Artistic License – Animal Care

"I caught you a bullfrog outside; poked some holes in its back so it can breathe; see, look at this... oh, boy."
Peter Griffin from Family Guy

This trope is for when animals in fiction get care that would be improper if applied to real animals, but does not have the same negative consequences that comparable care would have in Real Life. Common versions include feeding an animal something it should never eat, keeping it in improper conditions, or handling it a way that would cause it great distress or even damage.

This does not include examples of animal abuse or improper care that is depicted as being bad for animals.

Automaton Horses is a species-specific subtrope for cases where a riding animal (a horse or the in-universe equivalent) is portrayed as needing far less care than it realistically should.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Ginga Nagareboshi Gin, Gohei Takeda trains the protagonist, Gin, to be a bearhound by beating him with a piece of wood, feeding him only raw bear meat (which is mentioned to stink so terrible that even adult dogs cower at the smell of it) and forcing him to get pieces of aforementioned meat from the bottom of a large basin filled with water. Did we mention that this Training from Hell started when Gin was still supposed to be nursed by his mother? While he did grow up into a through-and-through Badass, making a puppy go through stuff like that in real life would definitely not end half as well.
  • In the Sailor Moon manga, a man feeds sugar candies to Luna. Never mind that a real cat probably wouldn't even like them or even be able to taste them at all (though this is now under debate), you should never try to give candies to a cat in the first place. In one episode of The Nineties anime, Minako tells a lengthy anecdote about feeding Artemis a piece of caramel and it getting stuck in his teeth. Although Luna and Artemis are alien cats from the planet Mau, the aforementioned man who fed Luna sugar candies in the manga didn't know this and thought she was an ordinary Earth cat.
  • In Wagaya No O Inari Sama the anime, Kuugen eats insane amounts of chocolate cake, which should make ten humans sick, much less a fox. Then again, Kuugen is explicitly supernatural.
  • In Nichijou, the Professor doesn't want to eat her green onions, so she tries foisting them on Sakamoto the cat. He responds "Are you trying to kill me!?" (onions and garlic contain chemicals that can destroy his red blood cells).
  • Goldfish Warning; a classic anime about a deranged farm school with both animals and humans as students. The school's pet shark lives on a steady diet of potato chips. The goldfish Gyopi and the cows in the school won't eat anything but human junkfood.
  • Pokémon:
    • The Pokemon creatures may not be exactly like animals, but Ash has been shown feeding Pikachu ice cream and chocolate at least once in the anime. To say nothing of the memetric episode where Pikachu fell in love with ketchup.
    • Nowadays, not only are Pokemon shown to have their own food, but different breeds and temperaments like different flavors.
    • In an odd inverse, humans in more recent seasons have been shown eating things prepared with Berries normally eaten by Pokemon. Though nothing really states that berries are really bad for humans apart from intense tastes.
    • In Pokémon: Lucario and the Mystery of Mew, giving Lucario (a dog-based Pokémon), chocolate was a plot point in the movie (then again, this is a part-steel bipedal dog that can shoot hadoukens).
  • Several openings in the Toriko anime have animals eagerly eating chocolate. Unfortunately Truth in Television in that some animals, especially dogs, can taste and as a result, really enjoy chocolate. This just makes it more unfortunate that it's very fatal to them.

  • In one Little Lotta comic Lotta wins a pony in a contest, but finds the pony isn't strong enough to carry her, so instead of hay she decides to bulk it up with high-fat goods... including meat. Equines are herbivores.

    Films — Animated 
  • Oliver & Company, in which Jenny feeds ice cream to her cat, provides the page image. A few licks from an ice cream cone, or a little bit of milk is not going to affect a cat that much, but it's still not a good idea given the sugar and other things ice cream is loaded up with, especially since Oliver is a kitten and their digestive systems are not as resilient as an adult cat's (as any cat owner or animal shelter worker who's worked with kittens for long enough can tell you).
  • At the very beginning of The Aristocats, the evil butler Edgar actually pours some of Madame's sleeping pills into the titular cats' milk (and Roquefort the mouse due to him eating from a cookie that was dipped into the milk) so he can drug them and take them all away from her mansion while said cats are sleeping. In real life, the amount of sleeping pills Edgar used to drug the cats is enough to kill a human, never mind a cat! Since Edgar's goal was to get rid of the cats, he probably wouldn't have cared if he killed them, but the fact that they survive at all shatters suspension of disbelief. Not that it's advisable to give adult cats milk anyway, but at the time the film was made, that wouldn't have been common knowledge - it still isn't as well known in this day and age as it should be, especially given the complication (for human comprehension) that some adults cats actually can cope with cow's milk without any reported side-effects.
  • Rio:
    • At the beginning of the movie, Blu is shown enjoying a hot chocolate and some chocolate chip cookies. Chocolate contains theobromine (a bitter alkaloid compound found in the cacao plant), which is very toxic and potentially fatal for most animals. Most vets will flat out state that animals shouldn't have any, ever, no matter the concentration, just to be safe.
    • Tulio, the bird veterinarian, allows birds to eat out of his mouth, which is extremely dangerous because human saliva is toxic to birds. It was lampshaded by Blu when he found this disgusting.
  • In the original Lilo & Stitch movie, Lilo brings Stitch home for the first time, and feeds him coffee. At this point she still thinks he's a regular dog. In real life, one should avoid giving their dogs coffee, because it is poisonous to them. Pets and caffeine simply do not mix. Fortunately Stitch was really an alien. He was a little more destructive, but he otherwise had no resulting health problems. Also provides a double whammy of Fridge Brilliance and Fridge Horror: A five-year-old couldn't be expected to know this... and her older sister was too overwhelmed to realize it and provide proper supervision of Stitch's diet.
  • In An American Tail, Tiger comments that he's a vegetarian. Cats are carnivorous creatures and wouldn't be able to survive on a vegetarian diet. He did mention he'll eat fish occasionally though.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Seven Pounds features a dog that is according to its owner a vegetarian. While it is possible to do this under strict vet supervision, the food she's shown feeding the dog would cause long-term health problems.
  • In Jack and Jill, Jill's cockatoo is seen sticking its head under a chocolate fountain. Chocolate contains theobromine (a bitter alkaloid compound found in the cacao plant), which is very toxic and potentially fatal for most animals. Most vets will flat out state that animals shouldn't have any, ever, no matter the concentration, just to be safe. The filmmakers knew this and used a CGI bird for the scene, and got an outstanding rating from the AHA for the film.
  • A sad real-life example occurred with the film The Beastmaster. The tiger who played Ruh, Sultan, died two years after the movie was filmed due to complications caused by the black dye used on his fur, since the animal handlers apparently didn't realize that it contained ingredients that were toxic to him and that cats, even large ones, tend to lick their own fur, and because cat bodies are bad at processing chemicals (since those are usually filtered out by their prey prior to being eaten) they built up in his body and eventually led to skin problems and liver failure. As a result the second movie had to use a different tiger and they didn't use any dye on him.
  • In Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, the milk given to Sassy the cat by her rescuer is specifically goat's milk.
  • In Home Alone 3, Doris the white rat doesn't have any cage-mates to live with. Fancy rats are extremely social animals that, barring temperament problems, should never be kept as solitary individuals.

  • The rabbits in Watership Down are obsessed with lettuce. While rabbits need a great deal of fresh greens and hay to be healthy, the type of lettuce most often used in salads and sandwiches, iceberg lettuce, is very bad for them. Iceberg lettuce has almost no nutritional value; worse, it contains too much phosphorus, which can end up leeching calcium from their bones. While the rabbits of Watership Down, being wild, would rarely encounter enough lettuce to harm them and might rightly regard it as "flayrah" (their word for superior food), giving a pet rabbit this "flayrah" as a regular part of its diet is a really, really bad idea.
  • Pets in Harry Potter seem to be partially magical, but if they weren't, the following would be bad ideas:
    • The owl's abilty to find the recipient of a letter without an address has led to an all-too-real Red Stapler situation, which J. K. Rowling herself has come out against. Also the behind-the-scenes special features on the DVDs have twice felt the need to directly address the fact that owls do not actually make good pets.
    • Harry attempts to feed Hedwig (owls are carnivores) vegetables. Not his fault — the Dursleys hadn't given Harry anything else to eat himself — but Harry would have been wiser to use the veggies as bait for mice or bugs than to expect a carnivorous bird to eat them. Perhaps as a Lampshade Hanging, Hedwig reacts with disgust.
    • Letting any pet as tiny as a rat sleep in a boy's bed, even if it's not an adult animagus, is a good way to get it squashed, be bitten or scratched, or end up with rat waste all over your sheets.
  • Black Beauty:
    • This was the book that kicked off concern about animal care, mostly by telling people the story of an animal that was taken care of by ignorant humans, and how much the animal suffered for it.
    • One sympathetic character does what he thinks is right for Beauty — gives him a lot of cold water to drink after a straining effort and leaves him standing uncovered in his stall — and it nearly kills him. This becomes a saving grace for Beauty in his later years when the same character, now much older and wiser, recognizes the scars on Beauty's body from the methods used to save Beauty's life at the time of his past mistake. Able to confirm Beauty's identity from these marks, he's then able to ensure Beauty is able to live out the rest of his days with a caring owner who looks after him kindly.
  • Played straight in the Bad News Bunny series, whose title rabbit eats nothing but junk food, including Twinkies, Ring Dings and potato chips. Since it's a series about a wisecracking talking rabbit it does allude to the proper care of ordinary rabbits and advises that you Don't Try This at Home.
  • Harold the dog of the Bunnicula books is regularly depicted as eating fudge. In one of the young reader books, he flat-out tells the readers that he can only eat chocolate because he's fictional, but the trope is otherwise in full effect. While fudge is probably one of the less dangerous types of chocolate a dog the size of Harold can have, it still makes his owners look pretty careless. In another young reader mystery book, his owners are still aware that he steals fudge and also still unaware that he's fictionally immune to chocolate, and the plot is centered around the animals determining what, exactly, a pan of white-chocolate fudge is.note 
  • Pippi Longstocking keeps her horse on the veranda of Villa Villekula. While being there isn't directly harmful to the animal, the horse could easily trip and hurt itself if it ever tried to use the veranda's steps to enter or leave. (Fortunately, Pippi's strong enough to lift and carry it when necessary.)
  • There is a Nancy Drew novel where someone's dog dies after eating a box of chocolates that arrived in the mail. It's treated as a plot point that the chocolate, by itself, would not have killed the dog, which overlaps with Conviction by Counterfactual Clue.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus:
  • In FlashForward, a pet store owner grateful for the FBI's help offers Janis a free cockatiel. Um. First there is the obvious problem of giving a pet to someone who isn't fully committed to taking care of it, but cockatiels in particular need a ton of time and attention and socialization or else they can become self-destructive. No bird breeder or caretaker worth their salt would consider just giving a bird away like that.
  • On Medium, the psychic daughter gives a piece of candy to the class pet she's minding, then finds it dead and blames herself for killing it. Said class pet is a tarantula, which isn't any more equipped to eat a piece of candy than to eat a rock.
  • Done in-universe in an episode of the original version of Survivors; The heroes have been struggling along, attempting to keep their post-pandemic farm going, when a genuine farming expert turns up and chews them out for all the things they've been doing wrong with their animals.
  • An episode of Scrubs had two college friends of JD and Turk getting married, they considered buying a ferret as a wedding gift. At the end of the episode, since they can't make the wedding themselves, they give the ferret to another friend who is attending. Turk reminds him that "The ferret only eats fresh vegetables". In reality, ferrets are carnivores and should not eat any vegetables as their digestive systems cannot process them.
  • In the TV show Its Me Or The Dog, one woman fed her dogs ice cream, cookies and human tea. Victoria pointed out that dogs should not be fed human food with sugar in it.
  • Sadly, about ninety percent of the cases that come up on Animal Planet Heroes programs are Truth in Television examples of this trope.
  • On Total Blackout, one challenge required contestants to identify objects in a set of four glass tanks by touch. Live rats were in the first tank, and a live snake (probably boa) in the third. Any responsible snake-handler would have put the reptile before the rodents, as the aroma of rat on contestants' skin could have potentially incited the snake to bite, mistaking their hands for a food source.
  • Averted by the professional aquarium-builders on Tanked, but played straight by some of the customers, whose requested tank designs are so bizarre (e.g. the spade-shaped tank with its nearly-inaccessible lower section) that the finished product can't help but be difficult to maintain over time.
  • For someone so lovingly obsessed with her pussy, Mrs. Slocombe from Are You Being Served? often doesn't treat her cat very well. In one instance, she brought her pregnant cat to the store. When the cat started giving birth, she asked the store nurse for some human sedatives to give the cat, and didn't even tell the nurse what they were for!
  • Supernatural: Sam accidentally hits a dog with his car and takes it to a veterinarian. After she treats it, she guilt-trips Sam into adopting it because the owner cannot be found. This is something a real vet would obviously never do. Sam didn't even want the dog, and there was no reason for her to believe he'd take care of it or even keep it for longer than it took to get out of her office and set it loose. Such a system would be a good way to get animals into abusive homes, which is exactly what adoption shelters want to avoid.

  • Averted, believe it or not, in Toby Keith's song "Beer for My Horses" — some Thoroughbred trainers do give their horses beer as an appetite stimulant. Guinness is the traditional choice. Because horses are so large they're pretty unlikely to be harmed by alcohol since they process it much more quickly than humans, and the ingredients in beer are grains, hops, yeast and water, all things horses will eat on their own (possibly excepting hops).
  • In a song, the Dutch Santa Claus' horse is asked what he gets once the holidays are over. After the reasonable extra bag of oats, an old piece of speculaas and a loaf of bread with lots of jam are mentioned.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In Foxtrot, Jason regularly feeds his pet iguana mealworms or crickets - they actually are vegetarians, or are at least 98% vegetarian. However, an early comic shows him pouring a bowl of fruits and vegetables into Quincy's terrarium, so maybe he wasn't too far off...
    • Taken Up to Eleven in one strip, where Quincy was shown eating chocolate chip cookies.
  • An early Dilbert strip had Dogbert eating chocolate cake; when it was first published, the author was immediately bombarded with emails pointing out that chocolate is poisonous to dogs. Chocolate contains theobromine (a bitter alkaloid compound found in the cacao plant), which is very toxic and potentially fatal for most animals. Most vets will flat out state that animals shouldn't have any, ever, no matter the concentration, just to be safe. Bipedal talking egg-dogs are, apparently, not immune.
  • Garfield contains many examples of unrealistic (or bad!) treatments of animals. Granted, though Jon provides some of what Garfield eats (and Jon often tries to serve cat food), he often does the obtaining food on his own, but with all the lasagna, ice cream, cake, candy, etc he eats, it's amazing he's alive.
  • In a lot of early Peanuts strips, Charlie Brown occasionally gave Snoopy treats that dogs should never have, like potato chips, cookies, and chocolate. This tended to taper off in later years, but there were a few modern strips where Charlie Brown let him have pizza. The cheese would've made the small dog very sick.
  • Get Fuzzy: Rob's mother attempts to put her cat on a vegetarian diet. This, realistically, causes the cat extreme distress, at one point leading to her asking Rob to put her out of her misery.

  • Pointed out in this Wired article, regarding the proposed "Ark Encounter" creationist theme park and its initial idea of displaying live animals inside a wooden full-size replica of Noah's Ark.
  • This infamous Tumblr post (since deleted), where a dog owner proudly posts a photo of their dog which they feed a solely vegan diet. Cue another user pointing out that the "excited" dog actually looks miserable and malnourished, and writing a short essay on why denying meat to your dog is a very bad idea.

    Video Games 
  • In The Sims 2:
    • Womrats (a fictional rodent-type creature similar to a hamster or guinea pig) are depicted living in a maybe 5-gallon plastic cage. In reality, that type of cage should never be used because not only are they too small, but they do not give the animal adequate ventilation. Observe the womrat's animation cycle closely: at one point, it actively tries to escape the Containment Unit by climbing the front wall. Apparently, womrats are more intelligent than their keepers.
    • Keeping a falcon in a birdcage and letting it perch on you without a glove on are bad ideas. Sims also seem to feed it birdseed for some reason. Granted, the falcon isn't stated to be one and is essentially a Palette Swap of the parrots, but it looks accurate (it's based on a male American Kestrel) and then doesn't work like a real falcon at all.

    Visual Novels 
  • It turns out to be a moot point since he's hardly a normal fox, but upon encountering Miyabi in his fox form during the prologue of Enchanted In The Moonlight, the protagonist feeds him some of her fried tofu and then takes the apparent wild animal into her bathroom and strips naked in order to give it a bath. Had she done this with a real wild fox instead of a transformed kitsune, it would most likely have quickly become a painful experience.


    Western Animation 
  • Subverted in an episode of Arthur, when Pal got sick and had to be taken to the vet, and it turned out it was from the junk food Arthur had been feeding him earlier in the episode. This is made even stranger by the fact that several of Arthur's classmates are dogs of the bipedal, sapient variety.
  • Ruby Gloom has the cat "Doom Kitty" eating muffins with chocolate chips. Not a good idea. Chocolate contains theobromine (a bitter alkaloid compound found in the cacao plant), which is very toxic and potentially fatal for most animals. Most vets will flat out state that animals shouldn't have any, ever, no matter the concentration, just to be safe. Though, given the nature of the show, Doom Kitty may already be dead.
  • Looney Tunes taught generations of children how to kill their pets through poor diet.
    • Mice would only eat cheese if starving to death since it's too soft for them after eating mainly nuts and grains.
    • Adult cats cannot digest cows' milk
    • A diet of nothing but carrots would kill a rabbit, the which is noted as something that rabbits don't normally eat and should mostly be given as treat food [1]. The deal with carrots was Bugs Bunny paying homage to a Clark Gable movie called It Happened One Night. This got Lost in Imitation, and carrots became the Stock Animal Diet of all cartoon rabbits, with disastrous real-life consequences.
  • Parodied in an episode of Futurama, where a hippy claims to have taught a lion to eat nothing but tofu. We then see the lion scrawny and pale as hell, clearly starving to death.
  • Scooby-Doo: It's pretty obvious that no Great Dane would have Scooby's famous cast-iron stomach. This is mildly averted in the second theatrical film where Scooby turns down drinking a chocolate milkshake in favour of a strawberry one.
  • The ducks in Breadwinners eat nothing but bread, which would kill a real duck.
  • One episode of Johnny Bravo had an emu being fed avocados, which are poisonous to birds.
  • Jake of Adventure Time mentions in "Slumber Party Panic" that he can't eat chocolate or fudge since he is a dog, but in "The Pods" he's able to eat chocolate ice cream without having any ill effects. In some episodes, he's shown drinking coffee. Granted, he's a magical dog (he's shown on one occasion to be able to increase the size of his liver to better metabolize poison).
  • Littlest Pet Shop (2012):
    • "Topped With Buttercream" has the pets enter the pantry of a sweet shop and stuff themselves full with sugary treats. The only ill effects they suffer are a sugar high, some hallucinations, and a stomachache. In real life, that much candy and sugar would likely be lethally poisonous to those pets.
    • Zoe, a dog, has been shown to be freely given chocolate cake by Blythe at the end of "Bakers and Fakers". It's not as harmful as straight up dark chocolate would be, but it certainly isn't good for her.

Alternative Title(s):

Artistic Licence Animal Care, You Fail Animal Care Forever