What constitutes cruelty? "Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly taking an action that mistreats or kills any animal without just cause, such as torturing, tormenting, mutilation, maiming, poisoning, or abandonment," the FBI statement said.
Examples of such abuse include failure to provide food, water, shelter or needed veterinarian care, confining an animal in a way that is likely to cause injury or death, and inflicting excessive or repeated pain and suffering.
"This definition does not include proper maintenance of animals for show or sport; use of animals for food, lawful hunting, fishing or trapping," the FBI statement added.
While disappointed that the new policy will not cover industrial animal production and does nothing to reverse so-called "Ag-Gag" laws - which ban the taking of photos or video inside a factory farm without permission - animal welfare advocates applauded the move.
"It's an excellent thing and it has two immediate effects," said John Goodwin, director of animal abuse policy at the Humane Society of America (HSUS). "First, the fact that the FBI is taking animal cruelty crimes seriously enough to track them sends a message to all law enforcement agencies that this is a serious concern and they need to take it very seriously." The second result will be real-time tracking of animal abuse in all 50 states, as compiled in monthly crime reports by local law enforcement. Data reporting will begin in January 2016.