How To Avoid Hidden Animal Cruelty

Elephants being ridden

We humans are nothing if not creative, including in the ways we abuse and exploit animals. Some practices are so bizarre that it’s disturbing to wonder how they even came about. Many of us are aware of the cruelty of factory farming, animal testing and zoos, but it doesn’t stop there. In this post, I aim to shed light on some of the ways in which many of us inadvertently contribute to animal suffering.

Feather Pillows

Plucking live ducks and geese has been outlawed in the USA and some European countries, but it’s still common in countries like China and Hungary. The birds’ skin can rip in the process, and is roughly sewn up on the spot without painkillers. Since feather and down products are often imported, it’s impossible to know whether the contents came from live birds.

Feathers and down plucked from dead birds aren’t much better, as these birds have usually been raised for food in awful conditions. Some were raised for foie gras, which involves force-feeding them through a metal tube until their livers become swollen and diseased. Though feathers may technically be a ‘by-product’, they’re still profitable for these industries. When we buy feather and down products, we’re supporting industries which exploit and kill birds.


Most people don’t realise that caviar almost always comes from dead fish. Mature female sturgeon are caught and slit open so their eggs can be removed. Other kinds of fish roe are generally obtained in the same way. It’s not feasible to wait until the fish lays the eggs, as it would be too difficult to gather them and they would become mushy.

Swimming With Dolphins

At many coastal resorts, visitors are given the opportunity to swim with dolphins. This isn’t as innocent as it seems; being kept in captivity is extremely stressful for dolphins, and greatly reduces their lifespans. Their pools contain little to no stimulation, and are often far too shallow – dolphins can dive up to 60 feet, but pools may be no more than 10 feet deep.

Some dolphins are captured in the wild, and many die during this experience or during transit. Many dolphin populations are already under threat, and this only serves to worsen the situation.

Dolphins are often exposed to pollution in coastal resorts, and may suffer sunburn as the water is so shallow. Interacting with humans is very stressful for dolphins, and some have to be given medication to combat their anxiety.

A better alternative is to go dolphin-watching, though you should never get into the water with wild dolphins – it’s dangerous, and frightening for the dolphins.


Silkworms are baked or boiled alive in their cocoons to produce silk. They would otherwise chew their way out, shortening the length of the silk and thus making it less valuable. Hundreds of billions of silkworms are killed in this way every year. Yes, billions. Thankfully there are plenty of alternatives, such as rayon.

Horse-Drawn Carriages

In some cities (most notably New York in the US), tourists can ride in a horse-drawn carriage. The urban environment is frightening to horses, and they can sometimes panic and bolt. Drivers have been found to beat horses and force them to work when seriously injured. Horses may have to work in extremely hot weather, without adequate access to water.

Carriages are extremely heavy, and difficult to pull all day. Horses have to breathe in noxious traffic fumes, and have no access to pasture; instead, they’re housed in uncomfortable stalls in the city, with no opportunity to socialise and play. Animals which can no longer be used are sent to slaughter.


Carmine is a widely-used red food colouring. Its colour comes from carminic acid, produced by female cochineal beetles. They’re killed either by being immersed in hot water or by being exposed to heat. Their bodies are dried, then their abdomens and fertilised eggs are ground, baked and filtered to extract the carmine. It’s listed on labels as cochineal in the UK, and carmine in the US. It’s also sometimes called E120.

Wax Crayons

Wax crayons usually contain tallow, which is rendered beef fat – this is what gives them their distinctive smell. Given the cruelty involved in raising and slaughtering cattle, this may be something you want to avoid. Plant-based alternatives are available, both online and in some stores.

Elephant Rides and Paintings

In holiday destinations such as Thailand, riding elephants and watching them paint are common tourist activities. Unfortunately, they’re not as harmless as they seem.

As elephants aren’t domesticated, they must undergo horrific abuse to make them submit to humans. They’re separated from their mothers, beaten, confined, starved and shocked with electric prods. Those which are ridden suffer injuries to their spines as a result of carrying humans on their backs all day.

Other elephants are trained to paint by being prodded and hit until they draw the correct shapes. The paintbrush is inserted directly into their sensitive trunks, with a bar attached to prevent it falling down their noses. During performances, the mahout may surreptitiously stick a nail in the elephant’s ear if they go wrong. Elephants don’t paint because they’re clever (though they are) – they do it to avoid pain. A cruelty-free alternative is to interact with elephants at a reputable sanctuary.


If an industry uses animals for profit, it’s likely that cruelty won’t be too far behind. That’s why it’s important to stop supporting industries which exploit animals in any way, shape or form. In this post, I was only able to include a sample of the many hidden forms of animal cruelty, but sadly there are plenty more. It’s really important to do your research before buying any product with animal ingredients, or visiting any attraction which uses animals.

Were you aware of the cruelty behind these products and practices? If not, will you stop supporting them?


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10 comments / Add your comment below

      1. I wish there were ways we could truly end cruelty, and there are, but i always end up going back on my word. I say i won’t eat meat, but when your mom cooks delicious dinner, its so hard not too. Plus, there are animal products in everything.

        1. It is harder when someone else cooks your food. Maybe try looking up some delicious plant-based recipes and trying some meat alternatives? Once you see how nice veggie food can be, it may seem easier to give up meat. Good luck, and feel free to message me through my contact form if you’d like any tips or advice 🙂

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