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 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. What leads people to defend these obvious acts of animal cruelty?
Various Live Feeding Excuses—Some More Stupid Than Others
- "It's 'natural'."
- "I want my animal to experience killing things (they need/love it)."
- "It's healthier because the vitamins are fresher."
- "These feeder animals were BRED for this!"
- "Don't you eat hamburgers?"
- "My animal won't eat anything else."
The Absurd Excuses
There appear to be three types of live feeding supporters:
- people who genuinely care and think they are doing what’s best for the captive animal
- people who justify their actions because it ‘occurs in nature’ but really are just making an excuse for their enjoyment of witnessing animals kill other animals
- people who are depraved individuals with 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 vile and painful methods of live feeding just to stir a negative reaction, such as feeding mice to snapping turtles. Even a respected science teacher fed rats and even an allegedly dying puppy to a snapping turtle.
Worst Excuse: "Live Feeding Is Natural"
No, it isn't. In nature, cages do not exist, and the prey actually has a chance of escape. Also, to proclaim that "live feeding is natural" as an excuse suggests that everything natural is desirable—including everything from shorter lifespans, 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 live feeding needed to achieve this goal.
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 so 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
- What Do Tigers Eat In Zoos?
The average zoo visitor may wonder what it is that tigers eat in zoos. It is the same as in the wild...meat. In the zoo however the fare varies as does the preparation and presentation.
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 that absolutely doesn’t need to be taken out on a live animal. Domesticated cats likely have '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 or a treat dispensing toy—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.
Live-feeding Reptile Owners Hurt Their Acceptance
It's confounding how basic ethical standards evaporate when it comes to the welfare of the prey animal. Even seemingly decent people are willing to forgo a painless or less painful death for an animal in the name of their pet’s enjoyment. 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 the attitudes some have regarding live feedings. Perhaps it would be easier for most people to see the horror of live feeding if it were done with puppies and kittens. Unfortunately, this sometimes becomes a reality.
If Your Pet Won't Take Live Prey . . .
If your pet (usually a snake) refuses to eat non-living prey, it might become necessary to feed live, but do not give up permanently. 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 the animal to eat dead food, in the case of snakes, once they reach an adult size you will be required to feed larger prey that are usually rats. Live rats can be good fighters and can maim a snake even if you are watching the entire time.
Don't Reptiles Enjoy Killing?
Reptiles (especially snakes) respond to stimuli and do not have 'fun' killing in a human-sense. Using ball pythons as an example, sometimes snake owners can 'harass' these reptiles into a feeding response by dangling the dead rodent and touching the snake's head forcefully. This method of getting a snake to eat frozen-thawed food can be potentially stressful, but effective.
This can provide some insight into the snake's mental process. While eating is a necessity to them, it is an automatic response that can even be induced through undesirable actions. When a snake is successfully trained to accept dead food, it is unlikely that the 'killing' experience is any different than with a live rodent.
The Only Acceptable Excuse
Some people are concerned that the methods used by most frozen rodent dealers are inhumane, sometimes based on some studies that challenge whether or not CO2 methods of euthanasia are pain-free. If it is your actual belief (not wishful thinking to suit your own desires) that death by snake is a more humane death than some of the listed effects of CO2, that is understandable. There is evidence constrictor snakes cause their prey to lose consciousness rapidly and in some of these cases, it can be potentially acceptable.
In such cases, it would be ideal to (honestly) choose the death you would choose for yourself if you had to make the decision. If death by snake sounds more cruel than properly executed CO2 overdose, then you should choose the latter.
Insects/Arthropod Live Prey
There’s no data 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 those cases, no manner of death can be promoted as ethically superior. Non-live bugs are available freeze-dried and canned, but there's no way to know if the treatment of those arthropods was any better than those fed live to reptiles.
Don't Like Feeding Live Bugs?
- 10 Pet Lizards That Don’t Need Live Food
A comprehensive list of reptiles you can keep as pets that only eat plants or will accept non-living, meaty foods as a substitute for live prey.
Not all reptiles (such as panther chameleons) will eat with this product, but I have had success with bearded dragons.
Even if you are a food purist who believes that food should be consumed in its raw form to achieve optimal nutrition, you can still feed humanely pre-killed prey (this is also another option for finicky eaters). While there is evidence that some vitamins and other nutrients are lost in the freezing process, there doesn't appear to be any that show this will prove to be harmful to the animal.
Dogs and cats are largely fed commercial diets with cooked meat that has not proven to be harmful. Even people who are feeding those pets raw food rarely do so with extremely fresh meat. If your snake or mammal is receiving whole prey, their diet is already much more fresh than is typically given to most pets.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.