History Facts

Pet Care 101: Medieval Style

Morning all! So last week I wrote a post about the importance of animals through the years, and it got me thinking of what other posts I could write that were pet related. So here we are – how to take care of your pets: medieval style.

Now admittedly, it was highly discouraged by the church for people to own a pet, or at least they suggested that if people were to own a pet that they at least limit themselves to just one.

But even when the church asked people not to have pets, it is clear that people didn’t listen.

It’s fascinating looking back over how we have relied on pets throughout the course of human history. What is pretty clear though, is that even in Medieval times, the human race has always had a soft spot for our four-legged friends.

Although evidence suggests that domesticated animals like dogs and cats were kept to serve a purpose, such as hunting, guarding or mousing. We can also see that in many cases animals were loved and well cared for by their owners.

So since we know that they would have had pets, let’s delve into looking at how they would have looked after their pets. But first – an important question that you must answer…

Do you Have the Credentials to be a Medieval Pet Owner?

Photo by Tim Mossholder

There is a simple answer to this question, and it all depends on what type of person you are. When it came to pet ownership, there were three types of people in the medieval world: men, women, and clerics.

Unlike today, there was a clear division between these three types of people (thank goodness we’ve moved on from these times). This division even went so far as playing a part in pet ownership.

How did this division between the three types of people in the medieval world play a part? Well basically, pets stayed within the realms of aristocratic women and clerics. This later extended to include scholars and lay humanists.

So I’m sorry to say but if you don’t fall into any of those categories then you can’t have a pet BUT an exception to this, would be if you were a nobleman, then you can have a hunting dog (think of something incredibly manly) or a falcon for hunting – which would be kind of cool.

Real Men Don’t Own Pets

Photo by Steshka Willems

So I have just mentioned that if you were a nobleman you could have an animal (not quite a pet, as the animal had a use rather than just as a simple pet). But it’s a bit more complicated than this though, so buckle up to find out why a “real” man wouldn’t own a pet.

So basically, if you were a married man, or you planned on marrying at some point in your life, you weren’t a pet owner candidate.

The way to look at it is that a real man during the medieval time would want to be seen as an outdoorsy sort of person, meaning that any animals that they would have kept would have belonged in the outdoor realm – and a pet wasn’t thought to be something that belonged in the outside realm.

A pet was an animal that lived in your house, and got fluffy pillows to lie on – this is not what an animal was that belonged in the outdoor realm.

These outdoor animals had qualities such as strength, loyalty and aggressiveness. They had a purpose, that would help benefit them. If men started keeping these sort of animals inside and treated them like a pet, then that would make the man look weak and unmanly – not a quality that would have benefited the man.

Trust me, when I say that England’s Richard II tried it, and people said his behaviour wasn’t becoming of a king. Even the French King Henry III tried it too. Unfortunately, the French had the same response as the English. Then again, Henry also stole little dogs from local nuns, so that probably didn’t help…

Clerics Could Have Pets During Medieval Times

Photo by Andre Mouton

Clerics, were often seen as the third sex (so you had men, women and clerics during the medieval period). They were men, but they were celibate and didn’t fight. In a way, clerics lived their lives more like women, spending most of their time indoors. Happily, their unique position entitled them to the privilege of owning pets.

They did not marry or go to war, two things which would be a defining characteristic for a medieval man – but at least they got a dog, so that’s worth it right?

Although it wasn’t just a dog that they were able to keep as a pet. Since they were exempt from the rule that man could not have a dog, they liked to flaunt their owner’s status in whatever pet they could. Many clerics owned highly expensive monkeys since they were allowed a pet! Please don’t get a monkey though, they are not pets!

They fed them expensive food and dressed them in fancy clothes. Sometimes they even owned more than one, which really flaunted their wealth.

Are You an Aristocratic Woman?

Photo by Pixabay

The easiest way to get a pet, is to be an aristocratic woman during the medieval times. But a pet that these women had was not just for companionship, these pets were actually something that was fused into their identity.

If you are an aristocratic woman and you want to keep a pet, then you can expect that pet to be involved in any portraits that you have painted of yourself, if you have a personal seal then your pet will be on that, and also on any effigies if you have them.

This animal could be anything that you wanted though. It doesn’t just have to be a simple cat or dog. Even though most noble ladies like having a lap dog as a common pet. But you see any animal could have become an aristocratic woman’s pet.

A little creature, no matter how common, would be transformed.

For example, all it took for a simple squirrel to become a status symbol was admittance into a noble lady’s boudoir and the donning of a fancy chain and collar. The lucky squirrel who became the pet of Queen Isabeau of Bavaria in 1387 was adorned in a collar embroidered with pearls and fastened by a gold buckle.

How Did They Look After Their Pets?

Photo by Lum3n

So now we know what is needed in order for you to have a pet. If you have passed all the questions and can have a pet you are probably wondering how to look after it now.

Well firstly, you wouldn’t be looking after it, your servant would. The would clean the kennels that the dogs would have been kept in – they would be filled with straw each day and have doors that open into a sunny yard according to Gaston III, Comte de Foix (1331-1391) in his book about hunting called Livre de Chasse.

The servants would clean the kennels and give fresh water twice a day. They would also take the hounds out for a walk twice a day as well. They would be fed bran bread, and any leftover meat.

But if a dog was sick, he would get better food, such as goat’s milk, bean broth, chopped meat, or buttered eggs.

But according to Albertus Magnus who wrote the book On Animals in the 13th century, it is important to note that dogs should not be fed the food right off the dinner plate or be petted constantly. If you did this then they would be poor guard dogs (an important thing during medieval times).

Magnus claims if you fed them off the plate, or petted them constantly they will will “keep one eye on the door and one on the generous hand of the master.” But if you had a cat, then it was perfectly fine to pet if constantly as the cat “loves to be lightly stroked by human hands and is playful, especially when it is young.”

So there you have it – how to take care your pets during the medieval times.

Now although the care for pets described has been brief, I’m fairly certain that animals would have just been looked after well. It’s clear that there were pets during the medieval time, perhaps not as common as now, and certainly they didn’t have the good help of vets like we do, but I’m certain that people would have loved them just as much as people do now.

Even the animals that were seen as just outdoor animals, like the hunting dogs would have still been loved by their owner, even if they were looked after more by their servants.

And at least men can have a pet now, that’s certainly a big difference.

So there we have it, crazy to think how men couldn’t have pets because it wasn’t considered manly enough. But I also love learning that a Queen Isabeau had a squirrel as a pet (collar and all)! And that clerics had monkeys just because they could!

Absolutely fascinating!

Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed and learned something new today, I do like my pet posts and I’m always learning something new when I write these things! Stay safe everyone and enjoy the rest of your weekend 😀

8 thoughts on “Pet Care 101: Medieval Style

  1. Crikey, it’s amazing to learn something new from reading your posts. I’m totally astonished that you had to be in a certain category in order to have a pet. Furthermore to the fact it was the servants who had to look after the pet, I would feel bad, I would want to do all of those type of jobs for looking after a pet. Thank goodness we have moved on from those times, I can’t wait to get a dog, really looking forward to it x 😁

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aren’t cats just adorable? I have 3 and I love them so much 😀 But just like you I wouldn’t have been able to have a pet cat according to these rules haha, although I’m sure some people would have just done what they wanted!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. They had funny rules back then! I’m sure people kept pets (as I could not imagine life without them), but maybe not how we perceive them. It is pretty cool about the symbols, I found that part pretty fascinating 😀


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