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Is it Morally Wrong to Keep Animals as Pets?

Updated on May 4, 2012

Back in 2010 I stumbled across an article by fellow Hubber Shil1978 titled “Why Do We Keep Pets? Is Keeping Pets Wrong?”. The topic of her article struck chord with me and I left quite a long, thought out comment. Ever since then I had been meaning to write a fully-fledged Hub of my own about this topic so although I'm not quite as impassioned as I was when I first started thinking about this topic two years ago, here is my humble opinion piece.

It is a small majority of people who are completely against keeping pets. Even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the often called “outrageous” or “extreme” animal-rights group aren't entirely against the common practice of keeping animal companions. They do believe, however that it would have been best had domestication of animals never been invented in the first place. Perhaps this is true, after all if humans had never started selective breeding them, the dogs and cats as we know them today would simply not exist. A stray dog or cat may struggle to survive in the wild and have a significantly reduced lifespan compared with domestic animals. These species were bred to live in the human world, whether as companions or worker animals. I want to discuss the reasons why we are driven to seek out animal companions and explore why my gut feeling is that it is not immoral.

Man with Dog. Photography by Maggie Smith.
Man with Dog. Photography by Maggie Smith.

"What's the point of having a pet? Why would anyone bother?"

Animal companions have been shown to improve the well being of their human owners. Part of that is because a pet can fulfill the owner's emotional needs. Having a pet can help with loneliness both for the human and the animal.

Most mornings my cat will come into the bedroom, jump up onto the bed and sit on me until I get up, occasionally swatting my face. As much as I would like to believe that its because she missed my company throughout the night I know that she does this because every morning when I get up the first thing I do is give her some food. She wants her breakfast! But there are other times that she will seek out the company of myself or my partner for reasons other than food. She will sit on our laps while we watch television and she always sleeps in the bed with me when my partner is working late at night. It's not always immediately obvious but as I move around the house she will follow me from room to room and sit somewhere out of the way but where she can see me. At times like these I look into her eyes and know that the emotional connection goes two ways.

Many studies have been carried out to test the positive impacts that tests have on physical health. Something as simple as walking the dog (or cat or rabbit!) around the block once a day is good exercise for both the human and animal and also a bonding activity.

Some known health benefits of pet ownership:

  • Reducing depression and anxiety.

  • Increased exercise.

  • Children who grow up with animals are thought to be less likely to develop pet related allergies or asthma later.

  • Pet owners tend to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol level.

  • Decreased risk of heart disease.

  • Animal interventions can help ease the suffering of people with Alzheimer’s.

Cat. Photography by Szarlota.
Cat. Photography by Szarlota.

"The urge to keep and own an animal is selfish and is about man dominating other animals."

Good pet-owners are those who examine their lifestyle and home to determine which if any pet is appropriate for them. They understand the needs of their animal and accommodate them, for example, by buying or building a scratching post for a cat or having a large backyard for a dog.

There's a reason why people often call their four-legged friends “furbabies”, because they really can become members of your family just like children! Good pet-owners are protective of their companions, want to provide for them, spend money on them, and at the same time discipline them and train them to live harmoniously in the home, just like real children. This is about having a relationship with your animal companion, not domination. Adopting an animal (particularly one from a shelter) is generally a loving thing to do. While the animal may not have any say in their situation, nor does a child have a say in which family they are born into.

Zack. Photography by Gary Scott.
Zack. Photography by Gary Scott.

"Animals should be out in “the wild” the way mother nature intended. Keeping them indoors, in cages or behind fences is unnatural."

As I said in the first paragraph, domesticated animals that become stray and feral can lead terrible lives in the wild. Not only do they become vulnerable to predators, disease, starvation, and the elements but they themselves can have a dreadful impact in the environment around them by killing native species or competing with them for food. This is why PETA members don't storm every home and release Fido or Rex into the forest to run free. In this case keeping animals such as modern-day dogs and cats seems in the best interest of the animal and its definitely better than languishing in a shelter only to be put down. For these species living in “the wild” is simply not an option. But let's take a species of animal that has been part of its ecosystem for thousands of years and never been domesticated; the antelope for example. How can you compare the life of a house-cat to the life of a wild antelope and make a judgment about whether one lifestyle is better than the other? Surely in terms of safety and comfort the cat wins. We don't round up all the impala and ship them off to Wilderness Daycare because they will more than likely be killed and eaten by a lion. If an impala trips and breaks its leg, it will not be taken to the vet and get a cast, it will lie where it fell and eventually die of dehydration or predation. We accept this is the natural order of things but how can we say which is morally “better” for our pet?

"Pets are all too often the victims of abuse. Dogs being shot with crossbows and cats having their tails callously chopped off are one thing, but people often mistreat their pets without without even meaning to be cruel, by depriving them of vital food, water and stimulation or keeping them locked in cages that are much or filled with their own filth. People can be cruel and too lazy to put effort into looking after their animals."

The first two acts of cruelty described in the above argument are absolutely despicable and anybody who would do this to animals should definitely NOT be a pet-owner. Unfortunately it is all to easy to neglect pets and not treat them in the way that they deserve. I suspect that this is partly to do with the way in which we see our animals as mere playthings; “its just an animal so it doesn't need space to run around or have more than the bare minimum of food”. If we respect our animals as living creatures with personalities, emotions and needs then I think we would be much less inclined to neglect them. The reality is that we have a lot of power over our pets, we choose when to feed them, to play with them, to clean their litter boxes etc. You wouldn't neglect your human child would you? This is why SPCA organizations exist around the world, to educate pet owners and in many situations to remove abused animals from bad homes. Having pets is a privilege not a right and gradually more and more countries are introducing animal cruelty laws to keep all animals (not just pets) safe and happy.

People who mistreat animals also often mistreat other people too and have much larger issues. But the bad actions of some people shouldn't mean that the concept of keeping an animal in your home is immoral.

Is adopting and loving a human immoral?

Walk the Dog. Photogaphy by Federico Stevanin.
Walk the Dog. Photogaphy by Federico Stevanin.


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