Furry friends in a vegan world: Ethical dilemmas of pet ownership

Pet ownership is a decision that many individuals grapple with, especially when considering their commitment to a vegan lifestyle. While the companionship and joy that pets bring into our lives are undeniable, it's essential for vegans to carefully examine the ethical implications of keeping animals as pets. In this article, we'll explore some of the implications of pet ownership via a vegan lens.

Animals need rescuing

Many domestic animals have been abandoned and need loving homes, with approximately 250,000 animals going to rescue centres yearly and 1.1 million cats and dogs living on the streets. 

Pets can be rescued from shelters, streets, or abusive situations and given a loving home where they are cared for and protected. By adopting a pet, vegans can save an animal's life and reduce the demand for breeding and selling animals.

Companionship and appreciation for compassion

Pets can provide companionship, emotional support, and happiness to their human guardians. They can also help reduce stress, loneliness, and depression. Studies have shown that having a pet can lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and risk of heart disease.

Nurturing a pet can reconnect us with the natural world and foster a deeper appreciation for animals' unique qualities, and caring for a pet offers an opportunity to educate others about veganism, animal welfare, and compassionate living. 

The University of Albany’s study on pets and the correlation with vegetarianism showed that having a pet increases humans' empathy toward animals. Through intimate experiences with pets, many people become vegetarian or vegan, as they can draw parallels between their beloved pets and the farmed animals they previously consumed.

Woman in white long sleeve top petting a white and orange cat on a bed

cottonbro studio/Pexels

Pet diets 

Some pets can be fed a vegan diet if it is nutritionally balanced and appropriate for their species. According to some research, a vegan diet may be fine for dogs; however, it is important to note that plant-based meals still need added nutrients and should be carefully formulated with additional synthetic nutrients. There is insufficient evidence to prove that cats can have a vegan diet, as they are obligate carnivores.

There are many vegan pet food brands available on the market, as well as homemade recipes that can meet the dietary needs of pets. Some vegans argue that feeding their pets a vegan diet is more ethical than animal products from factory farms and slaughterhouses. 

There are also herbivorous pets (including rabbits, guinea pigs, and tortoises) that will be happy just eating plants. However, it is important to note that each animal has its own specific dietary needs, and it is important to do further research before choosing to get any of these pets. 

Exotic ‘pets’

There are growing concerns about people keeping exotic pets as they have specific needs and challenges and shouldn’t be kept in household environments or cages, especially when they are not native to the UK. Unfortunately, the last two decades have seen a 60% increase in exotic pets in the UK, according to the wildlife charity Born Free Foundation.   

Exotic pets are not domesticated and are plucked from their natural environment and sold to whoever may desire them. These include birds, tropical fish, reptiles, and amphibians. These creatures are kept in small habitats and given an artificial environment. While most would agree that keeping exotic animals such as birds and reptiles in small cages is not okay, many need rehoming, so if abandoned creatures that cannot be released back into the wild need rescuing, then it would make sense to adopt them and provide a safe home. 

Unfortunately, releasing exotic pets into the wild is generally not a good solution. Non-native species may not survive in our countryside and are illegal to release or allow to escape. These animals could also be an invasive species risk to our native wildlife. 


Domestic pets are animals bred and manipulated by humans for their own purposes. Some vegans argue that keeping pets is a form of exploitation and oppression that violates the rights and autonomy of animals.

Although canines were the earliest domesticated animals, whereby selective breeding started somewhere “between 15,000 and 30,000 years ago”, ethicists argue that the human-dog relationship constitutes a moral dilemma, as the relationship oscillates between two extremes, ‘pampered’ and ‘enslaved’. 

Pets depend on their human guardians for food and water, shelter and medical care. They have no choice or control over their lives. Some vegans contend that keeping pets is a form of slavery and domination that deprives animals of their dignity and freedom. Pets have their own needs, preferences, and instincts, which might conflict with human control over their lives. Veganism strives to honour animals' autonomy and natural behaviours.

Pets may suffer from health problems, injuries, or diseases caused or aggravated by unnatural living conditions. They may also face abuse, neglect, abandonment, or euthanasia. Some vegans claim that keeping pets is a source of harm and suffering for animals that outweigh any benefits they may receive.

Man in red shirt hugging his happy golden retriever

Eric Ward/Unsplash

Unscrupulous and unnecessary breeding 

The breeding of pets contributes to overpopulation and perpetuates a cycle of unnecessary suffering, particularly if homes are not readily available. Additionally, unscrupulous breeders care about profits and not the care of the animals. Breeders will even harm animals to make them more appealing. For example, there have been reports of breeders following social media trends and mutilating dogs by cutting their ears for cosmetic purposes. 

Ecological concerns

Pet ownership can have a significant environmental footprint, from the resources required to feed and care for them to the waste they produce. This may conflict with the eco-conscious values of many vegans. 

Some vegans assert that keeping pets is a threat to biodiversity and ecology that harms both animals and humans as pets may harm other animals, either directly or indirectly, by hunting, killing, or competing with them for resources. Pet ownership can be seen as destructive consumerism, as pets can “emit twice the carbon emissions of our homes’ electricity and kill up to 200 million wild prey in the UK annually”.

There are ways to be an eco-friendlier pet owner. The Wildlife Trusts recommends taking small steps, such as walking to a nearby park instead of driving to the dog park or putting a bell on your cat’s collar, decreasing the chances of them catching wildlife. 

Many arguments exist for and against having pets from a vegan perspective. There is no definitive answer or consensus on this issue, as vegans may have different opinions, values, and experiences. It is also worth reiterating that many animals need loving homes as they remain in shelters, and to help decrease the market for breeders, most will agree, it is better to rescue animals rather than purchase pets. Adopting animals from shelters or rescue organisations can save lives. 

Find out how animal sanctuaries save animals while affirming the importance of veganism, and find out how we can help vegan students thrive at school.

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