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Should Vegans Have Companion Animals?

***This post is by contributor Christine Jackson.

Early in my career as a therapist, I worked with a woman trying to get out from under the thumb of her husband. He decided how they spent the money that both of them earned, what they did on weekends and on vacation, the type of food they bought, and even the temperature in their home. I wanted to smash the iron bar of control that man held over his wife’s existence.

As an ethical vegan, I believe that all animals—human and otherwise–deserve to live in ways that honor their needs, wants, and preferences. I was angry about the restrictions placed on my client, just as it angers me now to know that many cows raised for beef are forced to eat shredded newspaper and chicken excrement—things they would never consume in a natural environment–in their feed, and that mother pigs are kept in cages so narrow during their three-and-a-half-month pregnancies that they cannot turn over or take a single step.

Like many vegans, I grew up loving animals. Eventually I realized that there wasn’t much difference between the dogs and cats who shared our home and the cows, pigs, and chickens other people killed so that I could eat them. As someone who strives to avoid doing anything that might contribute to another’s suffering, I can’t help noticing the parallels between my client’s marriage and my relationship with my two beloved cats.

I make almost every important decision about my cats’ lives: what and when they eat, where they live, the temperature of their home, and where or whether they are allowed to roam. It is up to me to secure them veterinary care, should they need it, and ultimately I might decide whether they live or die.

Although I strive to keep them happy and to give them the best life I know how, the life I create for them involves certain assumptions and, necessarily, some limitations. I expect that when they were younger, my cats would have enjoyed the freedom to go outside and hunt birds. Because I don’t want them killing birds or rabbits, and because I want to protect them from cars, broken glass, fleas, and other neighborhood dangers, I keep them indoors.

Most companion animals spend the majority of their lives being ignored by their humans while the people sleep, work, watch TV, talk on the phone, cook, and clean. I believe that my cats have a better life than animals in zoos, in laboratories, and on factory farms. I don’t put them on display or cut or burn or poison them, and I would never sell their body parts. Nevertheless, I can’t help wondering whether this is a life they would choose.

When I adopted my cats from the city shelter, possibly saving them from being euthanized at an early age, I promised to take care of them for the rest of their days, in sickness and health, to the best of my ability. I provide them with food, a comfortable place to live, and my love. In return, they keep me company in good times and bad—and, in their way, they take care of me. I hope they consider this a favorable exchange.

I hope my cats know they are deeply loved—and I sense, see in their eyes, their love for me. In a world where billions of animals live and die without receiving a single word or gesture of kindness, the fact that my cats lead a good life feels like a strike against institutionalized animal abuse: here are two creatures who escaped a life of hell.

But their existence depends, in part, on the suffering and slaughter of others. Cats need some meat to be healthy. Are my cats’ lives more valuable than those of the chickens and fishes whose body parts they eat? Obviously, the answer lies in whom you ask. I know my life is better with cats than without them, but ultimately I have to ask myself, does my having cats benefit them, or me? And, when they die, would it be right to adopt another?

***This post is by contributor Christine Jackson.

Christine Jackson has been a therapist for fifteen years and maintains a private practice in Washington, D.C. She has been an animal advocate for over four decades.

Should Vegans Have Companion Animals?

Beth Levine, LCSW-C

Beth Levine, LCSW-C, has a private practice based in Rockville, Maryland. She is Certified as a Therapist and Therapist Supervisor in Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy by The Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy. She also has earned a Level I Certification in Internal Family Systems. Beth works with adults in individual and couple settings. She works with people struggling with anxiety, depression and relationship issues. She is honored to be part of her clients’ journey toward better health, happiness, and relationships. She is driven to make the world a better place on an individual, as well as a systemic level. Beth can be reached at and at her website.

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APA Reference
Levine, B. (2019). Should Vegans Have Companion Animals?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Aug 2019
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