Should we feed our dogs and cats a vegan diet?

Domestication is morally unjustifiable and we should stop bringing domesticated animals, including dogs and cats, into existence. With respect to those dogs and cats now in existence, we have a moral obligation to care for them. After all, they did not asked to be placed in a world in which they don’t fit; they are here because of our collective moral failure.

We should feed our dogs and cats a vegan diet. Dogs are not a problem. Many people have been feeding their dogs vegan food for decades and they have thrived.

What about cats? There are many people who care for cats who thrive on a vegan diet. Not all do. So what is the solution? That we kill cats? That we allow them to wander stray so that they can kill other animals? Does that relieve us of the moral responsibility? Surely, these are not answers.

This problem is one we have created. Is it morally justifiable to feed meat to cats who will die without it? No, it is not. Is it morally excusable? It may very well be if we have exhausted all other possibilities. Do you not know the difference between justification and excuse? Then please listen:http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/follow-up-to-pets-comm…/

Domestication creates all sorts of moral problems. If you think we can tidy them all up, you’re wrong. We cannot. But we can try to shift the paradigm in a completely different direction. And that is what abolition is all about.

By the way, if you’re not vegan yourself, but you are concerned about vegan cats, you’re just looking for an excuse not to be vegan. You can choose; the cat can’t.

Of course the amount of animal suffering incidental to our use of animals is horrendous, and we should not be using animals for “frivolous” purposes, such as entertainment, but how can you expect people to give up eating meat?

In many ways this is an appropriate question with which to conclude our discussion because the question itself reveals more about the history of the human/animal relationship than any theory, and it demonstrates our confusion about moral matters in general.

Many humans like to eat animal products. They enjoy eating them so much that they find it hard to be detached when they consider moral questions about animals. But moral analysis requires at the very least that we leave our obvious biases at the door. Animal agriculture is the most significant source of animal suffering in the world today, and there is absolutely no need for it. Indeed, animal agriculture has devastating environmental effects, and a growing number of health care professionals claim that meat and animal products are detrimental to human health. We could live without killing animals and could feed more of the world’s humans–the beings we always claim to care about when we seek to justify animal exploitation–if we abandoned animal agriculture altogether.

The desire to eat animal products has clouded some of the greatest minds in human history. Charles Darwin recognized that animals were not qualitatively different from humans and possessed many of the characteristics that were once thought to be uniquely human–but he continued to eat them. Jeremy Bentham argued that animals had morally significant interests because they could suffer, but he also continued to eat them.

Old habits die hard, but that does not mean they are morally justified. It is precisely in situations where both moral issues and strong personal preferences come into play that we should be most careful to think clearly. As the case of meat eating shows, however, sometimes our brute preferences determine our moral thinking, rather than the other way around. Many people have said to me, “Yes, I know it’s morally wrong to eat meat, but I just love hamburgers.”

Regrettably for those who like to eat animal products, this is no argument, and a taste for meat in no way justifies the violation of a moral principle. Our conduct merely demonstrates that despite what we say about the moral significance of animal interests, we are willing to ignore those interests whenever we benefit from doing so–even when the benefit is nothing more than our pleasure or convenience.

If we take morality seriously, then we must confront what it dictates: if it is wrong for Simon to torture dogs for pleasure, then it is morally wrong for us to eat animal products.

Doesn’t the animal rights position represent a “religious” view?

No, not necessarily, although the idea that we should not treat animals as things is certainly present in some primarily non-Western religious systems, such as Jainism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. The irony is that the notion of human superiority used to justify animal agriculture, vivisection, and other practices often does represent a religious position. For the most part, not only has the Judeo-Christian tradition endorsed the view of animals as things, it has been a primary support of the notion of human superiority to animals and of humans’ right to use animals as resources. We saw, for instance, that the modern Western notion of animals as property can be traced directly to a particular interpretation of the Old Testament, according to which God created animals as resources for human use. Arguments for qualitative distinction between humans and animals have often rested on nothing more than humans’ supposed God-given superiority, which in turn rests on humans’ good fortune in having been made “in God’s image.”

The animals rights position articulated on this website does not rely on any theological beliefs; it requires only a simple application of the principle of equal consideration. Humans exclusively possess no special characteristic, nor are they free of any defect that they attribute to animals.

Isn’t the matter of whether animals ought to be accorded the basic right not to be treated as our resources a matter of opinion? What right does anyone have to say that another should not eat meat or other animal products or how they should otherwise use or treat animals?

Animal rights are no more a matter of opinion than is any other moral matter. This question is logically and morally indistinguishable from asking whether the morality of human slavery is a matter of opinion. We have decided that slavery is morally reprehensible not as a matter of mere opinion, but because slavery treats humans exclusively as the resources of others and degrades humans to the status of things, thus depriving them of moral significance.

The notion that animal rights are a matter of opinion is directly related to the status of animals as human property; this question, like most others examined here, assumes the legitimacy of regarding animals as things that exist solely as means to human ends. Because we regard animals as our property, we believe that we have the right to value animals in the ways that we think appropriate. If, however, we are not morally justified in treating animals as our property, then whether we ought to eat meat or use animals in experiments or impose pain and suffering on them for sport or entertainment is no more a matter of opinion than is the moral status of human slavery.

Moreover, as long as animals are treated as property, then we will continue to think that what constitutes “humane” treatment for your animal property really is a matter of opinion because you get to decide how much your property is worth. Just as we have opinions about the value of other things that we own, we can have opinions about the value of our animal property. Although our valuation of our property may be too high or too low relative to its market value, this is not generally considered a moral question. So when Jane criticizes Simon because he beats his dog regularly in order to make sure that his dog is a vicious and effective guard dog, Simon is perfectly justified in responding to Jane that her valuation of his property is not a moral matter up for grabs, but a matter of his property rights.

On another level, this question relates to a subject discussed in the Introduction, the position that all morality is relative, a matter of convention or convenience or tradition, with no valid claim to objective truth. If this were the case, then the morality of genocide or human slavery or child molestation would be no more than matters of opinion. Although it is certainly true that moral propositions cannot be proved in the way that mathematical propositions can, this does not mean that “anything goes.” Some moral views are supported by better reasons than others, and some moral views have a better “fit” with other views that we hold. The view that we can treat animals as things simply because we are human and they are not is speciesism pure and simple. The view that we ought not to treat animals as things is consistent with our general notion that animals have morally significant interests. We do not treat any humans exclusively as the resources of others; we have abolished the institution of human property. We have seen that there is no morally sound reason to treat animals differently for purposes of the one right not to be treated as a thing, and that the animal rights position does not mean that we cannot prefer the human over the animal in situations of true emergency or conflict where we have not manufactured that conflict in the first place by violating the principle of equal consideration.

If animals have rights, doesn’t that mean we have to intervene to stop animals from killing other animals, or that we must otherwise act affirmatively to prevent harm from coming to animals from any source?

No. the basic right not to be treated as a thing means that we cannot treat animals exclusively as means to human ends–just as we cannot treat other humans exclusively as means to the ends of other humans. Even though we have laws that prevent people from owning other humans, or using them as unconsenting biomedical subjects, we generally do not require that humans prevent harm to other humans in all situations. No law requires that Jane prevent Simon from inflicting harm on John, as long as Jane and Simon are not conspirators in a crime against John or otherwise acting in concert, and as long as Jane has no relationship with John that would give rise to such an obligation.

Moreover, in the United States at least, the law generally imposes on humans no “duty to aid” even when other humans are involved. If I am walking down the street and see a person lying passed out, face down in a small puddle of water and drowning, the law imposes no obligation on me to assist that person even if all I need to do is roll her over, something I can do without risk or serious inconvenience to myself.

The point is that the basic right of humans not to be treated as things does not guarantee that humans will aid other humans, or that we are obligated to intervene to prevent harm from coming to humans from animals or from other humans. Similarly, the basic right of animals not to be treated as things means that we cannot treat animals as our resources. It does not necessarily mean that we have moral or legal obligations to render them aid or to intervene to prevent harm from coming to them.

If animals have rights, does that not mean that we would have to punish the killing of animals in the same way we do the killing of humans?

No, of course not. It is certainly true that if we as a society ever really accorded moral significance to animal interests and recognized our obligation to abolish and not merely regulate animal exploitation, we would very probably incorporate such a view in criminal laws that formally prohibit and punish the treatment of animals as resources. But that would not mean that we must punish the killing of an animal by a human in exactly the same way that we punish the killing of a human by another human. For example, our recognizing that animals have moral value does not require that we prosecute for manslaughter someone who, while driving recklessly, hits a raccoon. The prosecution of humans who kill other humans serves many purposes that are not relevant to animals. For example, criminal prosecutions allow the families of crime victims to experience some form of closure, and although there is ethological evidence that many nonhuman animals experience grief at the loss of family or pack members, a criminal trial would not be meaningful to them.

Don’t laws like the Endangered Species Act, which prohibits the killing of certain species of animals facing extinction, effectively change the property status of animals?

No. The Endangered Species Act and similar measures protect only certain species that are valued by humans for human purposes; such laws do not recognize that animals have value other than that which humans bestow. Some people have argued–erroneously, in my view–that these laws actually provide “rights” for animals. In reality, these laws are no different from those that protect a rainforest, a stream, a mountain, or any other nonsentient thing that humans, for whatever reason, decide to value for human purposes. Such measures imply no recognition that the protected species has value of the sort that we attribute to every human being as a minimal condition of membership in the moral community.

Under economic pressure, governments are now seeking to withdraw some species from endangered-species protection and to readmit them as hunters’ prey, so that the fees generated by hunting licenses and the trade in animal parts can help to pay for maintenance of the remaining animals. Moratoriums on killing particular species are almost always eliminated as soon as populations increase beyond bare extinction levels, thus inviting the “harvesting” of excess animals. We do not, however, treat any humans in the same way. We do not regard it appropriate to use homeless people as forced organ donors in order to subsidize the social welfare costs of other homeless people. We do not condone the “harvesting” of humans.

In any event, laws like the Endangered Species Act do not recognize that animals, because they are sentient, have moral value beyond what humans give them. Such laws regard animals as no different from any other resource that we wish to preserve for the benefit of future generations. We temporarily protect animals like elephants so that future generations of humans will have elephants to use, but elephants are, in the end, only economic commodities, and as long as there are enough elephants, we ultimately value ivory bracelets more than we value the interests of the elephant.

Finally, it should be understood that it is unlikely that any significant change in the status of animals as property will come about as the result of legislation or court cases until there is a significant social change in our attitude about animals. That is, it is not the law that will alter our moral thinking about animals; it must be the other way around. It was not the law that abolished slavery; indeed, the law protected slave ownership and the institution of slavery was not abolished by the law but by the Civil War. The present-day world economy is far more dependent on animal exploitation than were the southern United States on human slavery. Animal exploitation is not going to be ended by a pronouncement of the Supreme Court or an act of congress–at least not until a majority of us accept the position that the institution of animal property is morally unacceptable.

Is it likely that the pursuit of more “humane” animal treatment will eventually lead to the recognition that animals have the basic right not to be treated as things, and the consequent abolition of institutionalized animal use?

No, it is not likely. Anticruelty laws requiring the humane treatment of animals have been popular in the United States and Great Britain for well over a hundred years, and we are using more animals in more horrific ways than ever before. Sure, there have been some changes. In some places, like Britain, veal calves get more space and some social interaction before they are slaughtered; in some American states, the leghold trap is prohibited and animals used for fur products are caught in “padded” traps or raised in small wire cages before they are gassed or electrocuted. Under the federal Animal Welfare Act, primates are supposed to receive some psychological stimulation while we use them in horrendous experiments in which we infect them with diseases or try to ascertain how much radiation they can endure before they become dysfunctional. Some practices, such as animal fighting, have been outlawed, but, as I have argued, such prohibitions tell us more about class hierarchy and prejudice than they do about our moral concern for animals. All in all, the changes we have witnessed as the result of animal welfare laws are nothing more than window dressing.

This should not surprise us. Anticruelty laws assume that animals are the property of humans, and it is in this context that the supposed balance of human and animal interests occurs. But as we saw, we cannot really balance the interests of property owners against their property because property cannot have interests that are protectable against the property owner. The humane treatment principle, as applied through animal welfare laws, does nothing more than require that the owners of animal property accord that level of care, and no more, that is necessary to the particular purpose. If we are using animals in experiments, they should receive that level of care, and no more, that is required to produce valid data. If we are using purpose-bred animals to make fur coats, they should receive the level of care, and no more, that is required to produce coats that are soft and shiny. If we are raising animals for food, those animals should receive that level of care, and no more, that is required to produce meat that can be sold at a particular price level to meet a particular demand. If we are using dogs to guard our property, we should provide the level of care that is required to sustain the dog for that purpose. As long as we give the dog the minimal food and water and shelter–a dead dog will not serve the purpose–we can tie that dog on a three-foot leash and we can beat him, even excessively, for “disciplinary” purposes.

We claim to acknowledge that the interest of animals in not suffering is morally significant, but our animal practices belie that claim. If we are really to honor the moral interests of animals, then we must abolish institutionalized animal exploitation and not merely regulate animal use through animal welfare measures that assume the legitimacy of the status of animals as property.

Isn’t taking advantage of medications or procedures developed through the use of animals inconsistent with taking an animal rights position?

No, it is not. Those who support animal exploitation often argue that accepting the “benefits” of animal use is inconsistent with criticizing the use of animals.

This position, of course, makes no sense. Most of us are opposed to racial discrimination, and yet we live in a society in which white middle-class people enjoy the benefits of past racial discrimination; that is, the majority enjoys a standard of living that it would not have had there been a nondiscriminatory, equitable distribution of resources, including educational and job opportunities. Many of us support measures, such as affirmative action, that are intended to correct past discrimination. But those who oppose racial discrimination are not obligated to leave the United States or to commit suicide because we cannot avoid the fact that white people are beneficiaries of past discrimination against people of color.

Consider another example: assume that we find that the local water company employs child labor and we object to child labor. Are we obligated to die of dehydration because the water company has chosen to violate the rights of children? No, of course not. We would be obligated to support the abolition of this use of children, but we would not be obligated to die. Similarly, we should join together collectively and demand an end to animal exploitation, but we are not obligated to accept animal exploitation or forego any benefits that it may provide.

We certainly could develop drugs and surgical procedures without the use of animals, and many would prefer we do so. Those who object to animal use for these purposes, however, have no control as individuals over government regulations or corporate policies concerning animals. To say that they cannot consistently criticize the actions of government or industry while they derive benefits from these actions, over which they have no control, is absurd as a matter of logic. And as a matter of political ideology, it is a most disturbing endorsement of unquestioned obeisance to the policies of the corporate state. Indeed, the notion that we must either embrace animal exploitation or reject anything that involves animal use is eerily like the reactionary slogan “love it or leave it,” uttered by the pseudo-patriots who criticized opponents of American involvement in the Vietnam War.

Moreover, humans have so commodified animals that it is virtually impossible to avoid animal exploitation completely. Animal by-products are used in a wide variety of things, including the asphalt on roads and synthetic fabrics. But the impossibility of avoiding all contact with animal exploitation does not mean that we cannot avoid the most obvious and serious forms of exploitation. The individual who is not stranded in a lifeboat or on a mountaintop always has it within her power to avoid eating meat and dairy products, products that could not be produced without the use of animals, unlike drugs and medical procedures, which could be developed without animal testing.

If we adopt a vegan diet, animals will inevitably be harmed when we plant vegetables, and what is the difference between raising and killing animals for food and unintentionally killing them as part of a plant-based agriculture?

When we plant crops, we will inevitably displace and possibly kill sentient animals when we plant vegetables. Surely, however, there is a significant difference between raising and killing animals for food and unintentionally doing them harm in the course of planting vegetables, an activity that is itself intended to prevent the killing of sentient beings.

In order to understand this point, consider the following example. We build roads. We allow people to drive automobiles. We know as a statistical matter that when we build a road, some humans–we do not know who they are beforehand–will be harmed as the result of automobile accidents. Yet there is a fundamental moral difference between activity that has human harm as an inevitable but unintended consequence and the intentional killing of particular humans. Similarly, the fact that animals may be harmed as an unintended consequence of planting vegetables, even if we do not use toxic chemicals and even if we exercise great care to avoid harming animals, does not mean that it is morally acceptable to kill animals intentionally.

Moreover, because it takes so many pounds of plants to produce one pound of plant protein, we actually kill more animals in crop production when we are feeding those crops to animals rather than consuming the crops directly. So a vegan diet results in many fewer of those unintended and incidental deaths.

A related question is: why don’t plants have rights given that they are alive? This is the question that every vegetarian gets in the company of a nonvegan. These nonvegans may be otherwise rational and intelligent beings, but when confronted with a vegetarian, their discomfort with their diet often rises to the surface in the form of defensiveness.

No one really thinks that plants are the same as sentient nonhumans. If I ate your tomato and your dog, you would not regard those as similar acts. As far as we know, plants are not sentient. They are not conscious and able to experience pain. Plants do not have central nervous systems, endorphins, receptors for benzodiazepines, or any of the other indicia of sentience. Plants do not have interests; animals do.