Within the animal protection movement, the term "animal abuse" is used to describe any use or treatment of animals that seems unnecessarily cruel, regardless of whether the act is against the law. The term "animal cruelty" is sometimes used interchangeably with "animal abuse," but "animal cruelty" is also a legal term that describes acts of animal abuse that are against the law. The state laws that protect animals from abuse are referred to as "animal cruelty statutes."
Animal advocates consider factory farming practices like debeaking, the use of veal crates or tail docking to be animal abuse, but these practices are legal almost everywhere. While many people would call these practices "cruel," they do not constitute animal cruelty under the law in most jurisdictions but fit the term "animal abuse" in many people's minds.
The term "animal abuse" can also describe violent or neglectful actions against pets or wildlife. In cases of wildlife or pets, these animals are more likely to be protected or are better protected than farmed animals under the law. If cats, dogs or wild animals were treated the same as cows, pigs and chickens in factory farms, the people involved would likely be convicted of animal cruelty.
Animal rights activists oppose not only animal abuse and animal cruelty, but any use of animals. For animal rights activists, the issue is not about abuse or cruelty; it's about domination and oppression. No matter how well the animals are treated, no matter how big the cages are, and no matter how much anesthesia they are given before painful procedures, using animals for our own purposes violates their right to be free of human oppression.