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Animal Health Ethics: Kidney Transplantation in Cats


Animal welfare is a holistic treatment that ensures that non-human living creatures receive better care. The welfare of animals can be protected by ensuring that both the physical and mental needs of the animals are met. The three main concepts in animal welfare are natural behavior, reproduction, and feelings. Health can be provided through comprehensive checkups, preventive care, and treatment. Chronic kidney disease is common in cats, and the only guaranteed cure is to have a transplant. Animal welfare requires that the sick pet receives the correct medication. A kidney transplant requires that another cat acts as a donor. This paper analyzes whether it is morally right to endanger one pet’s life to save another. The transplant is used worldwide to cure cats. Chronic renal failure in cats is treated using the process. Kidney transplant presents a dilemma because it presents health challenges to the donor.

Ethical Dilemma and Valid Choices

Conducting a kidney transplant for cats provides guaranteed healing. Whereas the transplant recipient is saved, the donor’s life is jeopardized. The choice of risking one cat’s life (the donor) to save another is considered an ethical dilemma. An ethical dilemma is a situation involving two choices that are difficult to make because each of them causes a moral transgression. On one hand, choosing to save the recipient’s life endangers the donor’s life which is a moral misdemeanor. On the other hand, saving the donor’s life risks the beneficiary’s life. Making either choice results in the life of one cat being threatened.

The first valid choice is to conduct the transplant and save the sick pet. The first choice’s consequence is affecting the donor cat’s life, which has to survive on one kidney all its life. The cats donating a kidney are granted a home to stay and be taken care of throughout their lives. Research conducted in the USA showed that 5% of the donor cats involved in the transplant died from complications relating to the procedure (Palmer and Sandøe, 2014). Further, 17% of the cats suffered health complications due to the surgery (Sandøe et al., 2012). The health challenges experienced by the donor cats jeopardize their quality of life and constitute a violation of their right to live without human interference.

The second valid choice is to save the donor’s life and risk the sick pet’s life. It is imperative to note that humans have a moral obligation to save sick pets. Saving the donor and leaving the affected without hope for healing also amounts to moral wrongdoing since the sick animal looks up to the human for medication. Seeking alternative treatment, such as 3D printing for the organ, is likely to improve the quality of life for both the animals and help protect the lives of the donor pets.

Scientific Literature Supporting the Concerns

Animal rights refer to moral philosophies grounded on the belief that all faunas deserve to live without being used to fulfill human desires. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals states that all animals deserve respectful and kind treatment at the hands of humans (Byer et al., 2022). Although animals lack the freedom of choice humans enjoy, all actions must not endanger their lives (Gjerris et al., 2013). Policymakers must liaise with scientists to develop new methods of treating the condition without the transplant. The donor and the receiver are expected to undergo a monthly checkup of more than $1,000 to ascertain their health status (Palmer and Sandøe, 2014). The key ethical dilemma in a cat’s kidney transplant is violating the rights of animals by subjecting the donor cat to unnecessary life-threatening situations.

A kidney transplant in cats is the only known cure for chronic renal illness. Dr. Gregory and Gorley were the first veterinarians to conduct a successful organ transplant in cats in 1984 (Palmer and Sandøe, 2018). The cat that receives the transplants has survived for more than six years during the surgery (Gold et al., 2019). It is imperative to note that the transplant procedure ensures that the transplanted kidney functions normally and offers the cat a better quality of life. There is a 90% success for renal transplant rate, and the cats have experienced a higher quality of life through it (Byer et al., 2022). The donors, therefore, have a high probability of leading a healthy life after the operation.

Eliminating the procedure to protect donor cats is likely to lower the life expectancy of the cats requiring transplants. The University of Georgia School of veterinary medicine estimated the transplant cost with little complication to be between $12,000 and $15,000 (Vea, 2020). Therefore, the cost is likely to increase if a donor cat is unavailable, as the 3D-printed kidney for cats may not serve the intended purpose in the discourse. Cat kidney transplants can be withheld because a cat with one kidney can lead a whole and healthy life.

A kidney transplant involving a donor exposes the cat to pains, blood clots, and infection. Although 76% of all pet surgery have been successful in the USA, the remaining 24% has ended the cats’ lives (Ceccato et al., 2021). In the research conducted by Koenig et al. (2020), the donor cats exposed to the surgery reacted to anesthesia, which led to the need for readmission. Further, the health of 75% of the cats who underwent the procedure has reduced their quality of life as they had to be readmitted to the hospital for more checkups. The transplant is preceded with massive research to ensure no risk associated with the transplant. When the donor cat is assured of a higher quality of life, the ethical concern for reduced quality of life for the cat is challenged. However, research by Sparks et al. (2020) proved that cats living with one kidney are prone to healthcare challenges. The surgery, therefore, jeopardizes the quality of health of the donor cat.

3D printing is a new technology that helps medical doctors to print human organs. The design of the organs is made to imitate the functionality of the real organ. Organovo was the first medical engineering company to successfully print human kidneys and livers in 2014 (Soares et al., 2021). Since then, St. Thomas and Guy’s surgeons pioneered organ transplants, and people were healed of their ailments through successful organ transplants. It is, however, imperative to note that the 3D printing realm in animals has yet to be tested and proven, and initiating one for cats is likely to take longer to be actualized. Further, the implantation of printed kidneys for cats is likely to increase the risk of cancer, teratoma, and implant dislodgement (Bruyette, 2020). The solution of 3D printing may not be viable and may jeopardize the health of the cats in dire need of transplants.

Relationship with Ethical Theories

Ethical theories are basic frameworks that guide the decision-making process to ensure that animals receive better treatment at all times. Both the donor and recipient in the cat kidney transplant have a stake. While the healthy animal proposed to be a donor suffers a risk of endangering its life, the recipient depends on it for survival. Research by Kegley (2022) proved that both the donor and the recipient are likely to lead a healthier life. It is against animal rights to extract an organ in exchange for a habitat. Utilitarianism, animal rights view, and Contractarianism are ethical theories that define the correct actions toward the donor cats.


Argument Offered: Morality plays a significant role in utilitarianism and animal rights. Tom Regan argues that animals are protected by Utilitarianism from being used for scientific research, commercial sport hunting, and other agricultural research (Paterson and Jamieson, 2021). The current choices are to avoid using cats as donors for kidney transplants, and the theory supports the choice. The idea of using the cat as a donor is considered to be morally wrong as it inflicts pain on the cat. The utilitarianism theory of animal ethics is a philosophy of consequence and considers the outcome of the action committed (Sparks et al., 2020). The main reason why the choice of eliminating the practice is supported is that the outcome of the action conflicts with Regan’s principle.

Unlike the Deontology theory, which focuses more on moral obligation, Utilitarianism pays more attention to the consequence. The reward a cat receives for donating a kidney is a home and a family to be cared for at all times. However, Schinkel’s argument on animal Utilitarianism supports the idea that the animal’s right to be granted a safer and more conducive atmosphere for a living (Kegley, 2022). The cats are therefore entitled to home care without them donating a kidney. Humans have a moral responsibility to protect animals from all actions that are likely to jeopardize the quality of their health (Abbate, 2022). For example, any idea or action affects a cat’s well-being. Kidney transplant in cats jeopardizes the donor’s health as it improves the recipient’s.

How theory Weigh conflicting Concerns: The theory weighs the concern by protecting donor cats’ rights. Although the rights of the sick cat may be considered and the action taken as a means to improve its quality of life, its impact must be analyzed. Endangering one animal to save another is considered speciesism and is highly rejected by the utilitarianism theory (Ceccato et al., 2022). Since the donor is put at risk, it should be discouraged as a means to save the healthy cat. An alternative medication must be developed to cure chronic kidney disease for the pet.

Animal Rights View

Argument Offered: Animal welfare and animal rights may be synonymous but differ in context. Animal rights theorists argue that animals are entitled to certain privileges and considerations (Kurki, 2021). The theory accepts the choice of stopping the kidney transplant because animals are not to be used by humans for any purpose. According to the theory, animals have the right to be protected. Since human kidney transplants cannot be performed without their consent, the same courtesy must be extended to animals. The theory offers an argument that supports the elimination of kidney transplants for animals because it goes against the privileges granted to animals (Francione, 2020). Unlike Utilitarianism, which is a philosophy of consequence, animal right is a principle of responsibility that stops humans from exposing cats to suffering. The theory, however, allows for modification if the operations can offer assurance that the cat will live a full life.

Since human rights are enshrined to protect the interests of men, animal rights are also presented to protect the animals from any unjust treatment that is likely to affect their wellbeing. A kidney transplant is one of the best solutions to chronic kidney diseases affecting cats. However, putting one cat’s life in danger to save another is a human concern, but it is against the right of the donating cat since it is not part of the decision-making process (Garner, 2019). Although the human conducting the process may have the cat’s best interest, the donating cat is affected by the decision, and its life is affected.

How theory Weigh conflicting Concerns: The theoretical view weighs the concern by determining the impact of the action on the donor’s quality of life. Since the operation has a percentage probability that the cat may be affected, it is likely to jeopardize the quality of life in the discourse. The theory, therefore, rejects the act of people using other cats to donate kidneys for their sick pets in exchange for a home (Macdonald, 2022). The health of the donor cat is in jeopardy, and the animal rights view forbids the action in a way to protect the animals.


Argument Offered: Traditional contractarianism is a moral philosophy that states humans have no obligation to treat animals with dignity and accord them respect. The framework abhors humans from engaging in activities that are harmful to animals but beneficial to humans (Sachs, 2021). The act of protecting animals is revered by contemporary contractarianism and requires a fair outcome. However, Scanlon and Rawls argue that the theory does not apply to animals because they lack cognitive abilities (Fennell, 2022). Rational agents apply the contract for fairness, for rational agents and cats are not considered rational and can be used against their will.

How theory Weigh conflicting Concerns: Based on the theoretical framework, humans can conduct transplants to save pets. Humans have the right to choose what is best for their pets as long as it helps to serve a purpose. It is the contract of humans to keep animals safe, and deciding to extract an organ from one animal to save the other is allowed (Sachs, 2019). Humans can therefore make any decisions as long as the safety of both the donor and the recipient are protected. The theory weighs the concern by allowing humans to decide, as autonomy is not allowed by the theoretical framework since cats are not considered rational animals (Hölker et al., 2019). According to the theory, animals the kidney transplant for cats must be continued.


The three theoretical frameworks hold different viewpoints on the ethical dilemma. The kidney transplant for cats is a process where a sick cat is saved by extracting a kidney from a healthy cat which is, in turn, granted a home and care. Exposing a healthy cat to surgery will likely jeopardize its health to save another cat’s life. Since the ethical theories fail to produce the best way forward regarding the moral dilemma of cats transplant, policymakers must formulate laws that are autonomy equivalent for animals to allow them to offer their informed consent before the transplant.

Reference List

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