Animal Cruelty and Psychiatric Disorders

R. Gleyzer, C. E. Holzer III, and Alan R. Felthous,
Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 30(2): 257-265, 2002.
Animal cruelty in childhood, although generally viewed as abnormal or deviant, for years was not considered symptomatic of any particular psychiatric disorder. Although animal cruelty is currently used as a diagnostic criterion for conduct disorder, research establishing the diagnostic significance of this behavior is essentially nonexistent. In the current study, investigators tested the hypothesis that a history of substantial animal cruelty is associated with a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder (APD) and looked for associations with other disorders commonly diagnosed in a population of criminal defendants. Forty-eight subjects, criminal defendants who had histories of substantial animal cruelty, were matched with defendants without this history. Data were systematically obtained from the files by using four specifically designed data retrieval outlines. A history of animal cruelty during childhood was significantly associated with APD, antisocial personality traits, and polysubstance abuse. Mental retardation, psychotic disorders, and alcohol abuse showed no such association.