Animal ethics

History of companion animals and the companion animal sector

By P. Sandøe, S. Corr, C. Palmer & J. Serpell (2016)
Ch. 1 in Sandøe, P., Corr, S.A., and Palmer, C., Companion animal ethics. Wiley Blackwell.


Many households in the industrialised Western world own companion animals. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA, 2012) reported that just over a third of US households kept one or more dogs in 2011, and just under a third kept one or more cats (AVMA, 2012: p. 1). Figures are similar, though somewhat lower, in the European Union (EU) where, in 2010, just over 25% of households had at least one dog, and just under 25% had at least one cat, according to the European Pet Food Industry (FEDIAF, 2010). In most Western countries, the number of households keeping dogs and cats has been steadily growing for decades.

The AVMA (2012) also gives us information on people’s attitudes to the animals in their homes. Two-thirds of US dog owners see their dogs as members of the family; most of the rest, according to the survey, view them as ‘companions’ or ‘pets’. Over half the owners see cats as family members. For both species, the younger the owners, the more likely they are to view their animals as family members (AVMA, 2012: p. 14). According to a survey prepared for a pet food company in 2000, nearly half of American dog owners have taken their dog on vacation, and a similar number have celebrated their dog’s birthday (Ralston Purina, 2000). Thus the general trend is not only to allow dogs and cats into the family home but also – in these respects, at least – to treat them as members of the family.

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Companion animal ethics

By P. Sandøe, S. Corr & C. Palmer (2013)
Luentokokoelma. Julkaisija Fennovet Oy. 


Companion animal issues give rise to dilemmas and disagreements. These dilemmas and disagreements arise due to different interpretations of scientific findings, different understandings of what constitutes animal welfare, different views about which values matter, different ways of weighting or adding up the relevant values, and different ideas about how the relevant values should be put into practice. To explain how ethical priorities have evolved, first we give a brief overview of the history of current Western attitudes to animal companions, and how the veterinary and other professions developed to deal with companion animals. Next, two specific issues that give rise to dilemmas and disagreements in companion animal ethics are discussed: 1) the issue of whether all dogs should be routinely neutered; and 2) the issue of feeding and the related problems of canine and feline obesity.

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