Exposure to Intimate Partner Violence and Internalizing Symptoms: The Moderating Fffects of Positive Relationships with Pets and Animal Cruelty Exposure

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Graduate School of Social Work


Domestic violence, Animal abuse, Childhood adversity, Trauma, Child psychopathology



It is estimated that more than half of children living in households where intimate partner violence (IPV) occurs are also exposed to animal cruelty (AC). Although prior research links bonds with pets with higher levels of socioemotional competence among school-age children, exposure to AC may negate the protective effects of pet ownership and/or exacerbate the potentially deleterious effect of IPV on children’s mental health.


The current study evaluates whether and to what extent the associations between exposure to IPV and several indicators of children’s mental health vary as a function of children’s positive engagement with pets and exposure to AC.

Participants and Setting

Participants included 204 children (aged 7–12 years; 47% female; 57% Latinx) and their maternal caregiver who were recruited from domestic violence agencies in a western U.S. state.


Multiple moderation analysis evaluated whether the association between children’s exposure to IPV and internalizing and posttraumatic stress symptoms vary as a function of children’s positive engagement with pets and exposure to AC.


Analyses revealed several moderation effects for positive engagement with pets (e.g., internalizing problems: [b = −.15, t(195) = −2.66, p = .008]; posttraumatic stress symptoms: [b = −.13, t(195) = −2.24, p = .026]), whereas exposure to AC only moderated the association between IPV and anxious/depressed symptoms (b = .32, t(195) = −2.41, p = .017).


These findings highlight the potential protective effects of positive engagement with pets and importance of screening for exposure to AC when engaging in trauma-informed work with children exposed to IPV.

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