The very ethos of veganism is one of caring for animals and minimising cruelty towards them. But what happens when wild animals, such as mice, wasps or ants decide to get just a little too close to vegans? Even the kindest animal lovers around might have to think twice about sharing their home with an expanding family of mice. And, what if your companion dog has picked up a load of fleas from another pup down the park? Does it fall within the ethics of veganism to call in pest control, or are there alternatives available in order to minimise harm to animals that some people would define as “pests”?
In this article, we will explore the ethics of pest control in general, looking at some of the techniques used by the conventional pest control companies. We will also look at some of the humane, non-lethal alternatives that could help deal with a wildlife problem in or around your home without causing undue harm or stress to animals. We will also pose the question: what is the difference between a pest and a mild nuisance?
Last of all, it should be noted that in this article we are primarily focussing on the UK, where, thankfully, we do not have many really dangerous wild animals. Clearly those facing life-threatening “pests” in Australia, Africa and other parts of the world face different challenges to your average Brit with a few moles in the garden!
Is It Vegan to Get Rid of “Pests”?
On the face of it, taking action against unwanted animals from your home or property that caused harm or distress to said animals would fly in the face of the ethics of veganism. And, it is certainly the case that setting a load of traps around your property that are designed to kill rodents would never be classified as vegan. But what is a vegan to do? Simply welcome wild mice into their homes and let them help themselves to your cereals, nuts and seeds, whilst multiplying in numbers?
The definition of veganism suggests the vegan way of life is followed “as far as is possible and practicable”. There are clearly some circumstances in which it is not practicable to follow the vegan credentials to the letter. One such circumstance relates to vaccinations, many of which contain animal products and all of which have been tested on animals. Clearly, it is not practicable to reject all vaccinations on this basis as it is likely to cause harm to yourself and others in society. And humans are animals, after all.
In relation to the unwanted visitation of wild animals, would it be really practicable to allow a nest of wasps to remain in the air vent of your house? Well, many vegans would argue it would. But what if you or a family member had severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reactions to wasp stings? In that circumstance, it might seem ok to bend the vegan rules slightly in order to justify taking action to remove a wasp nest.
Later in the article, we will examine the least-harmful pest control techniques available at present. But first we will take a look at which animals could be classified as pests and also some of the conventional techniques used to ‘control’ (which often just means kill!) so-called pests.
Which Animals Are Classified as Pests?
Essentially almost any animal can be classified as a “pest” if it has an adverse impact on human activities. In the UK, there are various pieces of legislation (including the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949 and the Pests Act 1954) that offer guidance about the circumstances in which and by what methods it is legal to “kill, take or clear” various animals. Generally speaking, there are a number of circumstance in which the UK law asserts it is fine to kill certain animals, though there is other legislation related to people causing unnecessary harm to animals.
Some animals are classified as protected in the UK (including bats, beavers, otters and badgers) but even these can be killed in certain circumstances if a special licence is granted by the authorities). For the likes of rats, mice and many other animals though, it is essentially open season. There are various organisations that can give advice about pests or wildlife conflicts (as others would rather dub such situations).
Many commercial pest control companies exist that aim to solve such problems. There are not many, however, who aim to do so without the use of lethal force, chemicals or cruel traps. That said, there are one or two popping up and we expect that number to grow in the coming years as the demand for the ethical treatment of all animals increases in line with the increasing number of vegans in the UK.
Conventional Pest Control Techniques
There are various techniques used to control (normally meaning “to kill”) a range of animals that are deemed to be pests, and these techniques vary greatly from the cruel to the downright torturous. Even many so-called humane traps can be pretty darn brutal: the ‘humane’ nature of some of these traps comes from the fact that they are designed to kill the animals swiftly… and that’s humane?!
Even if designed to take the life of an animal in a way that minimises its suffering, that relies on the trap or technique working exactly as it should, which is certainly not a given. Here are some of the common pest control techniques utilised in order to rid people’s homes or properties of uninvited animals:
Traps, often used for rodents, can come in various shapes, sizes and styles. The traditional ‘spring traps’ (like on Tom and Jerry cartoons) are designed to kill a rodent when set off through the impact of the arm of the trap. This does not always work, however, and can leave an animal in agony for as long as it takes for the trap to be checked. The animal in question would usually be ‘finished off’ in some way.
Seen by many people (vegans and non-vegans alike) as particularly distressing to animals, this type of trap simply causes the animals feet to be stuck to a surface, leaving them unable to move. Depending on how regularly the trap is checked, this can lead to the animals starving to death, and even if found by the trapper, often they are discarded – still alive – with the trap.
Similar to spring traps but perhaps more likely to kill a rodent quickly, jaw traps typically have ‘teeth’ with the top ‘jaw’ springing down on any animal that ventures in to set it off.
When activated by an animal, a dose of electricity is administered that is designed to be lethal to said animal.
Biological Pest Control
This is one of the least cruel pest control techniques in some ways in that there is at least a semblance of it being ‘natural’. This method involves introducing a natural predator or parasite that attacks the pest in some way to reduce its damage or simply kill it off.
An example would be the introduction of nematode worms to a garden in order to kill the grubs of chafer beetles. Environmentally speaking, this is probably preferable to dousing a garden in strong chemicals that could potentially affect other animals that visit the garden.
Poison is many people’s preferred method of control for animals as diverse as mice, rats, slugs, pigeons, ants and cockroaches. Many of the poisons used can be very harmful to humans who come into contact with them, not to mention the suffering they cause any other animal who ingest them, often causing a slow and painful death.
Fumigation involves the use of some kind of insecticide in the form of liquid or mist, often administered within an artificially created airtight environment around the area affected by the pests. Usually used for insects, the substances used could be harmful to humans if they come into contact with them.
Some animals, obviously larger ones, are simply shot with air rifles or other firearms, though there are various laws regulating this. For instance, it is no longer legal for farmers to shoot birds on their land without permission.
Aside from the obvious pain and suffering many of these techniques cause to the target animals, there is also the danger that non-targeted animals (including potentially children or even adults) might inadvertently set off a trap or get exposed to some poison and be harmed in some way.
Vegan Alternatives to Pest Control
As with a lot of things in the vegan world, these alternative pest controls sit in various positions along the vegan spectrum. But all of these are certainly better than the conventional pest control techniques detailed above. We will run through some general principles of the least harmful available mechanisms to remove or discourage unwanted animal visitors, and then we will look at specific options for different animals.
Catch & Release
While the various catch and release traps (used primarily for mice and other rodents) are undoubtedly preferable to traps that kill or main animals, there is some debate about whether or not they fit within vegan ethics.
It is fair to suggest that being trapped at all is likely to cause stress to an animal, even if it is not physically hurt. And then if it is taken miles away from the place it called home and released in an unfamiliar environment that could be home to predators or not have plentiful food, it could also be viewed as rather cruel.
Having said that, those people with a mouse problem might conclude that catching the visiting mice (without physically harming them) and then releasing them into what could be viewed as something more akin to their natural habitat, might actually be beneficial to the animals in question.
Of course, this relies on monitoring the traps very regularly so that mice are not left for long once they have been caught. And, even then this unlikely to satisfy the ethical stance of some vegans. Though, as said, this is far, far better than calling in a professional pest control company who will have no qualms about simply killing the mice in whatever manner they deem the most efficient.
Minimise Chances of Entry
One of the best ways to minimise the chances of your home being visited by uninvited animals is to make it as difficult as possible for them to gain access in the first place. It is a lot easier to stop a mouse, for instance, entering your home than to get rid of it once it’s got in (and when it has decided it actually quite likes it there!).
Given that mice are not only able to squeeze though very small gaps, but they are also able to gnaw through lots of materials used in the construction of homes, a little thought must be undertaken when trying to mouse-proof your home. There is little point, for instance, using plastic mesh to cover holes – this can easily be breached by rodents of all kinds. Instead, using metal wire mesh is advisable.
It is also important to use good materials when housing any companion rabbits or other animals you might have in the garden or in outhouses or sheds. Ensure there are no holes that could be breached by any predators and also that there is a roof so that birds of prey cannot swoop from above.
Natural Repellents & Deterrents
As well as reducing the chances of various uninvited animals gaining access to your property, there are various natural repellents that can be used in different circumstances to further discourage such visitors. For instance, there are a number of natural repellents on the market for slugs; for instance, many gardeners swear by the use of copper tape, which slugs do not like one bit and can be used to form a barrier around precious fruit, veg and other plants. Chillies, garlic, coffee and other strong-smelling foods are also said to work for a range of garden pests.
There are also various ultra-sonic and electromagnetic rodent repellents that can discourage animals that venture too close to your home, without actually causing them any real harm. In short, there are all sorts of natural repellents and alternatives to poisons that can be utilised to put would-be invaders off coming into your home or attacking your garden.
Minimise Access to Food
Most animals that come into people’s homes do so in order to search out food. This could be ants grabbing crumbs from the floor or the work surfaces, to mice scrabbling through food cupboards in which grain and cereals are not well stored, to moths getting into a cupboard full of blankets.
In short, there are lots of ways to stop animals getting access to the food they are seeking. For instance, cleaning floors and surfaces regularly will minimise the crumbs and scraps lying around for insects or other animals to sniff out. Also ensuring that foods that are likely to appeal to rodents (seed, cereals, nuts and even peanut butter!) are well stored, ideally in airtight tins or jars that cannot be gnawed through, makes good sense. Storing winter clothes, blankets and other items that might attract moths in sealed bags or boxes can be useful too.
Live & Let Live
As well as the various methods and products that can be used to discourage uninvited animals, or deal with them when they arrive, there is another option that could be fine in certain circumstances: simply live with it. This might not always be appropriate, but it can often be the best, most cost-effective and ethically sound thing to do.
For instance, if there is a wasp nest or a bee colony attached to or built within your property, the natural instinct of many people is to call someone to get rid of it as soon as possible. But this might actually be counterproductive. Some people think getting rid of wasps is a good way to stop them or their family members getting stung… but is causing the death of somewhere in the region of 10,000 living beings in a wasp colony a fair price to pay when balanced against the fact that you only might get stung by one of the wasps?
In reality, wasps are rarely aggressive unless provoked and it is only during the late summer months that they tend to be particularly active. It is worth noting that wasps don’t return to a nest in subsequent years and given that most people only notice they have a wasp nest towards the end of the summer, it is usually not long before that nest comes to the end of its life anyway. Also, wasps are actually very good at controlling insects that might otherwise eat plants you might be growing in your garden.
Vegan-Friendly Pest Control Options
Here we will go through the main animals that are sometimes viewed as pests in the UK, the reasons they are viewed as such and some vegan-friendly solutions to dealing with them:
|Animal||Reason Viewed as a Pest||Possible Solution|
|Mice||Blamed for spreading diseases when having accessed homes, they are also potentially hazardous as they have been known to gnaw through electrical cable and even water and gas pipes.
Obviously, there is a food hygiene issue if their droppings are found anywhere near food or food preparation areas (e.g. in a vegan café).
|Restrict access to properties, cover access holes using proven methods; trap and release any that get into the house in as careful/considerate a manner as possible. Reduce access to food by storing effectively and ensuring general cleanliness around the home.|
|Rats||Often associated with the spreading of nasty diseases including Weil’s disease and salmonella, rats can also gnaw through things they shouldn’t, such as electrical cables.
As with mice, if there is a rat problem or even a single instance of a rat being viewed in a café or restaurant, it can be a serious problem from a hygiene perspective.
|Same techniques as with mice.|
|Cockroaches||Cockroaches could contaminate food and food preparation areas as they forage for sustenance.||Ensure cleanliness of floors, surfaces, tables and cupboards; always clear up spillages; empty bins regularly and clean bins thoroughly every so often (with eco-friendly detergent).|
|Bed Bugs||Bed bugs feed on human blood (they are not vegan!), and though they are not thought to spread diseases, they can cause irritation when they bite, with some people suffering a more severe reaction than others.||Regularly clean duvets, sheets and rugs; vacuum clean upholstered furniture and mattresses; declutter houses, especially bedrooms to reduce hiding places for the bugs|
|Fleas||Like bed bugs, it is not common for fleas to spread any nasty diseases in the UK (since the Great Plague that is!), but they can be very irritating to both humans and companion animals.||If pets have fleas, use one of the various herbal flea remedies, have flea repelling plants in the home (lavender, spearmint and penny royal, for instance). Washing all clothes, rugs, et cetera that have been in contact with flea-infested animals is advised.
You can avoid fleas altogether by visiting your local veterinarian and making sure your companion pets take regular preventative medicine to keep them flea, tick and worm free!
|Wasps||Wasps get something of a bad rep for stinging people without provocation, but really this is almost unheard of. They will only sting when feeling threatened (which is reasonable given they are so much smaller than humans… what else can they do?). But that does not stop people feeling rather anxious if they have a wasp nest on or in their home.||In most cases it should be safe to leave a wasp nest, and just not get too close if possible. If this is not possible or if someone at the property has severe allergic reactions to wasp stings, professional advice should probably be sought.|
|Bees||Bees are even less likely to sting people than wasps (given that stinging humans tends to be fatal for most bees) and given that they are massively important to the environment, are endangered and are unlikely to cause any damage to people or properties, it is rarely advisable to ‘treat’ a bee colony on your property.||Same as with wasps.|
|Flies||Most people’s homes attract at least some flies every now and then, but these rarely pose any serious issues. Where lots of flies inhabit a home, it is likely that keeping surfaces clean and regularly emptying bins should be enough to discourage flies.||Same as with cockroaches. Have houseplants that deter flies, such as basil, mint, penny royal and others.|
|Moths||Moths of various species can feed on clothes, carpets, rugs, hair, fur, feathers and other materials that could be present in the home.||Use natural moth repellents in wardrobes and closets, store clothes and blankets in air-tight bags or boxes if not using for a while, for example, over the winter months.|
|Ants||If they can gain access to a food source, ants can become something of a nuisance in the home.||Same as with cockroaches, it’s all about reducing access to possible food sources.|
|Foxes||Foxes, particularly in urban areas, are viewed as a pest by some people due to them ransacking bins in the search for food.
Some people fear foxes will attack cats, rabbits and other companion animals and even possibly small children.
|Ensure your bins are sufficiently robust or lockable to stop foxes being able to get into them. Ensure companion animals are housed in fox-proof area or sheds.|
|Pigeons||Pigeons that gain access to outhouses, lofts or other buildings can cause damage to property through their mildly corrosive droppings, and they have the potential to spread some diseases.||Keep outhouses in good repair and fix any holes, broken door/windows or other access points promptly.|
|Slugs||Slugs are classified as pests by most people who have ever tried to grow their own fruit and veg. Their seemingly veracious appetite for the food you’ve grown to feed yourself means they can easily munch through your crop.
That can be massively disappointing after you’ve put in so much effort to grow your own. On the plus side, they rarely venture indoors though.
|Use one of the many eco-friendly slug repellent products available, such as copper tape.|
|Woodworm||Woodworm is the name given to the larvae of the Common Furniture Beetle, and – as the name suggests – they can make a real meal of furniture and other wooden items in the home.
This can be a particular problem for houses built using wooden beams, the structural strength of which depends on the integrity of the beams.
|There are various natural woodwork treatments available, but being careful when buying second hand furniture (looking out for potential signs of woodworm) could prevent them from getting in your home in the first place.|
When Is a Pest Just a Mild Nuisance?
In general, it is worth considering whether other animals classified as pests really are causing you any harm or not. Clearly, if you have a load of mice running round your kitchen and leaving droppings over your work surfaces, that is going to cause some concern. But a couple of mice at the end of the garden might just give you a chance to see a little bit of wildlife at close quarters.
All in all, if you take sensible steps to ensure the chances of certain animals getting into your home or being attracted to try are small, in most cases there is likely to be no conflict created with local wildlife. And, if a situation does arise, there is generally a reasonably ethical way of dealing with it, and certainly a lot of options that are better than some of the brutal methods currently employed by most mainstream pest control companies out there.