means of conflict resolution.

Second, neglected or mistreated youngsters may find it difficult to relate to others, especially animals. Children who have experienced trauma may be more prone to dangerous or impulsive behaviour, such as abusing animals.

This is because trauma can affect a child’s capacity to control their emotions and make wise judgments. As a result, when they are angry or upset, they may be more likely to attack animals.


“The ‘link’ between animal abuse and domestic violence or other criminal behaviours is a well-established phenomenon in the field of animal welfare. It alludes to the discovery that those who injure animals are also more inclined to harm people,” says Dr Saini.

This connection exists for several reasons, she says. One explanation is that those who mistreat animals frequently lack compassion for other species. They may not be concerned about the welfare of the animals or they may not comprehend that animals experience pain and suffering in a similar way as people do.

“People who have abused animals and may be struggling with mental health difficulties can find a variety of options and support. By treating the underlying causes of animal cruelty, such as mental health issues, substance misuse, and exposure to violence, using tools like individual and group therapy can aid in the prevention of further abusive behaviours,” says Dr Tannu Saini.


Education can play a crucial role in making a world kind for all and eliminating such violence against animals.

“We can start by teaching kids the value of having sympathy for and respect for all living things. Programmes in schools, literature, and other resources can help with this,” says Dr Saini.

She also mentions that the media — documentaries, news articles, TV shows, etc — can be used to spread awareness about animal mistreatment.

By utilising social media, we can spread knowledge about animal mistreatment and increase public awareness of the problem, she adds.

Unmasking animal abusers: A psychological analysis of animal cruelty
Unmasking animal abusers: A psychological analysis of animal cruelty


The Constitution of India, through Article 51 (A) g and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, provides a wonderful baseline for compassion for animals and provides the onus of care and protection of animals on human beings.

However, deterrence of cruelty against animals has been nil because of the lack of teeth that the law has in current times.

“Animal cruelty is often seen by the community, including the government, as a standalone issue while it is certainly not,” says Alokparna Sengupta, Managing Director, Humane Society International/India. She reiterates that there is enough research, noting a direct link between animal cruelty and human violence.

Studies conducted on children who have faced violence show that they may tend to replicate that violence in others, including animals. Also, those who can be cruel to animals in their childhood may choose to be violent against human beings and vice versa.

“In domestic households, animals are often used as weapons to continue domestic violence and as a means of manipulation by exploiting the human-animal bond. Therefore, unless we see the link between these and start applying this science to curb violence against both humans and animals, we will be able to effectively curb crime in India,” says Alokparna Sengupta.


We often talk about ‘buying’ a pup but little do we talk about adopting a helpless Indian one from the streets. People who have adopted our Indian dogs or ‘Indies’ have noticed that they are equally intelligent and far more adaptable to the environment. Many also mention that our Indian community dogs are highly low-maintenance.

“Rather than purchasing pets from pet stores, we can adopt animals from shelters or streets. This contributes to a decrease in the number of animals raised in cruel environments, such as puppy mills,” says Dr Saini.

She adds that we can provide time for organisations that support animal protection. This is a fantastic way to learn more about animal welfare and to improve the lives of animals.

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