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Follow-up commentary on: Can vegans own pets?

March 25, 2012

Cat for adoptionI wanted to take the opportunity to clarify slightly my dilemma in my previous post. A few people have made comments following my post cautioning me not to equate morality of humans with that of other animals (e.g., cats). I am surprised by this warning as I did not believe that my post revealed any indication that I was ignorant of this. Indeed, I am well aware of the moral differences between humans eating animals and other animals eating animals, and I would certainly never apply identical moral argumentation to both scenarios.

I would like to emphasize a particular element of my dilemma that I still do not have an answer for. I was recommended a podcast by Gary Francione in which it was alleged that he answers my questions concerning this dilemma. Gary makes some extremely insightful points on what vegan cat owners should do on the assumption that certain cats cannot follow vegan diets and remain healthy. (Note that this is an assumption he makes because he admits he is not a veterinarian or similar and so cannot claim that this is true or not.) However, he also makes the assumption that this question is being asked by vegans who presently own cats. Still I am left in doubt about those vegans who are interested in adopting cats but do not have one yet. This is a very important distinction.

Indeed, the podcast helped me to frame my question more precisely, by referring to “pet ownership” as an “immoral institution”, which I can relate to. It is assumed, therefore, that vegans who already participate in this “immoral institution” have an obligation to their animals to continue participating in it. For example, vegans have the obligation to engage in “morally excusable” acts such as feeding their cats meat in order to ensure that they do not suffer. This makes perfect sense and I was not questioning this per se in my previous post. But I wonder:  does one opt in good moral consciousness to participate in this “immoral institution” if one has the choice not to (i.e., if one is not already participating)?  In other words, what should non cat owners do? Should they adopt cats in the hope that the cats can follow a vegan diet and if they can’t, then (since they are now cat owners) they must start buying meat (as identified by Gary as the “morally excusable” act)? Again, Gary believes that it is not inherently wrong to feed a carnivorous domesticated animal a vegan diet if they prosper only on it. That I do not deny. But should we participate in this “immoral institution” called “pet ownership” if we have the option not to? Is it “morally excusable” to adopt a cat and take the risk that it will not be able to eat a vegan diet?

As previously mentioned, Gary says that it is “morally excusable” to feed cats meat if there is no other alternative. This implies that he believes it is better to feed and care for the cat than to euthanize it in order not to contribute to the meat industry. I can accept that, too. But I still am without the answer to my question in my previous post: Can vegans adopt cats? Sure, vegans can own pets, but should they adopt if they don’t already own?

I am also aware that I should not broadly apply my morality for animals on my morality for meat or animal products directly. However, this must be taken with a grain of salt. Non-vegetarians can and do make the “category” argument when they eat meat, e.g., “It’s already dead by the time it makes it to my plate!” (I.e., “It’s not my ethical dilemma, it was someone else’s”). The same can be true for cat food. If one feels justified housing a bunch of cats by believing that the meat that one feeds the cats is just an animal product that is already dead, then I’m not going to argue, but to my mind, I do not believe it is categorically appropriate to make the distinction. Perhaps I’m in error to try to work out exactly how many animals need to die so that my cat can live out his/her life, and then from that try to determine whether it is more morally excusable to euthanize the animal than to feed it meat. Perhaps it’s a timing issue with respect to at what point we can safely say that we have no control or persuasion on an animal’s suffering. It is more apparent and direct to see your own cat harmed by your dogmatic beliefs than it would be to only *assume* a farm animal suffers from you compromising those very beliefs. That may be enough for most people to see this as a black and white decision. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite so for me.

Finally, I’m a bit surprised that I must also explain and clarify my stance on my veganism, but alas, I do have to from time to time. I’m not inherently against killing. That is not what you should have taken away from my last post. I do not believe all carnivorous animals should be killed or euthanized for “the greater vegan cause”. That is ludicrous and a straw man. However, I do think that if domesticated animals were to exist no longer, this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. The same applies to domesticated farm animals, but for different reasons. My “life equals a life” reasoning that I alluded to in my previous post could be likened to the classical moral dilemma of choosing between saving drowning animals. Say four cows and a cat are drowning in a lake. You have the opportunity to save the four cows or to save the cat. Which do you save? This eliminates the timing issue I referred to above. I do not apply or compare this hypothetical dilemma to natural environments or the food chain. We are talking about owning pets, not disapproving of eating meat across the animal kingdom.

I do not believe I made a category error in my previous post. Agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear your comments!

7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 3, 2012 2:52 pm

    This is a great article. I do think that not-adopting an obligate carnivore is really important for vegans for a number of reasons. Far better is to prevent the suffering of cats by donating what you would pay in food, vet care and litter, to a trap-neuter-release project. Also, if you get a vegetarian-abled pet, such as a dog, adopting from a breeder encourages the breeder to keep breeding. At this point in time, when dogs are being killed by ‘shelters’, there is no reason to support breeders. Plus, dog breeding arose out of the eugenics movement and has resulted in dogs that are bread to extremes and having health issues (such as German Shepard’s with hip displasia, pugs and persians with respiratory problems, and so on). Thanks for your post.

  2. Cait47shea permalink
    February 25, 2016 12:58 pm

    I honestly have wanted a cat for so long but being vegan I chose not to get one. Because what’s the point of me being vegan if I have to buy my cat animal products? So I have decided not to get one. It isn’t fun, but I believe it’s the right decision. As to the fact that they are overbred, I like the comment about adopting money to shelters so they can take of more cats. This would be okay I believe because the reason domesticated animals are in these horrible situations is the fault of humans. So just mercilessly killing them or just letting them starve I believe is wrong too. Honestly lots of “pet” domesticated animals are already put down or left to starve. It’s a losing battle because of the size of the population. In the whole scheme of the world we are losing the battle to save humankind as well (by this I mean support any kind of human population, we’ve have already exceeded the limit of being able to feed everyone, only a matter of time till we over exhaust other resources like water). Eventually the human race will come to a point as in all animal populations in which there are no more options and there is a massive decline in population. That’s simple biology. I think the answer to these questions will be taken care of by the laws of nature regardless of whether people wake up to actually solve these problems.

  3. June permalink
    March 23, 2017 12:40 am

    Well, cat food is mostly actually corn. There is a little bit of chicken, beef, etc in their food but it is at a grade that wouldn’t be fit for human consumption. So something might as well eat that food. If you don’t adopt the cat it will be in the shelter or euthanized. In the shelter it will not have much space or attention. I definitely don’t agree with getting pets from breeders, but a pet from a shelter is okay in my mind. We should take responsibility for the creatures we brought into the world and domesticated. Cats also eat much less than humans. My cat hardly eats anything. I would say adopt the cat even though it eats meat. Your logic doesn’t work because those 4 chickens will die anyway. 3 of them will be fit for human consumption. One of them won’t be and it’s flesh will be mixed with a lot of cornmeal to produce catfood. If you really want to get that deep into it, cow manure is used to fertilize vegetables so, I vote to save a cat and give the cat a good life.

  4. Adam permalink
    June 28, 2017 6:51 pm

    Great article – very thought provoking! I wonder: is it immoral for a vegan to have a child, fully knowing that there is a strong chance that this child will grow up to eat meat and thus cause animals to suffer? Isn’t bringing more carnivorous animals into the world in some sense analogous to bringing more carnivorous humans into it?

    I think the whole system of assigning relative weights to the lives of all animals (one cat being worth four chickens, for example) is somewhat arbitrary; the reason veganism is unequivocally right is that the decision is between the suffering of hundreds of animals or the suffering of none. In this case the answer is clear, but with adopting a cat, for example, it ultimately comes down to the weighting question: how many fish is this cat’s life worth?

    I fail to see the distinction between a human feeding a cat and the cat hunting its prey in the wild – it is a rather human-centric view to believe animals dying is only wrong when we are the direct perpetrators, and so I think the issue of whether vegans should adopt cats is somewhat tangential to the real issue: do we have a moral responsibility to prevent animals killing each other in nature?

    I think if we can answer this question then the whole adopting an animal question will answer itself.

  5. Nova permalink
    August 27, 2017 8:25 pm

    I have made the choice to be vegan, but my pets don’t need to make that choice. I have six rescue cats and I do feed them food with meat. I choose a small family owned US based food company that uses protein that mimics a more natural diet for a cat (e.g. quail and rabbit, as opposed to beef or chicken). And I don’t believe there is anything wrong with a vegan owning a pet and providing them with their required diet. There is such a crisis of so many homeless cats and dogs and it’s not the time for animal lovers and activists to turn them away. Be conscious and educated about the food you buy. You dont necessarily “own” your pet; the two of you share your living space! If you don’t adopt that cat or dog, someone will and might end up ignoring it or feeding it some crappy food like Pedigree or Meow Mix. I truly believe vegans are some of the best pet owners of all, because we truly care for animals and have a deeper understanding of their emotions and needs.


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