Feeding Pets Live Food Is Cruelty
Live feeding is animal cruelty, no matter how you dress it up, no matter how 'happy' it may make another animal, and not even when it is necessary for picky feeders (this is partially 'justified' animal cruelty, but it has its own set of qualms). It is wrong, inhumane, unethical, and cruel to inflict a torturous death upon prey animals, regardless of whether or not they were 'bred' for this purpose.
1. deliberate infliction of pain or suffering
2. the quality or characteristic of being cruel
3. a cruel action
Therefore, feeding captive animals live vertebrate prey is animal cruelty.
“Why are you always so negative?” Many variations of this question are asked to me by the few people who know me.
I guess one of the answers to that question is that the absurd lack of logic that is often used and accepted by many to support and continue horrendous practices such as trapping live mammals in cages to be subdued by (many times often far less intelligent) predators.
I wish to inform people; but excuse me if the tone of this article is a little ‘scathing’. People annoy me when they complain that zoo tigers are not given live prey and the excuses that they delude themselves into believing are upsetting.
What leads people to defend obvious acts of animal cruelty, including even those vile animal 'snuff' clips that haunt on youtube?
Various live feeding excuses, some stupider than others
- It's natural
- I want my animal to experience killing things (they NEED/ love it)
- It's healthier (fresh nutrition)
- These feeder animals were BRED for this!
- Don't you eat hamburgers?
- My animal won't eat anything else
The absurd excuses
There appears to be three types of live feeding supporters; people who genuinely care and think they are doing what’s best for the captive animal (although many delude themselves into thinking this is the case when in reality, they feed live for their entertainment), people who justify their actions because it ‘occurs in nature’, and people who are, to be quite blunt, depraved individuals who have ‘anti-social disorder’ qualities yet have enough restraint to conform to society so they don't take their cruelty out on people (usually).
Sometimes these malicious latter individuals commit particularly disgusting and painful methods of live feeding just to stir a negative reaction (one video I certainly won’t post involves alligator snapping turtles and drowning mice).
Stupidest Excuse: ‘Live Feeding Is Natural’
Number one, no it isn't. In nature, cages do not exist, and the prey actually has a chance of escape. Number two, to proclaim that "live feeding is natural" as an excuse suggests that everything natural is desirable— everything from shorter lifespan, disease, exposure to predators, and other forms of negative stress.
It also suggests that the mission of keeping captive animals is to replicate every aspect of nature. In reality, when people keep animals, we select which aspects of nature we want to preserve for the health and wellness of the animal (nutrition, metal stimulation, adequate space) in the hopes of managing a happy and healthy specimen. It is similar to the life we design for ourselves.
We omit many aspects of nature that are pointless, and the idea of keeping an animal captive is not natural from the start. Generally, nowhere in this objective is a live feeding needed to achieve this goal. Also, the ethical animal caretaker should not cause any harm to any feeling being unnecessarily. Caring for a captive animal does not mean that the keeper doesn't owe welfare standards to the prey, and this should apply to the animals you choose to consume yourself as well. Your captive animal's environment is NOT nature—this is an environment you are managing.
Some people become wrapped up in the ‘beauty and wonder of nature’ that they forget (or sugar coat) that pain and suffering is a part of it. Picture tragedies in the news and the sense of horror that goes through your mind when you learn that a person was attacked by an animal or person. Picture the solemn sadness experienced when a child dies of a terminal illness. Those are all real natural life events that are inevitable. Why is predator-prey drama so beautiful and wondrous unless it’s happening to a human?
More information on Live Feeding in Zoos
Encouraging a tiger's hunting instincts with non-living objects
Do Animals Enjoy Killing?
Animals in the wild must kill to obtain their nutrition, but does this equate to enjoyment? Yes and no; animals need an outlet for their energy, but it absolutely doesn’t need to be taken out on a live animal. I’m sure domesticated cats achieve great fun when torturing their prey, but the same level of enjoyment can be achieved with an unfeeling plastic mouse attached to a piece of string—this is hardly a tremendous inconvenience to the pet owner.
Dogs possess chase instincts that are retained from the prey drive of their ancestors, and a ball and a non-lazy owner will suffice over a living rabbit. Perhaps a living animal to play with will occasionally be a tad more exciting for some animals, but does this justify ignoring the welfare of the animal you are feeding it? It does not begin to approach ‘cruelty’ to disappoint an animal by disallowing them to kill, but causing the prey to suffer DOES.
It confounds me how basic ethical standards evaporate when it comes to the welfare of the prey. Even seemingly decent people are willing to forfeit a painless death for an animal in the name of their pet’s ‘playtime’. This just adds insult to injury when it comes to the questionable status of captive animal ethics. If animal rights groups ever had a good reason to be anti-pet ownership, they can start with people’s attitudes regarding live feedings. Perhaps it would be easier for most people to see the horror of live feeding if it was done with puppies and kittens to zoo tigers. In actual cases, some people have purchased free dogs and cats to feed to their pet snakes.
If baby large pythons refuse to take dead food, don’t shrug you shoulders and submit to feeding them live for the rest of their lives. It’s your responsibility as a pet owner to continue the process of trying to get the animal to convert. Aside from the welfare of the prey, if you take no initiative to get a baby ball python to eat dead food, once the animal reaches an adult size you will be dealing with live rats. Live rats can maim a snake even if you are watching the entire time. Is laziness worth this?
Don't reptiles enjoy killing?
Don’t be ridiculous, reptiles respond to stimuli. They do not ‘enjoy’ killing in any kind of way, especially snakes, and snake owners are often the biggest offenders.
I have eight snakes (although one feeds exclusively on eggs, and I can pretty much guarantee she doesn’t enjoy the process), and I’ve learned just how stimuli-strict they are. None of them will see live prey as long as they are mine, and I’ve dealt with some finicky feeders. Ball pythons are immensely popular but they can have feeding problems, even with live prey.
When experiencing feeding problems, stress plays an important factor. Wait until your snake is searching for food (all of my ball pythons sit with their heads out of their hides) and gently introduce the prey. Make sure the situation feels ‘secure‘ as ball pythons are a very timid species. And lastly, don't blame lack of moving prey for your husbandry error or stressful environment.
The ONLY good excuse
Some people are concerned that the methods used by most frozen rodent dealers are inhumane, based on some studies that challenge whether or not CO2 methods of euthanasia are pain-free. If it is you're actually, truthful belief (not wishful thinking to suit your own entertainment desires) that strangulation by snake/bite to the carotid artery/ ect. is a more desirable death than some of the listed effects of CO2, that is more understandable. However, I strongly doubt that any person, if forced to choose, would opt for a wild animal death over that of a gas that causes asphyxiation of the brain (and whatever other unforeseen circumstances this may lead to). There is also the option of pre-killing the animal yourself in the method you deem the most suitable.
Something for those who don't like dealing with live insects, but pay attention to nutrition.
Insects/arthropod live prey
There’s no data that I’m aware of that confirms a ‘humane’ way of dispatching small arthropods (and limited data on whether or not they can experience pain or stress in the manner of vertebrates) so in this case I won't complain about live feedings with these animals, especially since the process replicates natural feedings with no laziness of the predator to cause prolonged suffering. Although, I admit I have a panther chameleon that is trained to take non-live insects. It certainly was a tedious process, yet it provided a lot of perspective at reptilian ‘thinking’ for myself. The fact still remains that the idea that reptiles enjoy or get anything out of killing is laughable.
Even if you are a food purist who believes that food should be consumed in its raw form to achieve optimal nutritional, you can still feed humanely pre-killed prey (this is also another option for finicky eaters). I'm not convinced that freezing would degenerate nutritional content of whole prey to any level that would be even moderately harmful. The success of millions of animals sustained on this type of diet is testament to that. If your snake or mammal is receiving whole prey, it’s already much better off than the millions of dogs and cats receiving only processed and cooked kibble.
Be a humane animal caretaker
If you claim to be such, or care at all about animal welfare, excuses for live feedings do not exist in reality. It all comes down to how concerned you are with the welfare of the animals you keep, even if it is temporary. The ‘wonder’ of nature does not cancel out suffering, and captivity is not nature. If you feed a mouse to a snake that willingly takes non-live food, you might as well have strangled the animal and committed the resulting suffering yourself. There is a significant difference between suffering leading to death, and just death. As we bring up reasons to justify keeping captive animals, we should never allow the living prey to experience fear and suffering in our closed human-controlled environment to the most reasonable extent possible.