Vegan "Pet Owners"

The keeping of "pets" creates a number of vegan dilemmas in itself, and I'm often asked, in particular, how vegans approach the issue of caring for meat eating animals such as cats and dogs. I was going to write a post specifically about the arguments for and against vegan pet food (which does exist), but I found myself discussing the wider issue of keeping domesticated animals, from a vegan perspective, so I thought I'd write something as more of an overview of vegan pet ownership.

Most vegans live with animals, as a rule a majority of vegans really enjoy animal company (although "loving animals" isn't necessarily a prerequisite of veganism, despite popular assumption). Vegan pets, like non vegan pets, range from mice to horses, bearded dragons to pot bellied pigs. However, the vegan attitude towards pet ownership generally differs from that of non-vegans, and I wanted to explain that in this post as it's something that people ask about often.

First things first, vegans don't, or at least shouldn't, support the keeping of pets - that goes for any type of animal, whether it's an elephant or a goldfish. In an ideal vegan world, all domesticated animals would be neutered so that they were unable to reproduce, and those already in existence would be loved, adored, and very well cared for whilst they lived out their natural lives. Once the last domesticated animal had died, happy and well nourished, nobody would keep pets any more.

Vegans love their pets. Vegans probably love your pets. Vegans don't, however, think that we, as humans, have a right to keep animals for our own enjoyment, and that is the cornerstone of pet ownership - we may give our pets everything their hearts could possibly desire, but we gain in return, from their love and their companionship, and that, in itself, can be seen as a form of animal exploitation. Where these particular animals are concerned, there is no alternative. They're not wild animals, they never were wild animals, and most of them could never live as wild animals - they're entirely dependent on human cohabitation for their own health - but that's a set up, and arrangement, that humans have created. A pet doesn't consent to being a pet, it just is a pet, an animal which is predominantly dependent on another species for it's survival - and not in a natural way as can be observed in nature. It's largely unnatural, in fact, it's entirely unnatural - and we're going back hundreds of years, thousands of years, in the case of some species such as the domestic cat.

As a vegan I don't think anybody is in the wrong for rescuing a domestic animal and keeping it in their home - I have two rescue cats in my home. These animals exist, they need us, and we therefore have a responsibility to give them happy, fulfilled lives. I just think humans are dicks for creating a situation where there are millions of animals reliant on us for their survival - too many, in fact, for us to support.

Rescuing is the crucial element here. Vegans are fundamentally opposed to the breeding of animals for life as a pet. We already have too many domesticated animals on this planet, that there aren't enough caring human families to take them on. Breeding animals - basically encouraging another being to reproduce - for your own gain, or the gain of other people, is morally objectionable. I don't support any form of animal breeding, whether it's a zoo programme or someone making money from selling pug puppies.

However, humans have created this situation and as such, as a vegan, I recognise it as a human responsibility to rescue domestic animals in need of love and care. Many vegans also save animal lives by rescuing animals from cruel industries, be they dairy cattle, pork pigs, Christmas turkeys, ex-factory hens etc. There are quite a few animal sanctuaries that rescue farm animals from death and torture. Again, these sanctuaries and the people who run them would rather cows, pigs, turkeys and chickens had never been born in the first place, as their existence only came about to satisfy human greed, but, they're here now, and we have a duty to end their suffering if we can and give them a better life - and sure, we fall totally in love with them all!

So, that's the first point of vegan pet ownership really. Adopt, don't buy. Rescue, don't breed. In an ideal vegan world, the act of breeding animals would be illegal, which would lead to wide spread neutering, an increase in rescue and rehab, and eventually, an end to pet ownership - but that's unlikely to happen.

So - once a vegan rescues an animal, what happens if caring for that animal causes conflict with their vegan values? Cats and dogs, for example, are understood to be obligate carnivores, needing meat to survive. Will a vegan support the cruel and barbaric farming practices that lead to the deaths of millions of animals, in order to feed one animal?

Ideally, vegans will feed all pets a vegan diet, which, is understood by many non vegans (and some vegans too) to be selfish and alarmingly unnatural. As far as we are aware, there are no wild species of vegetarian dog or cat after all.

Most vegans would deny the idea that they're "forcing their values on to a natural carnivore" though. The most important thing is to make a differentiation between domestic and wild animals, and to address what is "natural".

Dogs and cats are distant descendants of wild species, but far removed from them after years and years of breeding - a Pomeranian for example, is a far cry from a wolf. The very existence of domestic animals is unnatural; these are creatures that are not supposed to exist. No natural phenomenon, such as evolution or natural selection, resulted in their being, only human-encouraged breeding. With each generation in fact, these animals become less and less natural, and more of an abomination - we now have English Bulldogs who can only give birth by caesarean section, because their bodies are too deformed from selective breeding to safely give birth to their own puppies - animals which are prone to eye infections, ear injections, joint problems, spine problems, ill digestive health or respiratory disorders, as a result of being bred as pets.

No vegan is taking a wolf from the wild and feeding it lettuce. We're talking about taking an engineered animal, an artificial animal of sorts, and feeding it a synthetic food which has been developed in a laboratory to meet all of it's nutritional needs. Most non vegans feed their animals shop bought pet food. There is no wild animal eating Pedigree Chum, no tiger tucking into a bowl of Go-Cat. Feeding a genetically mutated animal a meat based pet food from a shop is no more "natural" than feeding them a vegetarian diet. Kibble, or tinned meat, is not a natural food for any dog or cat in the first place. If you release a domestic dog into the wild it is not going to go out, catch itself a lamb, and serve it with jelly in a bowl. Vegan dog and cat foods are developed in laboratory settings to contain everything that the meat versions contain, but without the death of another animal. Taurine, for example, is a substance absolutely essential to cat's survival. Very few non-vegan cat owners are feeding their cat an exclusively "natural" diet of rodents and birds. Most non-vegan cat owners are feeding either a dry, or wet cat food diet, which contains taurine, naturally occurring in meat. Vegan cat food also contains taurine, from synthetic sources,  which meets the cat's needs for survival. As far as cat's are concerned, the vegan food tastes great. A dog or cat will not die as a result of eating an approved vegan pet food.

Yes - there have been cases of vegans killing the domesticated animals in their care by feeding them a vegan diet, but we're talking about someone giving their dog only rice. No sensible vegan is suggesting dogs can survive on rice and fresh vegetables alone. But synthetic dog foods that are approved for sale to meet the nutritional needs of the animal in question are not going to kill your dog.

Incidentally, the oldest dog recorded to live in human companionship was vegan.

Some vegans don't feel comfortable feeding cats and dogs a non-meat diet, so they simply choose not to live with these animals and to rescue herbivores, such as horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters etc. instead. This avoids any inner conflict or the need to decide between meat based or vegan pet foods.
Vegan dog and cat food can also be very expensive and can't just be picked up in the supermarket, which can make it prohibitive for some vegans to feed their pets a vegan diet. Again, these would probably be factors that would discourage a vegan from living with a cat or a dog.

Hopefully that clears up some people's questions about vegans and pets but you're more than welcome to get in touch with any questions, I'll respond to any comments left below or there's a contact button at the top of the page.

If you're thinking about taking on a new pet - please adopt or rescue an animal in need. There is absolutely no need to buy from a breeder and to add to the problem. Even if you've got your heart set on a specific type of pet, a little internet search will allow you to find rescue charities set up to rehome specific breeds of animal (such as Pug Rescue or Ragdoll Cat Rescue ). If you have a legitimate reason for not rescuing an animal ("I don't want to get a rescue as we have a small baby and I won't know the dogs history") then you have a legitimate reason for not having that type of pet. If a rescue dog isn't right for your family, then you should consider that grounds for a dog not being right for your family - buying puppies/kittens/baby rabbits from breeders should never be an option in my opinion.

Please note that I have absolutely NO doubt what so ever that most animal breeders love their animals so so much, and that most people who buy from breeders adore their pets. I'm not suggesting that this isn't the case or that all animal breeders are monsters. I think it's intrinsically unethical to breed an animal, whether you make a profit or not, or however well those animals are cared for, especially when there are so many desperately in need of homes in shelters all over the world, I'd call the morals of anyone involved in animal breeding into question, but for the most part I do appreciate that these people do not perceive themselves as cruel.


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