19 July 2016

RESEARCH - Identifying Animal Abuse Injuries

A study recently published in Forensic Sciences may provide some criteria to help veterinarians differentiate between accidental and non-accidental injuries.

For forensic veterinarian, Dr. Margaret Doyle of the Riverbend Animal Clinic, it’s a step in the right direction.

“There is no forensic training in distinguishing accidental from non-accidental injury for vets,” said Doyle, who is the only practicing forensic veterinarian in Calgary, and has investigated hundreds of cases of animal abuse and neglect since beginning her work with the Calgary Humane Society Animal Protection Officers in 2010.

Much like a coroner, Doyle provides her specialty as a forensic vet to assist in legal investigations and to help inform lawyers and judges through autopsies, post-mortem and crime scene analysis in cases where animal abuse or neglect is suspect.

This study, “Characterization and Comparison of Injuries Caused by Accidental and Non-Accidental Blunt Force Trauma in Cats and Dogs”, has Doyle – who has given lectures on the topic of animal abuse and neglect and how vets can better recognize the signs - hopeful that more research in this area is on the way and will serve to educate animal health practitioners and lead to better resources for cases where abuse or neglect has been established.

The study was conducted by researchers from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The findings indicate that animals that suffered abuse had more head injuries, tooth fractures, rib fractures and claw damage; whereas ‘Pets involved in motor vehicle accidents tended to suffer skin abrasions or injuries involving tearing of the skin from underlying tissue, lung collapse and bruising, and hind end injury, the last possibly as a result of running away from a moving vehicle.’

According to Doyle, contrary to what the general public may believe, vets may be the last person to recognize abuse - as it’s difficult to imagine cruelty when you’re working with animals you feel so passionately about every day.

“We literally take our work home with us - there isn’t a vet who hasn’t brought an animal home to be monitored overnight – it’s hard for us to conceive of abuse to an animal,” she said, adding that she wants vets to have a network in place so they feel comfortable questioning a situation where they feel their animal in care may be in a situation of abuse.

In cases of neglect there are many that are simply not black and white, as there are instances when a pet owner may not be able to recognize or establish their pet was in pain versus outright neglecting their pet.

Doyle said currently in the province of Alberta there is only an ethical, not a legal, obligation to report cases of animal abuse and neglect.

While she is disappointed the province has not followed suit with several other provinces that make reporting such cases a legal obligation, she said as a clinical practitioner she is aware of the consequences mandatory reporting can have on a business – including staff being threatened by pet owners they have reported and the stresses that are associated with confronting animal owners in situations where abuse in suspect.

By Lindsay Seewalt
Lindsay is an experienced journalist and mother of three whose heart and home is always open to a four-legged friend. With her Corgi, Angie, as household editor-in-chief, Lindsay gives back to the animal planet through the written word on anything and all ado about pets. She is passionate about topics regarding animal welfare and responsible pet ownership, which she aims to instill in both her readers and children to be compassionate animal lovers who are conscious and considerate that furry friends around the globe deserve a voice.

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