Are domesticated animals able to generate their own karma, or is it down to their masters to ensure that they are set on the right path? I am talking particularly in regards to Pets, here.

My dog, Bronson, has epilepsy and fits on a regular basis, perhaps as a result of bad karma? To what extent can he help himself, and to what extent can I?

  • I'm not an expert, but my understanding is that epilepsy in pets is often the result of inbreeding, especially in registered breeds. In that respect, the condition would be caused by human actions, not anything that a pet independently does.
    – user3169
    Mar 8, 2016 at 5:30
  • He's a french bulldog from lithuania, so it's likely that he is inbred. So in that respect you are probably correct.
    – William
    Mar 8, 2016 at 10:47

4 Answers 4


Are domesticated animals able to generate their own karma

Yes, they commit Kamma just like humans. But their range is limited compared to us. They are unable to commit highly potent good/bad Kamma except on rare occasions. Their minds are clouded by ignorance most of the time. So it's highly unlikely for them to commit a Triple Rooted Kamma required for a perfect human birth.

Examples of animals committing good Kamma(first 2 are highly potent due to the purity of the recipient):

their masters to ensure that they are set on the right path? To what extent can he help himself, and to what extent can I?

Yes, the owners can teach them good manners. Train them not to kill other animals, not to steal food from others. The more domesticated the animal is, the less bad Kamma it would commit. Also, you can have it listen to the Dhamma. It's a long shot, but it has worked on some occations. ex: The story of Manduka Devaputta

My dog, Bronson, has epilepsy and fits on a regular basis, perhaps as a result of bad karma?

Yes, it is. This is called the Upattambaka(Supportive) Kamma. In case of lower births, this type of Kamma worsens the living conditions.


In the animal Kingdom the following dominates

  • sexual desire - root: craving / hindrance: sensual desire
  • fear - root: aversion / hindrance: ill will, doubt
  • hunger - craving / sensual desire
  • sleep (many animals eat and sleep a lot) - ignorance / sloth and torpor
  • bonding (e.g. dog with owner) - craving

In addition animals do not have:

  • moral fear
  • moral shame

... which are the basis of moral precepts for worldly beings.

This means animals most of the time create -ve Karma with no or little ability to practice generosity or observe moral precepts let alone concentration and wisdom. This is why if you fall into the Animal Kingdom it is hard to get out. They nevertheless do create Karma as the process of Dependent Origination is rolling creating new fabrications.

The way out is if some past good Karma surfacing to give you a better birth though very rare a good dead in the animal birth giving results. If you have past store of a lot of good Karma and birth is due to a relativelysmall mistake the when this bad Karma exhaust the animal will get a better birth, but when the being has a strong backing of good Karma.

Since it is not possible to teach the the a pet on moral conduct and how to eliminate the unwholesome mental states there is only little you can do, but you can protect him from these states arising and also help cultivate some positive states:

  • when in fear - comfort and pet to eradicate
  • reduce desire for food - generally give moderately tasty food (give treats occasionally) but in reasonable quantities so he is nerve too hungry
  • reduce bonding - do not pet too much and spoil the pet
  • give the dog activities so as he does not become too lazy
  • some pets can be trained as therapy dogs, guide dogs and rescue dogs, etc., like wise train your dog to do some good deeds. You need some imagination how to make this work. If the recipientsare pure and / or needy the results would be better.
  • Dogs may have some understanding of babies so try to teach some basic understanding of good and bad. E.g. if chances other animals then not to do this and be more friendly. Again you will have to use a lot of imagination on what can be achived and how it can be achieved

in my opinion nobody can help animals with regard to their kamma, they're simply to exhaust the kamma which caused their birth as an animal and bounce to the plane their remaining kamma allows them to

i'm not sure why pets would differ in this respect from wild animals

dhammic concept of kamma is ethical, only ethical intentions produce it, and since animals are incapable of having and committing ethically meaningful intentions and acts, because they don't control their urges and instincts, cannot judge them objectively and restrain or motivate themselves, they don't produce new kamma

the concept is not dissimilar to exoneration from liability on the grounds of incompetency

that's again my opinion

  • 1
    Thanks for your opinion :) I differ between domesticated and wild animals because wild animals do not have the assistance that can be provided by a human, whom may or may not be aware of kamma and could influence it's mind.
    – William
    Mar 7, 2016 at 13:30
  • OK, i see, yet i don't think we the worldlings can in any way influence their kammic makeup so to speak, we cannot teach them to be moral, compassionate etc... who i believe can impact kamma of animals is awakened beings Mar 7, 2016 at 13:34
  • 1
    I hope you don't mind me asking but I was curious to know your opinion about human children: are they capable of ethical action, and starting at what age/maturity? Might it be that animals (especially the "higher" animals) are a bit like children, and have a smaller but still a non-zero ability for ethical intention, compared with adult humans?
    – ChrisW
    Mar 7, 2016 at 14:33
  • of course i don't mind, indeed children are relevant in this discussion, i'm not an expert in the area of children psychological development so cannot say for certain when they start bearing moral responsibility for their actions, but i think for humans the latest age when they do we can regard the earliest age of legal liability... in some traditional cultures formal maturity sets in a couple of years earlier than modern legal liability does... i heard that in Japan until the age of 5 children are given free rein Mar 7, 2016 at 14:57
  • with regard to similarities between children's intellectual capacity and that of higher animals' i think that in order to answer your question it's important to first establish the degree of that similarity and the maximum human age to whos intellectual capacity the intellectual capacity of higher animals can be likened Mar 7, 2016 at 15:13

There is a series of Pali suttas starting with Samyutta Nikaya 56.102 that state an 'animal' can be 'reborn' as a 'human' by realising the Four Noble Truths. The impression here is 'animal' refers to people with certain kinds of habitual (shameless & immoral) behaviours (rather than four legged animals), such as in the Buddhist story of the reformed mass-murderer Angulimala or as described in the Lokapala Sutta.

The behaviour of biological animals is largely programmed by biology. The Pali scriptures explain taught 'karma is intention' expressed by various 'actions of body, speech & mind'.

"Intention, I tell you, is kamma. Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, & intellect."

Nibbedhika Sutta


1. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.

2. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.


It is unlikely the behaviour of animals falls under the laws of kamma, which appear to be about the behaviour of people.

Animals for the most part kill only to eat & have sex only for reproduction thus are generally 'moral'. Where as people create kamma based on greed, hatred & delusion. For example, many animals give birth &, soon after, expel their offspring from their presence. Whereas most humans cling to their offspring & families for their entire lives, which results in a kind of suffering from 'death' that animals do not experience.

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