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Buddhist Pet Food

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A Reader recently wrote:

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I have what is probably a really dumb question,

I am attempting to follow a vegetarian lifestyle. I also share my home with three cats and two dogs and one foster cat. I am a big animal activist. But, doesn’t the purchase of pet food, which is made out of animal bi-products, going against the Right Action Precept? What, in general, are the Zen belief on pet ownership (for lack of better terms)?

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And my response:
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Dumb question? No way! This is actually very interesting, and nowhere near as simple as it may sound. I couldn’t find anything in writing on the subject, so all that follows is just my logical stream of thought on this. I could well be wrong or taken the wrong line of reasoning. I’m going to guess that others will chime in on this topic on the blog.

We have discussed vegetarianism here in the past, (http://www.dailybuddhism.com/archives/59 and the comments beneath it). Different groups have differing opinions on the topic. I think everyone agrees that in theory vegetarianism is best, but most groups do not require it, not even for monks. That’s not really your question, but I wanted to remind people about that discussion if they want to refer to it.

Now, your dogs and cats are meat-eaters, so feeding them requires some other animal to be killed. My understanding of your question is whether or not buying “meat” for your pets is a bad thing.

Many Buddhists believe people with negative karma are reborn as dogs. Dogs are not intelligent enough to raise their karma on their own, so they essentially have to remain dogs until their negative karma has worn off. Eventually, they will get another chance to become human again and can work on reaching Nirvana. I think the important idea to get from that is that karma doesn’t work the same way for animals as it does for people because they are not able to affect their own karma, at least not to any great extent.

Some animals, such as cats and dogs, are carnivores by nature. They cannot survive on a vegetarian diet. They eat meat because they have to; it’s the way of things. There is no negative connotation or bad karma involved when a cat kills a mouse. It’s just in the nature of the animal. If you were not in the picture, and the animal lived out in the wild on its own, it would kill and eat meat on its own, oblivious to karma, Buddhism, or any of the high ideals that humans have.

It is true that by buying dog food, you are paying someone to kill animals; this taken alone is a bad thing. However, if the pet food makers did not kill the animals, your animals would do it themselves. Either way a food animal dies. This seems to me to be a “zero balance” situation, and the net karma is unchanged.

Therefore, I am going to say pet food is probably a “karma neutral” situation.

Also keep in mind that by treating your pets well, you are increasing your own karma, and the positive psychological effects of pet ownership probably affects your own karma as well. Pet ownership overall is a good thing for a Buddhist.

I can see where this could be argued several other ways, so this is definitely not the only way to view this subject.

6 comments to Buddhist Pet Food

  • Kevin H.

    It is possible to feed dogs a vegetarian or even vegan diet with no ill effects:

    http://www.vegandognutritionassociation.com/

    Or google for “vegan dogs”. Cats, on the other hand, cannot synthesize taurine, which is only found in flesh. While some attempts at making vegetarian cat food have been made (using man-made taurine) the results have been dicey at best and downright dangerous at worst.

    Great question!

  • Disco Chris

    I am not sure that I agree with the idea of a vegan diet for a dog or cat, left to their own devices animals eat meat as is their nature – its maybe worth considering the sufferation of the animal by changing its diet to one devoid of meat.

    I think that to switch an animal to a vegan diet is ultimately a little bit of self indulgence on the part of the owner, and as a vegetarian I would have to consider the validity of my keeping a pet if I wasnt able to feed it in as naturally as possible (without letting it go out and kill its own dinner of course).

    As Kevin said it is a great question, and one that could be debated for hours.

  • Jazz

    I’m a bit late in replying to this topic, but as I just joined, I will ask you over look my dely in responding. I, from an animal health care view, agree that dogs can be fed a vege diet, and there are many that must, due to health problems (allergies being one of many.) Cats, Kevin is right, a vege diet is not an option.

    As I am new to the Buddhist teachings and studying, I will not even attempt to comment on that. But, when buying food for your pet, with an idea on the balance of life, I would suggest looking into how companies buy and process their supplies. There are some dog/cat food companies that I will not buy food from, because I know that they are not respectful in their treatment of animals. They buy from any slaughterhouse, or they add meat that is unfit for human consumption, or they add horrible chemicals, etc. To me, this is important, to do all things with the utmost respect.

    This is my thoughts, and maybe it will help someone in their quest to calm the troubling thoughts that this topic can bring. ??

  • Great post! I love that you are taking the time to write about pet care. This is something near and dear to my heart. Take care.

  • chi

    I also agree, along with many of the vets in my area, that dogs, especially once past the puppy stage are totally healthy veggies. They, like us are omnivores (scavengers really), and can dine on most any type of diet. But cats, being carnivores, are not at all this way.

    Another thing about this though, if you choose to buy meat for your pet, I would think you could minimize the karma issue by being mindful of the type of meat you source. Perhaps taking into consideration how the animal was raised, maybe even buying actual meat for your pet so that you can be sure it was raised and slaughtered in a more humane way. Processed food rarely come with a grass fed, cage free, humanely treated label, unfortunately. Where I live the dogs eat cage free (local when available) eggs every day with brown rice, and any veggie scraps they absolutely love! And the couple of vets that see them say they are some of the healthiest looking and acting dogs they see. This diet also happens to be free of chemical treatments and preservatives, which probably doesn’t hurt.

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