Ethical Treatment of Animals

Posted: November 29th, 2013







Ethical Treatment of Animals


SOC120: Introduction to Ethics & Social Responsibility




Ethical Treatment of Animals

Ethical issue and the problem it presents


            Animals make good companions and are loyal to their keepers, hence once a person takes the initiative to keep a pet, it is his or her duty to take care of that animal. One major problem identified about some of these pet owners is the lack of knowledge of proper treatment of the animals they choose to keep, or they have a tendency to neglect the animals’ needs hence explaining the presence of strays. It is quite common to find an individual who owns a dog but rarely gives it a bath, feeds it once or twice a day and does not consider the balanced diet of the dog. The owner rarely gives the dog enough exercise and neglects it especially when going on trips leaving it by itself. Strays are animals that undergo neglect hence forcing them to run away in search of alternative means to survive on their own. The neglect of pet’s needs is an ethical issue that needs consideration. Animals, just like humans, have needs to be fed, health needs requiring medication, and good hygiene needs that require constant cleaning to prevent diseases or pest infestation (Sandoe & Christiansen, 2008).

According to the Animals and Society Institute (2012), research indicates that there is a direct link between the treatment of animals and treatment of humans. The treatment of a person towards his or her pets will determine how he or she treats others and will enhance his / her level of responsibility. Apart from the presence of stray animals, another social problem created is a lack of sense of responsibility in individuals. A cruel habit towards animals shows lack of ethical morals in an individual and is extensible to humans, as studies indicate a direct link between human treatment and animal treatment; hence this is an issue requiring address by the public. Therefore, based on the ethical theory of deontology, it is possible to justify fair treatment of animals and the legal and moral consequences related to lack of this fair treatment.

How deontology can resolve the problem

The issue of neglect and mistreatment of a pet can be solved using the deontology theory of ethics that is based on people doing what is ethically correct, while they adhere to their obligations and duties (Milligan, 2010). This theory emphasizes doing what is most beneficial to that being that people are obliged to; a theory brought forward by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). He argues that for humans to act in a morally upright way, they must act according to duty. Through deontology, the individual’s motive to fulfill his duty renders the act morally upright rather than the consequence of the action.

This theory is justified by arguing that a person has good will when he acts morally in respect of a moral law, and people follow such laws, as these are their duites (Cahn and Markie, 1998). This theory, as explained by Kant, states that one should always act as he or she would act towards humanity whether in others or in self. Hence, this renders the moral act, as it is aimed at bringing about the best action from the individual. Therefore, this principle should also be applied in the same manner to animals. According to Kant, the action carried out in a deontological manner must be aimed at attaining the greater good. By understanding their obligation to pets, owners will be able to take better care of the pets, as it is their duty. They shall ensure that they provide for their basic needs, which include good diet, good care, good hygiene and constant medical checking up by the veterinarian (Sandoe & Christiansen, 2008).

Once people follow this theory, they become very consistent, as they understand their duties and it becomes routine for them to enact. This creates a sense of fulfillment, as the owner fulfills his obligation and the pet receives the required treatment; hence both parties benefit and the achievement of greater good. This also enhances the individual’s morality meaning that the individual focuses more on his actions rather than the consequence or results from his actions. This ensures that there is no bias in the action, as the individual focuses on what he is obliged to do that ensures universality in people’s actions, that is, they are acceptable universally. By application of the deontology theory, an action is punishable, as it is a law hence creating more responsibility on an individual to enact his duty. Therefore, in the case of neglect, it will be possible to obligate the individual to treat his pet ethically, as failure to do so will mean that the individual is breaking an existing law as this amounts to failure to carry out his obligation.

Contrast of this theory and other theories in problem solving

Relativism theory

The deontology theory contrasts with relativism in the sense that relativism does not state any moral absolutes that apply universally. In relativism, one tries to understand the behavior in this or her local context and hence assessing other cultural reactions based on his or her own cultural standards (Cahn & Markie, 1998). There is no moral consensus, as each individual assumes a skeptical position in his or her judgment according to his or her own understanding. Therefore, it shows that ethics in this theory is based upon a certain framework, not on the rule of overall good. One’s actions are dictated by the surrounding or culture that he or she finds themselves in hence creating situational ethics (Cahn & Markie, 1998). There is a contrast in deontology because there is a universal standard of behavior concerning a certain act, but in relativism, the behavior expectations vary from community to locality.

Therefore, basing our argument on relativism, if an owner neglects a pet in a society where pets are not valued, then he/ she will not commit an unethical act, as it was not expected of him / her by the society. This differs with deontology, as it is a universal requirement to be humane to animals, hence the act of mistreat or neglect of one’s pet will be unethical, as one fails to fulfill his or her duty towards the animal. Use of the relativism theory in problem solving would be difficult, as one can easily justify his or her act based on the acts of a specific community.

Emotivism theory

Emotivism indicates that moral judgment is based on feelings or emotions and not on a statement of facts. Hence, it depends on how the affected party feels about an action or an incident (Ayer, 1952). Emotivism is a theory that promotes bases of judgment on an individual’s feeling to communicate ideas. This makes judgment of an action difficult, as moral judgment differs from one person to another, since these ethical sentences are expressions and not assertions. This is different from deontology because in emotivism, no set rules govern the actions of the individual as they are based on the emotions of the individual and not the facts or rules set.

In deontology, emotions play no role in an action, as the intellect guides the individual to know what is permissive and what is not according to rules set in relation to the actions of an individual towards another. Based on the theory, it would be difficult to take any action against the owner of a pet if he mistreats it, as this would mean basing your arguments on your views  but not laws meaning that just as you are entitled to your view, so is the owner entitled to his view of treating his pet as he pleases. Therefore, if the owner feels that there is nothing wrong  in treatment of his pet, regardless of how the society views the situation, there is no case against the owner.

Ethical egoism theory

Ethical egoism holds that people should act in self-interest, but in a manner that does not harm others. Both the rights of the individual and that being acted upon are upheld in this theory (Sanders, 1988). It is a form of a consequential theory hence is subject oriented. The one observing this theory acts in an ethical way towards another. In ethical egoism, the wellbeing and interest of others are not disregarded, but the interests of the deciding party take a front stand so long as they are morally upright. The actions taken by the individual should not prevent others from exercising their freedom of action. This theory may, however, tend to do more harm than good, since humans tend to have different needs and wants; hence it cannot be assumed that one can fully know what the others need to act in a manner that is not offensive to the rest (Sanders, 1988).

This theory allows the individual to act in such a manner that he is able to enjoy the same benefit from others. For example, if he views that by acting in a considerate manner, he does not receive the same kind of response from those he is considerate towards, he can decide to act in a way that puts his interests first. This differs from deontology where one is expected to act in a considerate way towards others regardless of whether they reciprocate the action or not. Hence, in this case, a pet owner is not obliged to care for his pet unless he feels that doing this would benefit him; thus the action is result-oriented.

Relativism and deontology

Of the three theories, relativism is the closest theory to deontology in the interpretation. In relativism, one is governed by the rules set by culture or the society that he or she comes from, or the people’s view in their surrounding, whereas in deontology, one’s actions are governed by the universally accepted set standards of behavior. In deontology, however, one’s actions are also governed by the morality of the action and the consequence that should be the satisfaction of the person they are obliged to. Therefore, the two theories are both influenced by external influences and expectations  that is their similarity (Cahn & Markie, 1998).

In the case of relativism, one’s level of morality in his or her actions is determined by the morality of the society people grow up in, as people adapt the cultures and norms in their surrounding. If one comes from a society that requires good treatment of domestic animals, the person would be obliged to treat the pet in such a manner to fulfill those expectations. In deontology, the universal expectation is good treatment of pets; hence one has a duty to implement that obligation. However, these two theories differ: in relativity, there is no moral standard defining what is right or wrong but that is determined by culture and community norms, whereas in deontology, the moral standards are set and do not vary from one society to the other; hence they are universal.

Governing bodies for ethical treatment of animals

Unethical treatment of animals is a subject of interest among many animal lovers, and this issue has seen the rise of many bodies, both governmental and non-profit organizations whose main aim is to advocate the rights of the animals and teach people on the importance of ethical treatment of animals. They endorse responsible use of animals for the satisfaction of human needs. These bodies aim at education of animal needs to humans to enable them to understand that animals also have needs and requirements for their safe survival. These are animal welfare groups who have no issue with humans keeping pets as long as they are well provided for. They follow up on cases of animal abuse and legal action taken against the perpetrators of such deeds against the animals using appropriate legal and social strategies. Some of these animal welfare groups include Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Rights Party USA, Cats Protection, Dogs Trust, Friends of Animals just to name a few.

Apart from animal welfare groups, there are animal rights groups that argue that animal should be awarded the right not to be property, hence arguing that animals should be treated as free, and humans should not have a right of ownership over the animals. They argue that animals should be given the same rights as humans and hence treated as members of a moral community. Critics however argue that animals have no duties, hence do not deserve rights. They are incapable of entering a social contract or have the ability to make choices that morally uphold the set rules. One of these animal rights groups is the Animal Liberation Group. Its sole purpose is  the liberation of animals advocating their freedom.

Moral consequence

Every action has a consequence associated with it, and so does unethical treatment of animals. Research shows that there is a direct relation between treatment of animals and the treatment of humans. It proves that people who tend to mistreat animals are also inhumane towards their fellow beings. These researches show that people who get involved in battery and abuse are people with a tendency to be cruel towards animals mistreating them and denying their basic needs. Therefore, cruelty towards animals has an impact on the psychology and morality of an individual. Unethical treatment has an impact on the moral standard of an individual, as he lacks the ability to discipline himself hence becomes unreliable and untrustworthy in society.

Legal consequence

In relation to animals, there are many animal welfare and animal rights groups, which are constantly on the lookout for the wellbeing of animals and the treatment animals receive taking legal actions against the individuals who mistreat the animals. With People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) being on the forefront to ensure that animals receive fair treatment, the laws governing treatment of animals are taken with more intensity, advocacy of animal rights is growing. Though animals do not have the right to freedom, they have the right to fair and ethical treatment; hence mistreatment of an animal would lead to a legal action being taken against the owner.


It is therefore evident that ethical treatment of animals (based on the deontological theory) is morally right and subjective to legal action if not upheld. As treatment of animals is connected with human treatment, people should strive to ensure that once they take responsibility of a certain pet, they should learn about the needs of the animal and provide for it, as one would for any human. An animal, just like human beings, has needs and requirements. Taking responsibility of a pet, one is obliged to take care of that animal, and should ensure that he or she carries out all the duties required in the upkeep of the pet.

Animals have rights, since they do not have the ability to fight for the rights themselves the existing animal rights groups should ensure that they do not relent in ensuring all animals receive fair treatment. For representatives of animal rights group to effectively achieve this objective, they should ensure that stricter rules are enforced to govern the behavior and actions of pet owners towards their pets paying attention to unethical treatment of animals. They should also put more effort in lobbying and advocacy of animal rights to the public so that one cannot claim lack of knowledge of the rights. Representatives of animal rights groups should educate the public of the importance of the relationship between humans and animals in order to stop the cycle of violence between humans and towards animals (Animals and Society Institute, 2012). This will ensure that the animal owners fully understand the needs of these pets and provide for them to the best of their knowledge.





Animals and Society Institute. (2012). There Is A Link between Acts of Cruelty to Animals and Violence toward Humans.

Ayer, A. J., (1952). Language, Truth and Logic. New York: Dover Publications. Print

Cahn, S. M. & Markie, P. J., (1998). Ethics: History, theory and contemporary issues. New York: Oxford University Press. Print

Tony, M., (2010). Beyond Animal Rights: Food, pets and ethics. London; New York: Continuum. Print

Sanders, S. M., (1988). Is Egoism Morally Defensible? Netherlands, Philosophia: Springer volume 18.

Sandoe, P. & Christiansen, S. B., (2008). Ethics of Animal Use. Oxford: Blackwell. Print




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