Debra Merskin asks the question whether it is ethical to give your cat catnip. It might sound like a strange question because 70% of cats who chew or smell catnip appear to enjoy it. As one person on Reddit.com said it’s a bit like us going out to the pub after work. It is a cat chilling out having some fun but is it right to be amused by our cat if we give her a drug? If we are amused Merskin says that we deny them the same “moral consideration” that we give to humans.
The answer to the question turns on our attitude towards our animals with respect to ethics and morals. Should we have the same ethical standards in our attitude towards our companion animals as we have towards our children? Debra makes the point that we would consider it unethical to give our children a drug and then laugh at them when they proceed to be high and affected by it. Yet, this is exactly what we do with our domestic cats.
This is a philosophical question. It affects the very root of our relationship with domestic animals and indeed all animals. Personally, I have always considered animals to be equal to humans because I consider humans to be human animals. I don’t see much difference and gradually, day by day, we are becoming more enlightened about the emotional capacities of our animal companions and their intelligence.
Our companion animals share many traits with humans. You can think of sociability, emotions, eating habits, empathy, communication abilities, routines, fears, dislikes and likes, contentment and companionship with their human guardian. It would seem wrong to treat a companion animal from a moral standpoint differently to the way we treat another member of the family who happens to be human.
If you agree that, and many millions of cat owners treat their cats as members of the family, then you might agree that Debra Merskin’s argument is correct. The nonprofit People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals disagree with her. They are happy for owners to treat cat companions to reasonable amounts of high-quality catnip. We know this because Debra contacted them for a comment and their media officer, Sofia Charchuk, responded.
There is one other issue worth mentioning which is that the sort of catnip that so often comes with cat toys and other cat products is highly concentrated. It is not like the plant that cats might encounter outside. As you probably know catnip comes from a plant with the botanical name Nepeta cataria. Around 70% of domestic cats respond to catnip. Below is a video which tells us how it works on a chemical level.
What do you think by the way? I welcome responses and comments.
Postscript: many philosophers would support Debra’s argument because, for example, humans shouldn’t treat animals with less compassion than they treat humans just because they have a different vocal structure to humans.