Dogs, cats and other animals kept as “pets” or companions

Dogs, cats and other animals kept as “pets” or companions

Nonhuman animals who live with humans are subject, legally and in practice, to the desires and whims of those who are legally their owners. Some people adopt animals and treat them with respect, considering the animals members of their families. But many others consider themselves simply owners and masters of the animals who live with them, and the law does little to protect the animals. Animal owners are allowed to abuse the animals during training, neglect them, use them as workers, and even kill them as long as such treatment does not meet the legal definition of “animal cruelty”, which is different from the common sense understanding of the term. Laws regarding nonhuman animals are a lopsided balancing of animal interests against human desires. Nonhuman animals are considered property, and property owners have rights to control and use their property with few restrictions.

Many animals who are bred end up homeless, suffering and dying

There are currently millions of homeless animals.1 Like animals living in the wild, they often suffer from cold, hunger, and disease. They are also susceptible to multiple attacks by humans. Of all dogs, cats and other animals who are born for the purpose of being “pets” or to become breeding animals, those who live in homes are a minority.

Even those who are not abandoned do not always have good lives. There are many cases in which they are kept outdoors in the cold. They may spend most of their lives chained up, which can harm them in many ways. They can be harmed physically from lack of exercise and injuries from chains, as well as psychologically by boredom and frustration. Or they may not be chained up but still lack room to move. Social animals like dogs who are kept in solitude suffer a lot from lack of social interaction. For other animals such as birds and fishes, confinement in cramped cages or aquariums is also a significant cause of suffering.

In most parts of the world the fate of many dogs and other animals is to die on the street, in kennels, or in some cases in laboratories, after having suffered a great deal.2 A fundamental problem exists here because this does not happen only occasionally, but continually. It is perpetuated because every year more animals are bred who face the same fate. Every new birth poses further difficulty in finding homes for the animals, and makes it difficult for caregivers who temporarily accommodate them.

The negative consequences of breeding affect other animals as well

Animal breeding simply means, in practice, that more and more animals come into the world only to be killed, often after having suffered enormously.

There are several reasons why:

  • The above mentioned harms often lead to the deaths of animals bred as pets.
  • Cats, and also some dogs, cause the deaths of other animals, mainly those they hunt. Studies on this issue have indicated that free-ranging domestic cats in the USA kill 1.3–4.0 billion birds and 6.3–22.3 billion mammals annually in the USA.3
  • It should also be noted that cats who go outside are also more at risk of disease, as well as of being attacked by other animals (including humans), accidents and straying away from home.
  • Most pet animals consume foods of animal origin, which will cause the suffering and deaths of other animals. More information can be found about alternatives to this exploitation in our section on feeding animals without exploiting others more information can be found about alternatives to this exploitation. In certain cases, live animals are raised for consumption, often to be used as food for exotic animals. For example, animal owners often feed live rodents to snakes or bullfrogs (as seen in this video).
  • When a domesticated animal reproduces, another animal comes into the world who will need care and help. Since the resources to care for animals are limited, each animal birth leads to it being more difficult to care for all of them.
  • Breeding promotes the idea that nonhuman animals are resources available to us to use for our purposes.

Shops and breeders

In view of what has been said above, we can clearly see the terrible consequences of breeding and selling huge numbers of animals. “Pet” shops, puppy mills and other private breeding businesses are directly contributing to an increase in the suffering and deaths of animals.

In addition to this, in shops the animals are locked up until they are bought, often with little food and water. They have to withstand uncomfortably high and low temperatures, and often uncomfortable lighting conditions. Having people constantly walk by their cages can cause them a great deal of stress and frustration, because they want to run away or hide but they are trapped in their cages, often with nowhere to hide. In general, animals like puppies suffer from frustration and psychological distress when they are torn away from their mothers and confined in an environment in which they don’t feel comfortable and safe.4 In recent decades, there has been a growing awareness of the stress and discomfort of animals kept in pet stores, but concern is mainly focused on dogs and cats. In response to this as well as the number of homeless animals, some pet shops in the US and Canada have banned the sale of dogs and cats, but they still sell rodents, fishes, and reptiles.

Still, private breeding of animals continues. Animal breeding commonly has the objective of raising animals that have certain desired characteristics, not because it will make their lives better, but because those characteristics are more useful or aesthetically pleasing to human beings. In other words, there is a human interest in this practice. This can have very negative consequences for the animals.

Sometimes people are interested in buying animals with specific physical traits or behavior. In other cases, they seek animals who can compete in athletic skill or agility contests. In others, the aim is increased strength, so the animals can be taught to behave aggressively.

Those in the animal breeding business use animals as resources. To them, animals are commodities to be bought and sold. The animals’ hormonal cycles are manipulated so their reproduction can be controlled for the sake of the breeders’ convenience and profit. The bred animals are taken to shops or are directly sold to people interested in buying them.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of breeders who call themselves “ethical breeders”,5 with the intention of differentiating themselves from negative connotations of the word “breeder”. In several countries there are even associations and awards for such breeders. They present themselves as being interested both in the breeding of animals for certain genetic traits and in the care and wellbeing of animals. This is contradictory because those two goals are incompatible.

For one thing, possessing the characteristics for which they are bred is often negative for the animals. More importantly, bringing more domesticated animals into the world is negative due to the reasons mentioned above.

Seeking solutions: spaying and neutering

With so many stray and abandoned animals in the world, spaying and neutering ensures fewer births of animals who no one can care for.6 Spaying and neutering are simple procedures. Even though they are carried out under anesthesia, the animals are walking again on the same day of the operation and are fully recovered within a week. Most animals can be spayed or neutered from the age of four months onwards.

One objection to this is that preventing animals from reproducing may threaten the existence of the species or breed to which those animals belong. However, this argument cannot be accepted from an antispeciesist position. According to antispeciesism, the species or variety of animal is not morally relevant. What matters is each individual who has the capacity to suffer and feel joy, and that’s why each individual should be taken into moral consideration, rather than the species as a whole. The species is nothing more than a taxonomic concept for grouping individuals who have certain common characteristics. So the existence of different breeds and species of domesticated animals has no value in itself. On the contrary, the breeding of domesticated animals is counterproductive to a shift towards a society with less speciesism and less suffering.

Spaying and neutering also produces benefits to the animals, such as:

  • In female animals, it reduces the risk of mammary tumors when done before the age of two and a half, with the greatest reduction occurring if it is done before the first reproductive cycle.7
  • It eliminates the risks from pregnancy such as metrorrhagia (vaginal bleeding from the uterus which is not associated with the menstrual cycle).8
  • It prevents the possibility of uterine infections, and ovarian and testicular cancers.9


We have seen the harm that animals suffer when they are bred as animals for use as “companions”. However, there’s a way of living with animals in an ethical and respectful manner, according to their needs and interests rather than our convenience or desires: adopting them and taking care of them.

Fortunately, there are shelters in many countries that care for homeless animals and do their best to find them homes. Shelters provide the possibility of finding homes for the animals who live there. When one animal is adopted, it also means that their place in a shelter can be filled by another animal in need. However, the resources of shelters are often very limited, and most abandoned animals cannot find a home and end up dying.

Those who cannot commit to adopting for a long period of time can provide a foster home for an animal living in a shelter. Someone providing a foster home looks after an animal temporarily until a permanent home is found, which means that the fostered animal’s place at the shelter can be taken by another animal. While animal adoption is often associated with dogs and cats, animals of other species can also be adopted, such as mice, rats, hamsters, and rabbits.

Further readings

American Pet Products Association (2020) “Pet industry market size & ownership statistics”, American Pet Products Association [accessed on 8 September 2020].

Bateson, P. (2010) Independent inquiry into dog breeding, Halesworth: Micropress [accessed on 14 April 2013].

Bouw, J. (1982) “Hip dysplasia and dog breeding”, Veterinary Quarterly, 4, pp. 173-181.

Christiansen, R. (2000) Save our strays: How we can end pet overpopulation and stop killing healthy cats and dogs, Napa: CLC Publishing.

Clancy, E. A. & Rowan, A. N. (2003) “Companion animal demographics in the United States: A historical perspective”, in Salem, D. & Rowan, A. (eds.) The state of the animals II: 2003, Washington, D. C.: Humane Society Press, pp. 129-143 [accessed on 9 January 2017].

Crooks, K. R. & Soulé, M. E. (1999) “Mesopredator release and avifaunal extinctions in a fragmented system”, Nature, 400, pp. 563-566.

Dauphiné, N. & Cooper, R. J. (2009) “Impacts of free-ranging domestic cats (Felis Catus) on birds in the United States: A review of recent research with conservation and management recommendations”, in Rich, T. D.; Arizmendi, C.; Demarest, D. W. & Thompson, C. (eds.) Tundra to tropics: Connecting birds, habitats and people, pp. 205-219.

Grellet, A.; Chastant-Maillard, S.; Robin, C.; Feugier, A.; Boogaerts, C.; Boucraut-Baralon, C.; Grandjean, D. & Polack, B. (2014) “Risk factors of weaning diarrhea in puppies housed in breeding kennels”, Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 117, pp. 260-265 [accessed on 11 January 2017].

Herrewegh, A. A. P. M.; Mahler, M.; Hedrich, H. J.; Haagmans, B. L.; Egberink, H. F.; Horzinek, M. C.; Rottier, P. J. M. & de Groot, R. J. (1997) “Persistence and evolution of feline coronavirus in a closed cat-breeding colony”, Virology, 234, pp. 349-363.

Lawrie, M. & Constable, S. (2006) “Community animal welfare scheme a success”, Australian Veterinary Journal, 83, p. 708.

Lepczyk, C. A.; Mertig, A. G. & Jianguo L. (2003) “Landowners and cat predation across rural-to-urban landscapes”, Biological Conservation, 115, pp. 191-201.

Levy, J. K.; Gale, D. W. & Gale, L. A. (2003) “Evaluation of the effect of a long-term trap-neuter-return and adoption program on a free-roaming cat population”, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 222, pp. 42-46.

Looney, A. L.; Bohling, M. W.; Bushby, P. A.; Howe, L. M.; Griffin, B.; Levy, J. K.; Eddlesone, S. M.; Weedon, J. R.; Appel, L. D.; Rigdon-Brestle, K.; Ferguson, N. J.; Sweeney, D. J.; Tyson, K. A.; Voors, A. H.; White, S. C.; Wilford, C. L.; Farrell, K. A.; Jefferson, E. P.; Moyer, M. R.; Newbury, S. P.; Saxton, M. A. & Scarlett, J. M. (2008) “The Association of Shelter Veterinarians veterinary medical care guidelines for spay-neuter programs”, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 233, pp. 74-86 [accessed on 30 November 2014].

Manning, A. M. & Rowan, A. N. (1992) “Companion animal demographics and sterilization status: Results from a survey of four Massachusetts towns”, Anthrozoös, 5, pp. 192-201.

Marsh, P. (2004) “The strategy for tomorrow: Solving pet overpopulation”, Animals in Print: The On-Line Newsletter, May 14 [accessed on 19 April 2013].

Marsh, P. (2010) Replacing myth with math: Using evidence-based programs to eradicate shelter overpopulation, Concord: Town and Country.

Olson, P.; Moulton, C.; Nett, T. M. & Salman, M. D. (1991) “Pet overpopulation: A challenge for companion animal veterinarians in the 1990s”, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 198, pp. 1151-1152.

Patronek, G. J. & Rowan, A. N. (1995) “Determining dog and cat numbers and population dynamics”, Anthrozoös, 8, pp. 199-205.

Podberscek, A. L.; Paul, E. S. & Serpell, J. A. (eds.) (2000) Companion animals & us: Exploring the relationship between people and pets, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Roetman, P.; Tindle, H.; Litchfield, C.; Chiera, B.; Quinton, G.; Kikillus, H.; Bruce, D. & Kays, R. (2017) Cat Tracker South Australia: Understanding pet cats through citizen science, University of South Australia: Discovery Circle Initiative [accessed on 31 January 2021].

Ruxton, G. D.; Thomas, S. & Wright, J. W. (2002) “Bells reduce predation of wildlife by domestic cats (Felis catus)”, Journal of Zoology, 256, pp. 81-83.

Seymour, C. L.; Simmons, R. E.; Morling, F.; George, S. T.; Peters, K. & O’Riain, M. J. (2020) “Caught on camera: The impacts of urban domestic cats on wild prey in an African city and neighbouring protected areas”, Global Ecology and Conservation, 23, pp. 303-319 [accessed on 17 February 2021].

Thomas, R. L.; Fellowes, M. D. E. & Baker P. J. (2012) “Spatio-temporal variation in predation by urban domestic cats (Felis catus) and the acceptability of possible management actions in the UK”, PLOS ONE, 7 (11) [accessed on 1 August 2013].

Wenstrup, J. & Dowidchuk, A. (1999) “Pet overpopulation: Data and measurement issues in shelters”, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 2, pp. 303-319.

White, S. C.; Jefferson, E. & Levy, J. K. (2010) “Impact of publicly sponsored neutering programs on animal population dynamics at animal shelters: The New Hampshire and Austin experiences”, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 13, pp. 191-212.


1 Olson, P. N. & Moulton, C. (1993) “Pet (dog and cat) overpopulation in the United States”, Journal of Reproduction and Fertility. Supplement, 47, pp. 433-438. Lepper, M.; Kass, P. H. & Hart, L. A. (2002) “Prediction of adoption versus euthanasia among dogs and cats in a california animal shelter”, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 5, pp. 29-42. Kass, P. H. (2007) “Cat overpopulation in the United States”, Animal Welfare, 3, pp. 119-139. Nasser, R. & Fluke, J. (1991) “Pet population dynamics and community planning for animal welfare and animal control”, Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association, 198, pp. 1160-1163. Patronek, G. & Glickman, L. (1993) “Development of a model for estimating the size and dynamics of the pet dog population”, Anthrozoös, 7, pp. 25-41. Luke, C. (1996) “Animal shelter issues”, Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association, 208, pp. 524-527.

2 Stoller, K. P. (1981) “Sewer science and pound seizure”, International Journal for the Study of Animal Problems, 2, pp. 241-244. Roberti, D. A. (1983) “The case against pound seizure: Economics and animal welfare”, California Veterinarian, 37, pp. 67-68. Brooks, D. L & Tillman, P. C. (1983) “Pound seizure will not put an end to cruelty to animals”, California Veterinarian, 37, pp. 73-75. Edwards, C. C. (1991) “The pound seizure controversy: a suggested compromise in the use of impounded animals for research and education”, Journal of Energy Natural Resources & Environmental Law, 11, pp. 241-242. Gilliam, J. D. (2009) “Fido goes to the lab: Amending the animal welfare act to require animal rescue facilities to disclose pound seizure practices to pet owners”, Journal of Animal Law, 5, pp. 103-128 [accessed on 25 February 2021]. Ducceschi, L.; Green, N. & Miller-Spiegel, C. (2010) “Dying to learn: The supply and use of companion animals in U.S. colleges and universities”, Alternativen zu Tierexperiment, 27, pp. 304-308 [accessed on 14 March 2021]. Phillips, A. (2010) How shelter pets are brokered for experimentation: Understanding pound seizure, Plymouth: Rowman and Littlefield.

3 Loss, S. R.; Will, T. & Marra, P. P. (2013) “The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States”, Nature Communications, 4 [accessed on 21 May 2013].

4 Katz, R. F. (2009) “What is a puppy mill?”, Animal Legal & Historical Center [accessed on 18 June 2013]. Fumarola, A. J. (1999) “With best friends like us who needs enemies: The phenomenon of the puppy mill, the failure of legal regimes to manage it, and the positive prospects of animal rights”, Buffalo Environmental Law Journal, 253, pp. 264-265.

5 See for instance: (2018) “ code of ethics”, Code of ethics: For your protection [accessed on 14 April 2018]; DogPlay (2011) “Making a difference: Being a responsible dog breeder”, Breeding and placement issues, Dogplay [accessed on 2 February 2013]; Arman, K. (2007) “A new direction for kennel club regulations and breed standards”, Canadian Veterinary Journal, 48, pp. 953-965.

6 Hughes, K. L.; Slater, M. R. & Haller, L. (2002) “The effects of implementing a feral cat spay/neuter program in a Florida county animal control service”, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 5, pp. 285-298. Kutzler, M. & Wood, A. (2006) “Non-surgical methods of contraception and sterilization”, Theriogenology, 66, pp. 514-525. Moulton, C. (1990) “Early spay/neuter: Risks and benefits for shelters”, Shoptalk, 7, pp. 1-6. Murray, R.W. (1992) “Unwanted pets and subsidised pet neuter schemes”, Australian Veterinary Practitioner, 22, pp. 12-18. Zaunbrecher, K. I. & Smith, R. E. (1993) “Neutering of feral cats as an alternative to eradication programs”, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 203, pp. 449-452.

7 Beauvais, W.; Cardwell, J. M. & Brodbelt, D. C. (2012) “The effect of neutering on the risk of mammary tumours in dogs – A systematic review”, Journal of Small Animal Practice, 53, pp. 314-322.

8 Gobello, C.; Concannon, P. W.; Verstegen, J. & Linde-Forsberg, C. (2000) Recent advances in small animal reproduction, Ithaca: IVIS.

9 On this see Chastain, C. B.; Panciera, D. & Waters, C (1998) “Associations between age, parity, hormonal therapy and breed, and pyometra in Finnish dogs”, Veterinary Record, 143, pp. 493-498.