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Should keeping pets be considered unethical?

Pets truly are considered part of the family, with 16% of people in the UK including them on the census. But why is animal keeping not considered unethical?

According to the Vegan Society, the demand for meat-free produce increased by 987% in 2017. Tesco said that the amount of vegan and vegetarian ready meals increased by 40% over 2016 and 2017 according to an article by the Guardian. As well as environmental and health concerns, a significant factor in veganism increasing is the fear that animals are being treated unethically by the meat industry. While the number of people who do not consume animal products is increasing, the pet industry in the UK is booming; 49% of adults own a pet, and the UK has an estimated population of 8.9 million dogs and 11.1 million cats. Pets truly are considered part of the family, with 16% of people in the UK including them on the census. But why is animal keeping not considered unethical?

Complete control of pets’ lives

Okay, I know this probably isn’t going down too well so far, but hear me out. While pets are considered ‘part of the family’, we really do hold almost dictatorial control over their lives. From what and when they eat to when they exercise and even when (and if) they breed, the control we hold over our animal counterparts can be considered truly unethical. Surely it’s ironic that those who consider their pets as family members treat their breeding patterns in such an inhumane way?

Mistreatment of pets

In 2016, the RSPCA attended to over 400 animal abuse calls every day, a 5% increase from previous years. 149,604 cases of animal abuse were recorded by the charity over 2016, ranging from two snakes that had been decapitated with a pair of scissors, a Shih-Tzu dog being repeatedly stabbed in the face and a Bulldog being thrown down a flight of stairs and stamped on. A major problem with pet ownership is that, with the exception of very dangerous reptiles, most pets can be brought with little to no background checks. Mistreatment of animals is an important factor in explaining the 3,463 pets that were euthanised in 2016 in the UK, with a staggering 1.5 million being put down in the United States. Clearly, more should be done to prevent needless violence against animals, though the very fact that living creatures can be sold to potential abusers suggests a deeply unethical side to the £10.6 billion industry.

Some pets need meat to survive

Another potential argument against pet ownership is the fact that some animals need to eat other animals to survive, leading to a market of animals being sold just to be eaten later by another animal. Of course, this is natural when it happens in the wild, but when it happens within the home of a pet owner, it becomes no worse than any other type of animal product consumption. If a vegan lifestyle is taken by a pet owner, it would be wrong of them to continue to own a carnivorous animal (forcing a vegan diet on a natural meat-eater also could have negative consequences). One bioethicist, Dr. Jessica Pierce, was reported by the Guardian for beginning to question pet ownership after seeing a Tupperware tub of live baby rats that were on sale in a Pet Smart store. The article shows Pierce’s reasoning: ‘Rats have a sense of empathy and there has been a lot of research on what happens when you take babies away from a mother rat—not surprisingly, they experience profound distress’. She described the experience as a ‘slap in the face’ from her ethical perspective.

Over the past few years, the vegan lifestyle has become more and more popular amongst those looking to protect our animal counterparts. This makes perfect sense. However, from the ethical perspective held by so many, it could be argued that there ought to be far more constraints on the pet industry to ensure animals have the rights that so many say they deserve.

Let us know what you think in the comments.