Morality Regarding the Treatment of Pets, Hunting Animals, and Animal Research

Is there an official doctrine in Catholicism pertaining to the treatment of one’s own pets and others animals, particularly those used for research purposes? I know the American Psychological Association has a set of ethical guidelines for animal experimentation as well as for human research. I’m also aware that, in Judaism, animals must be treated with love and compassion as they are part of G-d’s creation. Whether or not they have a soul and can go to Heaven is another issue. Therefore hunting for sport is forbidden by Torah Law; however, it is allowed, when necessary, for the purposes of food and clothing. There is even the commandment to feed one’s pet first before oneself and one’s family since animals cannot delay their hunger gratification. And according to the kosher laws, if animals are killed for food, they must be killed using the sharpest needle possible to inflict the least pain. I don’t know what Judaism says specifically about the use of animals in research. I would think, however, that it is permissible for the purpose of saving human lives. I understand too that Hinduism does not believe in inflicting any pain or suffering on animals or killing them for food or clothing; and most Hindus believe in a strictly vegetarian diet. (There is an argument for vegetarianism found in Torah Judaism as well.)

So I was wondering what Catholicism says about animals in various situations, including the care of one’s pets, hunting, and experimentation for the purpose of medical and psychological research. Also, if members of other religions wish to talk about this issue, they are very welcome to do so.

I am not sure of any specific instruction the Church has issued on this matter, but the treatment of animals is mentioned in the Catechism:

CCC 2416:

*Animals *are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.

and CCC 2417:

God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image. Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure. Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives.

In addition to KarrollKid’s wise selection of citations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I would add the preceding section:

2415 The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity.195 Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.196

The topic of respect for the integrity of creation is expanded upon in a document by the International Theological Commission: Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God. In it, the authors note that Christianity has been criticized for encouraging human exploitation of creation, and then reject the criticism.

  1. But this criticism arises from a profound misunderstanding of the Christian theology of creation and of the imago Dei. Speaking of the need for an “ecological conversion,” Pope John Paul II remarked: “Man’s lordship is not absolute, but ministerial,…not the mission of an absolute and unquestionable master, but of a steward of God’s kingdom” (Discourse, January 17, 2001). A misunderstanding of this teaching may have led some to act in reckless disregard of the natural environment, but it is no part of the Christian teaching about creation and the imago Dei to encourage unrestrained development and possible depletion of the earth’s resources.
  1. This responsibility extends to the animal world. Animals are the creatures of God, and, according to the Scriptures, he surrounds them with his providential care (Mt 6:26). Human beings should accept them with gratitude and, even adopting a eucharistic attitude with regard to every element of creation, to give thanks to God for them. By their very existence the animals bless God and give him glory: “Bless the Lord, all you birds of the air. All you beasts, wild and tame, bless the Lord” (Dn 3:80-81). In addition, the harmony which man must establish, or restore, in the whole of creation includes his relationship to the animals. When Christ comes in his glory, he will “recapitulate” the whole of creation in an eschatological and definitive moment of harmony.
  1. Nonetheless, there is an ontological difference between human beings and animals because only man is created in the image of God and God has given him sovereignty over the animal world (Gen. 1:26,28; Gen. 2: 19-20). Reflecting the Christian tradition about a just use of the animals, the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms: “God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image. Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure” (2417). This passage also recalls the legitimate use of animals for medical and scientific experimentation, but always recognizing that it is “contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer needlessly” (2418). Thus, any use of animals must always be guided by the principles already articulated: human sovereignty over the animal world is essentially a stewardship for which human beings must give an account to God who is the lord of creation in the truest sense.

There is a lot of unnecessary research being carried out on animals. Why are cruel tests of cosmetics on animals ever necessary? There are alternate methods available which do not involve animals. Animal testing of drugs on animals do not necessarily give accurate results for humans. Thalidomide for example was tested on animals. There is much scientific research on animals which are totally unnecessary but done to assuage the curiousity of some and the need to play God.

Hunting for sport,baby seal clubbing, fur farms - nothing to do with necessity all to do with thrills and money.

Circuses and horse racing. The use of animals in circuses should have been phased out by now in this enlightened age. What is horse racing about but the breeding of horses to meet certain criteria, the buying and selling of horses by the rich and another way of wasting money.

I could go on.

The Pope did make a statement against treating animals like commodities. I really believe that the Church should lead a drastic change in the way animals are treated.

Short answer, no. The Catholic Church has very little defining what proper stewardship towards animals should look like.

We breed dogs and cats to meet certain criteria. We breed sheep, cows, goats, and every other domestic animal to meet certain criteria, no? This in iteself is not an immoral activity.

Horse racing, if done in an ethlical manner, is not immoral, nor is horse breeding for show horses or hunter/jumpers.

Now having said that, I’ve spent time on the race track as an equine veterinarian and have seen little evidence of ethical treatment of race horses. It exists, but isn’t common. I’d have trainers demand that I inject a worthless(although harmless) vitamin cocktail into their horse, and inject knees or other perfectly sound, healthy joints because the idiot trainer couldn’t tell which leg the hose was lame on. Such is not good stewardship.

Catholic Animal morality is a subject that has not been explored well by the Church.

I’m an animal lover as you are apparently. Not a PETA activist, though. I couldn’t agree more about the abuse and mistreatment of animals in circuses, having seen films about how elephants, for example, are cruelly handled. Tests of cosmetics on animals, I agree, are completely unnecessary and are, thankfully, being slowly phased out. Medical and psychological testing is another issue, however. I have mixed feelings about this.

Thank you for your passionate comment!

Thanks for the information! It’s always good to get first-hand knowledge from a veterinarian. I was under the impression, however, that there was more written about this by the Church.

Thanks so much for these informative quotations from the Cathechism.

Thank you for the additional information and the links. This is all very interesting material regarding our human connection to animals and the Earth.

Hi ,
We have done this before.

I have seen how some owners treat their no loner useful race horses. I agree not all are that way. However I would rather admire the beauty of a horse running through a meadow than watch a race. I used to be neutral about horse racing but have come to see it as a totally unnecessary sport involving suffering and waste. I wish people would see sport as activities of consenting adults.

I agree, its time the Church did.

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