How could my pet care be unethical & why does it matter?
This topic is interesting as it raises key questions around the true definition of what it means to be vegan. From the very concept of pets, to the food you feed them – are they prisoners or companions?
The definition of a vegan is someone who seeks to exclude all forms of animal cruelty and suffering as much as possible, by adjusting their lifestyle. Pets are animals that have been domesticated and bred over the course of thousands of years, and as a result they’re reliant on their owners for their survival. One of the main arguments for pet ownership being ethical, is that pets are seen as reciprocal companions rather than our prisoners.
It’s important to note that we can sometimes get too caught up with the V word! The message behind veganism can be more important than the term itself. These domesticated animals need to be cared for, and so we have actually created a genuine duty of care to these animals, as abandoning them overnight would cause them to suffer.
PETA observes that the practice of pet-keeping has created cruelty as a side-effect. For example the pet industry has led to overbreeding and a population crisis, seeing merciless breeders killing or dumping “surplus” animals. This has led to the popular message of “adopt don’t shop”. By adopting animals you’re taking demand away from first-hand purchases and hopefully contributing to fewer pets being overbred to meet demand, thus reducing suffering.
It’s true that pets don’t have much agency, but unfortunately we cannot undo generations of domesticating and we have a duty of care to domesticated animals. There’s no need to give up pets, but how can we make ethical choices when buying, housing and caring for our furry or scaly friends?
How to ethically shop for your pet
We’ve all heard of adopt don’t shop, but what else can we do to make sure we’re being as ethical as possible when buying a pet? It’s important to remember that pets can be expensive – there’s food, bedding, toys, regular health treatments and possible vet bills. Make sure you’ve budgeted for your pet and all the hidden costs that might catch you out – pet insurance can help with this. You should also ask yourself how much time your pet can handle being cooped up during the day on its own – if you have to work full-time it’s cruel to leave a large dog alone all day unless you can afford to pay a dog walker or sitter. Another example is that some fish can get incredibly lonely without a companion, so make sure you thoroughly research the breed of pet you’re looking to buy to ensure you can afford to provide them with a happy living environment. Space is also a huge factor to consider – fish need space to swim, and mammals need space to roam – smaller dogs, housecats and rodents are best options for a small living space. If you live in a city, try to ensure you can find a secure green space nearby where you can let your dog regularly stretch their legs (off the lead if possible).
How to ethically feed your pet
You might be wondering, am I still vegan if I feed my pet animal products? Is it even possible to feed my pet a vegan diet? Many vegans with pets aim to feed them a vegan diet, which makes sense. Why would we want to pay for the suffering and death of more animals to keep one alive? This can be a grey area, as the nutritional needs of your pet should be your most important concern.
Quite a few of the animals we typically keep as pets are already herbivorous – rabbits, birds, guinea pigs, hamsters and some fish. This leaves us with cats, dogs and reptiles to discuss. The general consensus is that dogs can be happy and healthy on a fully vegan diet. This is likely due to the fact that dogs have adapted over time to be able to digest starches, making them omnivores. While cats are still essentially carnivorous, and their digestive system is not adapted to a herbivorous diet.
For cats and dogs, the main nutrients that need special consideration are: vitamin A, vitamin D, calcium, zinc, and of course ensuring that they are getting enough protein. Additionally, L-carnitine and taurine are two amino acids that are vital for optimal cat health. Both of these can be supplemented in your pet’s diet. It’s important to note that not all vegan pet foods provide adequate amounts of these nutrients, so always do some research about the ingredients before committing to a food brand.
A study on vegan dog nutrition by Semp in 2014, gathered information from 174 dog owners that had fed their dogs a vegan diet. Data was gathered via questionnaire and the dogs in the study had eaten this way between 6 months – 7 years. Data was also gathered by examining the dogs’ skin, coat, lymph nodes, and cardiovascular, respiratory and digestive systems. They also looked at nutrient levels in the blood such as magnesium, calcium, iron, protein, folic acid, vitamin B12 and carnitine. Most owners reported that their dogs had healthier skins and coats since transitioning to the vegan diet. When clinical examinations were made of the dogs, no abnormalities were found either. Nor were any abnormal vitamin B12 or iron levels identified.
The dark secret behind meat-based pet food
We may perceive feeding our pets meat as a “natural” diet, but when we look at the vast majority of pet food labels it couldn’t be further from the optimal and natural diet for our beloved animals. We need to talk about the four ‘D’s – 4D is the name given to pet food made up from the flesh of animals that were Dead, Dying, Diseased or Disabled. These animal foods are often ground into something called meal and this food is considered unsafe for human consumption. This is so incredibly concerning. We already know that animal products marketed for human consumption are filled with nasties like antibiotics, hormones, chemicals and toxins – this begs the question of what is in the food that we feed our animals, as it is surely even worse. Often pet food is ground up with no regulations around foreign objects in the food. For example, ear tags are often ground up along with the rest of the brains, offal, eyeballs, and bones. To add insult to injury, it is estimated that around 15 million lbs of cancerous tissue is produced in US slaughterhouses every year. That is some pretty grim food for thought!
We love pets and hope to have some of our own one day. Whether you already own a pet or are thinking of adding one to your family soon, hopefully this post has helped you understand some of the issues we face with pet ownership and yet how easy it is to make ethical decisions to keep our pets happy and healthy.
Let me know what you think in the comments!