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Signs Your Adopted Pet Was Abused (And What to Do About It)

Adopting a pet is an exciting new chapter in life. Here are signs to tell if your adopted pet was abused and what you could do to help.


Adopting a pet is a milestone in one's life. As exciting and rewarding as it may seem on the surface, it comes with great responsibility. Pet parents want nothing but the best for their animals and that begins with their health. When adopting a pet, there is a chance that the animal may have been previously abused, which means that the animal has suffered from injuries and neglect, thus resulting in extreme behavior. It takes extra care and attention for these abused animals to feel safe and secure.

In the case that you are adopting an abused animal, there are visible signs of probable abuse and actions you can take to help. If there are any physical symptoms that indicate that your adopted pet was abused, be sure to take them to veterinary care or a veterinary behaviorist for help. Read on to learn about the common signs to tell if your adopted pet has been abused.

Check for physical signs of abuse.

As a pet owner, the first thing you should always do to check if your pet has been abused is to check their physical health—dogs and cats alike. When you first adopt your pet, take note of their appearance. Make sure the animal is not too thin or has any noticeable scars or scratches. In cases where the animal has been abused, they may have been exposed to malnutrition, and therefore appear to be physically unhealthy and too skinny. It is one of the more obvious indications of abuse.

If your pet suffers from these physical symptoms (ie. extremely thin, patches of hair missing, scars and scratches) then it is a good idea to bring them to the veterinary care for a check up. Abused or neglected animals take time to become comfortable in a new environment and need the upmost care and attention.

Examine the animal's fur.

Photo via FancyCrave

Depending on which breed of dog or cat that you adopt, their fur is all unique. Some animals have short and rough fur while others have long and soft. It is important to do your research on the characteristics of your pet so you are aware of what to look for when checking your pet.

Pets who have been abused usually have matted, tangled fur, indicating that the animal has not been cared for or groomed in the past. In some extreme cases, the fur on the animal could be patchy or fall out in clumps. If this is true for your animal, take it to veterinary care immediately, as it may be the result of abuse or an untreated disease due to the lack of care and grooming.

Watch for skin conditions.

Photo via Nancy Nobody

In addition to checking your pet's fur, you should also thoroughly check its skin for any rashes, wounds, burns, or scabs. Rescue dogs, for example, have a history of having unhealthy skin because of their living conditions. It may be a more difficult sign to see at first, but it is necessary to know in order to get your animal safe and healthy.

Some of these skin conditions are most commonly known to be caused by a flea infestation. Abused animals do not have proper care and treatment and are more likely exposed to fleas, ticks, or other parasites. If not properly cared for, the infestation could lead to more severe issues. Be sure to check for these signs before you bring a new cat or dog home.

Check your animal's nails.

Photo via Dog Forums

It may seem trivial, but checking an animal's nails to see if they are overgrown can be a basic sign of animal abuse. Pets who have been abused often have long, uncut nails because their previous owner did not treat them properly and neglected them by putting them in an environment where their nails could not be worn down. It is of the upmost importance to recognize why you must cut your dog's nails.

Observe the animal's behavior.

Photo via Pixabay

When bringing home your pet for the first time, behavior might seem strange, but don't mistake it for an abused animal. It may take a new pet a considerable amount of time to get used to their new home and environment, which may lead to unusual, frightened behavior. All animals need a period of time to become comfortable in their new home. Keep an eye on their behavior and notice the changes that come with their newly accustomed surroundings.

If the newly adopted dog is acting nervous or frightened around you, it may be because it is still getting used to its new home. On the other hand, if your dog becomes agitated and very frightened as you lift your arm, then this is most likely a reaction to past abuse.

Try and observe your pet in a quiet and calm environment to see its organic behavior. In other settings, there could be many distractions that can lead to unusual behavior that may be mistaken for previous abuse.

Watch for aggressive behavior and anxiety.

Adopting an abused dog can mean adopting an aggressive one. Some dogs that have been abused in the past react to certain situations by becoming aggressive—showing their teeth, growling, barking, and sometimes biting. If any of these behaviors arise, contact a veterinary behaviorist immediately, as it can become dangerous in some cases.

Anxiety is another way that abused animals handle certain situations. In contrast to aggression, some dogs may react by becoming withdrawn, fearful and shy. It is a defense mechanism that they use, and each dog differs from the last. Some signs that your dog may have anxiety is—whining, panting, drooling, digging, pacing, and separation anxiety.

If your dog is showing this type of behavior, be sure to take your animal to see a veterinary behaviorist. It is a good idea to be completely sure if your pet has suffered from previous abuse or not.

Do your research.

Photo via iStock

One action you can take to better your understanding of your pet is to do research on their breed. Any animal can be abused, but there are some breeds that, unfortunately, face physical abuse more commonly than other animals. For example, breeds and rescue dogs such as Pitbulls and Boxers are used for illegal fighting, which is a prime example of abuse and neglect.

If your adopted pet is a breed that is known for suffering abuse, this can mean that they have been isolated, starved, drugged, or trained to be aggressive. It is important to research the common behavior of your animal's breed and its history of abuse, because some are far more common than others.

Speak with the animal's previous caretaker or owner.

Photo via AAHA

Chances are that your new pet has a previous owner who is familiar with their behavioral patterns. Contact them and identify if the animal comes from a safe home, if they have suffered from abuse, neglect, or if they had any injuries at all. As a successful and happy pet owner, one should know about their pet's past and how to handle it with care.

Whether you got your new pet from a shelter or an individual, always have their contact at hand in case any questions arise or if you come across an issue. Chances are that they have dealt with it too. Breeders, kennels, animal shelters, and pet stores are always willing to share any information that they have. At the very least, make sure you don't buy a pet from Craigslist.

Talk to your veterinarian.

One of the first things you should always do when adopting a new pet is take it to veterinary care. Veterinarians are there to check the overall health of your animals. They may be able to see symptoms that you overlook, and prescribe appropriate medications or suggest training methods and treatment plans. Not only do veterinarians check physical health, but they are also trained in checking for underlying health issues that may be very easy to miss.

Veterinary behaviorists can assist in training your pet, which is a step closer to making your pet safe. One of the most widely known training methods for animals is using positive reinforcement with treats to get them to behave a certain way. They may even suggest an exercise pen for your dog to provide a safe environment for your animal.

Take action.

Photo via ASPCA

Unfortunately, animal abuse is an issue that occurs every day in society. When an adopted pet was abused, it violates serious offenses and is punishable by law. Becoming familiar with the signs of abuse is a step to defeating animal abuse in your city. If you suspect that an animal is being abused or know of anyone abusing animals, contact your local animal protection agency or authority.

It is a group effort to keep animals safe and away from harm. As pet owners, we should be knowledgeable and aware of any abuse that is happening around us, and help our pets who have suffered through abuse. Volunteering in an animal shelter has improved life for at least a few people and many an animal, and it was one of the most tangible ways to help.

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