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Can vegans have pets? – Are companion animals ethical?

While there’s no doubt vegans love animals, there’s some who believe owning a pet is a form of oppression or cruelty. It’s a reasonable question to ask, therefore, can vegans have pets? Namely, cats and dogs.

After all, dogs and cats are essentially forced into confinement in our homes which seems at odds with the vegan philosophy.

Domestic pets are a human creation

Dogs, cats, and other domestic animals are the end product of a long history of selective breeding by humans. We’ve manipulated these species, through various genetic techniques, for specific reasons, accentuating certain physical and personality traits that suit human desires.

Take dogs for example, they’ve been used throughout history as a method to attack, guard and defend, depending on characteristics that we’ve encouraged.

We see breeds like German Shepherds that are obedient, intelligent, and fiercely protective of their family[1]Dogwise: The Natural way to Train your Dog (1992), John Fisher Souvenir Press Ltd. ISBN 0-285-63114-4. Or take the loving Maine Coon cat, known for its friendly nature.

We breed these animals to suit our purposes.

Other breeds of domestic animals are often bred simply for their aesthetics. That is, we just like them to look a certain way. And we have weird competitions like Crufts (boo!) where we compare our ability to manipulate the genes of pets to our own specifications. Often, to the animal’s own detriment.

Dogs and cats rely on humans.

What’s important is to realize that these animals are not the same as their wild ancestors. Their physical and temperamental characteristics render them virtually incapable of living without humans.

That is to say, animals like dogs and cats need humans for their care and existence. There is basically no natural habitat to which these animals can return to.

This is because humans have bred in (and out) certain features of domestic animals that make them suitable for life living alongside us but cripples their ability to live independently.

Often, these characteristics are terrible afflictions and disorders we should stop encouraging immediately, like skin fold dermatitis in breeds like the Pug or Shar-Pei.

We need to stop breeding dogs and cats

The problem is, we have too many dogs and cats. We have breeders irresponsibly cashing in on people’s desire for owning certain designer breeds instead of spaying and neutering.

Our towns, cities, and parks are overloaded with strays subjected to the elements, harsh treatment, dangerous roads, hunger, and thirst.

And the obvious solution is to simply stop breeding these animals and spay and neuter as we go. But while there is money in breeding animals, the problem will persist.

The consequence of all this is that animal shelters become overloaded; dogs and cats are then euthanized before they can be adopted.

While there are some no-kill shelters out there, they rely heavily on donations of money, food, and time by volunteers. These volunteers walk dogs, fuss cats, and try their best to give these creatures love until they hopefully find a home.

Should vegans adopt pets?

Given that the vegan philosophy encourages us to minimize our harm to animals and that the problem of too many domestic animals is our own doing, it seems vegans have a moral responsibility to do something about it.

It would be a great irresponsibility for people – vegan or not – to ignore the calls of abandoned and homeless animals. Because that’s what they are, abandoned and homeless.

We created them and it is our responsibility to care for them.

This is not the same as standing back from a natural process, letting the lion kill the gazelle, this is something we caused and we should fix.

How can vegans help dog and cat shelters?

A compassionate philosophy, such as veganism, should strive to close breeding mills, pet stores that “stock” animals, donate time and money to no-kill shelters, and encourage spay and neuter programs.

Naturally, these things aren’t sorted overnight. They take time and persistence. But just as veganism has made great strides in transforming the landscape of commercial food, it can most certainly do the same for the plight of overbreeding and irresponsible pet ownership.

The simplest way to help is to donate your time to a shelter.

Volunteering at a dog or cat shelter is immensely rewarding. Cleaning up poop may not be very glamorous but it directly enriches the life of one of our animal friends. Giving them five minutes of attention and love means the world to them. Quite literally.

They live to please us. It’s how we’ve bred them. Their love and loyality is both tragic and beautiful.

Can vegans have pets?

There’s a line of thought amongst some vegans that taking an animal into your home is the same as imprisonment.

For these vegans the idea of “owning” a cat or a dog is a symptom of speciesism.

While there may be some merit to this idea, afterall, we are quite literally playing God with dog and cat breeding, I believe these vegans are mistaken.

Their thinking is based on the idea that these animals have an alternative. They don’t.

This may be yet another example of perfect being the enemy of the good in veganism.

While a dog or cat may be able to live outside of a human home for some time, their quality of life is incomparable to that of a housed companion animal.

Their existence always, in some way, relies on humans. Whether that be living off our scraps, sheltering in our constructs, or gleaning some form of companionship – whenever they can – from passers-by.

These animals rely on us for a quality form of life.

The harsh truth is these animals need homes and vegans can provide them with one.

Not only is this beneficial to the animal but the vegan too. Almost everyone who shares a relationship with a dog or cat will attest that it is a reciprocally good deal. The love, bond, and trust between a pet and a human transcend the differences in species and language.

What do vegans feed their pets though?

For dogs, this isn’t such a big issue. Most dogs are perfectly fine on a nutritionally complete vegan diet.

Cats, however, are a little trickier.

While no conclusive long-term studies have been undertaken yet, it does seem that a vegan diet is hazardous to our feline friends. The synthetic forms of the essential nutrients that cats need don’t seem to be metabolized well by cats.

It is a hard pill to swallow for vegans that cats rely on the flesh of other animals.

But it’s important to be consistent in our thinking here. Vegans are often outraged to hear stories of herbivores, like cows, being fed animal products. It seems wrong, to vegans, to force a natural herbivore animal flesh.

Should vegans not be equally outraged to force a natural carnivore a herbivorous diet?

That is, if we’re going to get outraged about feeding meat to cows because they’re naturally vegetarian, we should be outraged too about feeding a natural carnivore, like a cat, a vegetarian diet.

This is not an easy subject to tackle and I intend to go over the full ramifications in a later post. There are no easy answers to these issues.

Vegans should adopt pets like dogs and cats

When we take a species from their natural environment, breed them into shapes, temperaments, and features that suit us, we irreversibly distort their ability to survive in a natural environment.

We can’t undo what’s already done.

Dogs, cats, and other companion animals are here. Most of us are grateful for that and can’t imagine a world without them.

What we can do is ensure we don’t let these animals down. Having become entirely dependent on us, they look to us for their own welfare.

All we can do is adopt, spay, neuter and seek to ban reckless breeding.


1 Dogwise: The Natural way to Train your Dog (1992), John Fisher Souvenir Press Ltd. ISBN 0-285-63114-4