Growing up, I remember my family looking after a range of pets including fish, newts, guinea pigs, rabbits, budgies and dogs.
I didn’t question the ‘normality' of pet ownership until we bought a golden retriever puppy nearly four years ago (whom many of you now know as Mel)!
In this post I want to have an honest look at the pet industry in regard to impact on our environment and animal welfare. This post is a challenge to myself as much as it could be to anyone else!
I thought it would be a good idea to split this post into different animal sections. I won’t cover every pet possible, but a few of the popular categories: fish, cats and dogs. Please feel free to skip to the section most relevant to you ;)
I not only had hundreds of pet fish throughout the years as a child, but I also worked in a pet shop that specialised in fish. I can therefore safely say that fish is the pet category that I have the most knowledge in!
Pet fish normally falls into three categories: cold water, tropical and marine.
Cold water fish kept in the UK can often be indigenous fish and may therefore be kept in a garden pond outside as well as an aquarium.
The most common set up however, is the ever popular goldfish in a small glass bowl or tank.
I would imagine that most people reading this could already imagine how a goldfish in a bowl could be considered as a breach of animal rights, but there are many who still believe the common myth that a goldfish has a 5 second memory and that by the time it’s circled around the bowl it’s already forgotten the starting point.
The goldfish comes from the carp family, a highly intelligent group of fish. The intelligence (from a human perspective) and memory capabilities have been displayed in numerous instances across the earth. One study in the 1980’s claimed that carp had the highest IQ amongst any cold water fish.
If a goldfish has a memory and intelligence, then it’s safe to presume that a small bowl is not a very stimulating environment, especially compared with the goldfishes natural much more spacious environment (lakes and rivers).
Interestingly enough, one city in Italy banned goldfish bowls with one of the main points against being the idea that a bowl gives the fish a distorted view of the world! I guess it would be quiet weird to constantly look at the world through curved glass!
It’s also worth considering that a goldfish can live over 40 years in the wild, but will be very lucky to hit 5 years old in a gold fish bowl (if it doesn’t die within its first year)!
That’s due to many factors. Apart from the overly small bowl (most fish tanks are also too small) which stunts growth. There’s also the following to consider:
-The poor artificial diet that pet goldfish normally receive, which doesn’t compare to their wild diet.
-Build up of waste (most owners don’t clean their tanks properly or regularly enough which basically poisons the water and therefore the fish gradually).
-Overfeeding. A lot of goldfish owners overfeed the fish which is bad for their health. It also pollutes the water.
-Lack of understanding of the fishes natural environment. Many owners put fish in tap water which has unhealthy levels of chlorine and is not good for a fishes health. They also don’t buy pumps which help to emulate a more natural flow in the water, rather than the more stagnant water in a tank without a pump or filter.
-Humans have selectively bred goldfish for their own entertainment, resulting in species of goldfish that have stacks of medical problems and that always die younger than they should (have a look at ‘bubble eye goldfish’).
So is it right to have a cold water fish as a pet from a conservationist or an animal rights perspective?
I would argue that any fish that has been modified by humans through selective breeding to the point that it can’t survive in the wild is cruelty and can never be right from an animal rights perspective.
However, those fish already exist. There are currently millions of them that are living in terrible conditions around the world.
If anyone was to rescue such a fish from a bowl and an inevitable premature death and to put it in a much better environment. Then surely that would be better for the fish?
Also if someone was to create a natural and spacious enough pond in their garden. I would see no problems with the introduction of fish native to the country, as long as the pond was allowed to mature and become ‘wild’ and natural. That would be of benefit to the environment, as the pond would benefit multiple wild animal species and it would extend the natural habitat of the fish.
Unfortunately my conclusion on fish tanks, is that it’s animal cruelty and that I can only see it as ok if it’s giving rescue fish a better home, but obviously, the bigger the tank, the better.
When you also consider the amount of plastic tank decoration, plastic packaging for the fish food, water treatment chemicals etc and that most fish food comes from environmentally damaging sources; keeping cold water fish in a tank in most cases, can be regarded as animal cruelty and damaging to the environment.
Tropical fish were the fish that I most often looked after as a child. My analysis of keeping tropical fish would largely be the same as my analysis of cold water fish aside from a few differences.
Tropical fish are freshwater fish from climates such as the amazon rainforest. If you don’t live in a tropical zone, you don’t live in their natural habitat and so the idea of having them in a natural pond in a garden ‘wild zone’ can be ruled out unless you live in a country like Brazil.
Cold water fish are normally never taken from the wild. The majority of tropical fish also aren’t, but some of the fish available in pet shops will have been taken from their natural habitat thousands of miles away. I believe that taking a fish from it’s vastly superior natural habitat and shipping it to live in tiny tanks (many die in the catching and shipping process) far away, can never be considered as correct in regards to conservation or animal rights.
There are a few factors which suggest that keeping tropical fish for the majority of species is cruel.
-Most tropical species never reproduce in a tank, when they freely do so in the wild, suggesting that their environment is not correct and that they are not comfortable.
-Most tropical species die sooner than they would in the wild (especially interesting considering that there are no predators in a fish tank!)
-The tanks are normally nowhere near big enough for the fish.
-Most people have no idea about the species of fish they’re dealing with and often buy fish that eat each other, require different water temperatures (if the water is too cold or hot the fish will die), different levels of acidity or alkali levels in the water (different fish come from different areas with water that has different PH levels), require a large group of the same species (if they’re a shoaling species) etc.
So is it ok to keep tropical fish as pets?
As mentioned in the cold water section. I’d regard tanks as cruelty, but similarly, if someone was rescuing tropical fish from appalling conditions and placing them in a much larger, better equipped tank, that would be better for the fish. However, most ideal would be bringing them home to the wild in their native country!
There are however, as with the cold water fish, species of tropical fish that have been selectively bred for human entertainment to the point that they wouldn’t survive in the wild.
It wouldn’t be fair to release them in the wild, or to keep them in tiny tanks, creating a bit of a moral dilemma!
In short, as with cold water, I believe that rescue tropical fish are ok and if you happen to live near the amazon and want to extend the rainforest habitat into your garden, then it’s ok to make a permanent natural pond with species native to your area.
Marine fish as pets is something, in my opinion, that’s nearly never justifiable.
Here are a quick few facts:
-95% of marine fish sold as pets are taken directly from the wild.
-Over 20 million sea fish, 12 million coral and 10 million ‘other types of marine life’ (shrimps, anemones, crabs etc) are taken from the wild every year for fish keeping hobbyists.
-Some of the species of fish sold in the aquarium industry have become endangered.
-Fish are collected from coral reefs using cyanide, which stuns the fish, but ultimately kills half of the target fish in the water. 40% of the fish that survive collection die in transit to pet shops. From experience of working in an ‘award winning’ fish shop, I can also say that a considerable percentage also die in the pet shop.
-The cyanide used to collect the fish also kills coral on the reef and marine scientists have rated it as one of the biggest threats to the oceans coral reefs.
It can be argued again that rescuing pet marine fish and putting them in larger better equipped tanks is more humane, but quite honestly, they all deserve to go back to their native habitat in the ocean!
If you buy any equipment from a marine aquarium specialist (tanks, pumps, food etc), you are supporting the continued plundering of the oceans. I honestly think that marine aquariums should perhaps be illegal or at least license controlled. As with the other types of fish, rescue fish is the only justifiable option.
I have to admit that I have never owned a cat and that the pet shop I worked at didn’t sell cats, therefore my opinion can only be formed from my observations and research.
From my observations cats are a difficult pet to justify when considering our environment and animal cruelty at the same time for a number of reasons. Consider these facts:
-An estimated 275 million wild animals are killed a year by pet cats in the UK. Those animals include 55 million birds and rabbits, squirrels, mice, frogs, lizards, snakes, hedge hogs, rats etc.
-In America cats (both owned and un-owned) are responsible for between 1.4 and 3.7 billion bird deaths and between 6.9 and 20.7 billion mammal deaths.
-There are an estimated 220-600 million pet cats on planet earth.
-The endangered European wild cat is more endangered due to interbreeding with domesticated pet cats.
-If we took the minimum cat population (220million), then cats would eat a minimum of 9.61 million tonnes of cat food a year, which primarily comes from poorly treated animals.
-That much food also comes in a lot of plastic packaging. Not to mention all of the plastic cat toys etc.
-Feral cats (that came from pet cats), now cover 99.8% of Australia at an average of one cat per every four square kilometres. They’re causing untold damage to the local wildlife.
-Feral cats are believed to be responsible for the extinction of 20 species of wild Australian animals.
-Cats are killing machines. ‘One cat may kill 10 mice in a night to satisfy its hunger, but if it finds another 50 it will kill them anyway for the fun of it’ A quote from an Australian scientist.
So what about keeping a rescue cat indoors?
There are literally hundreds of millions of feral cats on earth causing a lot of damage to the environment. There are also a lot of cats that can’t live in the wild for a number of reasons (and shouldn’t anyway) and need rescue homes.
The above facts demonstrate that allowing your cat to roam freely will result in the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of animals throughout the years and if your cat is not neutered, will add to the feral cat population problem.
Having an indoor cat is also cruel as naturally it requires a larger and wild environment. However in this instance, I’d say that the lives of the thousands of other animals come before the happiness of one kitty.
From my observation. The only way to have a pet cat and to respect animal rights and conservation is:
-Only get rescue cats.
-Have a large house for it to roam in and don’t allow it outdoors (so it can’t kill and reproduce!). Don’t neuter it (imagine someone forcing you into that operation!)
-If you allow your cat outside (which I’d advise against), put a bright bell collar on it so that animals can hear and see it coming (That still won’t save frogs, hedgehogs, snakes, lizards, tortoises etc). I absolutely hate the idea of neutering an animal, but if someone insists on letting a cat roam freely, it has to be done to stop the increase of feral cats.
-Don’t buy plastic toys etc a cat is imaginative and doesn’t need that! There are plenty of natural things that cats play with.
-try to get cat food from ‘the happiest possible and most local animal sources’ with paper packaging, or better still, a refillable container.
-try to compost any waste created by your cat.
I am a dog owner. If I knew everything I know now earlier, I would have done things very differently!
Owning a dog isn’t very environmentally friendly and creates a lot of waste. Here are a few facts:
-There are roughly 500 million pet dogs on planet earth.
-Roughly 54.6 million tonnes of dog food are consumed a year (most of which comes from very unhappy animals). If that was pure meat that would be the equivalent of 68.25 billion chickens a year. As most dog food is closer to 30% meat it would probably be closer to 20 billion chickens.
-182.5 billion poop bags would be used a year if every owner used on average just one a day (we normally use two a day).
-The vast majority of those bags are plastic or so called ‘biodegradable’ plastic (bags which are claimed to ‘naturally’ compost, but in reality break down into micro plastic and cause major damage to the environment).
-Most pet owners I’ve visited own at least 10 toys per dog, most of which are plastic and are ripped to pieces within a year and then thrown away (and then replaced with new plastic toys!). Times that by 500 million!! That’s a lot of waste!!
-There are over 200 million stray dogs in the world.
-a single German shepard wearing a collar was responsible for killing 500 endangered kiwi birds in New Zealand.
-12 ownerless dogs were responsible for nearly completely wiping out populations of the endangered Fijian ground frog on Viwa island.
-Dogs are responsible for nearly all of the 55,000 deaths that occur due to rabies worldwide.
-It was difficult to find any facts and figures about how many wild animals are killed by pet dogs. It will certainly be smaller than the cat tally but nevertheless significant. Pet dogs have been proven responsible for deer, fox, bird, rabbits, squirrel, dog, cat, bear, reptile etc deaths.
-327 people were killed by domestic dogs in America in a 20 year period.
There are so many types of dogs that one cannot simply apply all of the above facts to every dog. As with fish, there has been a lot of selective breeding in the dog industry (a lot of which is very cruel and results in medical problems for certain types of dog).
It’s a different question therefore, if it’s ok to have a pet German shepherd or a Chihuahua.
When I believe it’s ok to have a pet dog:
-There are so many rescue dogs in need of a home, that there’s no need to create demand for more dogs (when the world has too many), by buying from a dog breeder. Giving a rescue dog a home gives it a better life than the life it’d have in most pet shelters and whether or not you agree with the concept of owning a pet dog, rescue dogs that need homes exist by the million and they can’t be released into the wild! They have to go somewhere!
-When you consider the environmental impact of the food and products you buy for the dog. We for example use paper poop bags and I know others who use no bags (a scooper instead). Buy food with the happiest possible animal ingredients and most eco-friendly packaging. We unfortunately don’t have the money to buy Mel wild pet food :( (it’s ten times the price! I’ll pay it as soon as my income is more!)
-Don’t get a breed that has a reputation for killing wild animals and if you do, don’t bring it to places where it can kill!
-Think carefully about neutering. It’s an operation that the dog doesn’t give you permission to do, which is painful and alters the dog for the rest of his/her life. We didn’t get Mel neutered, but that means that every time she’s ‘in heat’ she has to wear nappies indoors (more waste, although we now have reusable ones). We also have to walk her on the lead for a month (so she doesn’t run off and get pregnant!)
-A domestic dogs origins are wild. Sitting in a home all day, is cruel. Don’t get a dog unless you can give the dog enough exercise and attention (they’re pack animals and therefore social. That means that they need more than just walk time!)
-As stated. Dogs are pack animals and are therefore used to living in a group. It’d therefore presumably be nicer for the dog to have some other dog company. We only have Mel. I won’t get a second dog for now because I don’t want to increase demand for dog food that doesn’t come from the best possible source. When my income is higher we’ll take in a second dog, but a rescue dog.
The pet industry is out of control! We have too many ‘man-made’ species that can’t survive in the wild and rely on us. They cause massive damage to the environment and produce gigantic amounts of waste and pollution (often indirectly through pet products etc).
Having a pet is usually a selfish act to entertain people (ask yourself why you had/have pets). Fish aren’t hopping out of the sea to live in tanks and deer aren’t queuing up outside cities with the hope of being adopted by someone!
I think that it’s actually wrong to have pets, but we’ve created a problem that can’t be ignored. As there are now billions of ‘unnatural animals’ that can’t and shouldn’t survive in the wild (it’d upset the balance of nature to release billions of non-natural animals into the wild!).
We have to now take the responsibility of our actions. I believe that the way forward is to reduce demand for new pets and to rescue pets that deserve better living conditions (if you can provide that for them).
Ultimately the pet industry is one of the unsustainable parts of our culture that can’t go on as it is. With the growth of the human population grows the pet population, which dramatically increases the strain on earths natural resources.
I really liked (and like) having pets, but as soon as you think about animal welfare and our planet, it’s difficult to conclude that the pet industry as it is, is acceptable.