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Is it correct to use 'domestic animal' instead of 'livestock' (cattle)? Could they really have the same meaning? Thanks.

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All the answers are good on the semantic difference. I would add that you will find that livestock is used in both technical and colloquial contexts to refer to the animals which a farmer raises, while domestic animal is used mostly in technical discussion. Colloquially, people will talk of pets; and casual conversation about domesticated animals is rare! –  StoneyB Feb 16 '13 at 8:46
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5 Answers 5

The difference between domestic animals and livestock, and whether any difference exists, depends on context.

In common usage, livestock refers to specific animals bred in an agricultural setting for food, extraction, or labor. Some consider poultry to be included under livestock; others would treat them as separate. Among laymen in Europe and North America, livestock has a strong association with large mammals, chiefly cattle, horses, sheep, goats, hogs, and mules and donkeys.

Domestic animal, perhaps due to association with household-related terms like domestic appliance or domestic worker, now strongly implies a housepet, especially dogs and cats.

There is additionally the term domesticated animal, indicating animals which have been bred in human company for so long that they are dependent on humans for survival. But not all domesticated animals are domestic (e.g. a dairy cow), and not all domestic animals are domesticated (e.g. a pet snake).

For official purposes, however, the two may be interchangeable: animals which are raised as agricultural or industrial assets. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization,

The terms "livestock" and "poultry" are used in a very broad sense, covering all domestic animals irrespective of their age and location or the purpose of their breeding. Non-domestic animals are excluded from the terms unless they are kept or raised in captivity, in or outside agricultural holdings, including holdings without land.

Livestock or domestic (not necessarily domesticated) animals might include farmed fish, bees, silkworms, or alligators in different parts of the world. Indeed, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit noted in United States v. Park, 536 F.3d 1058 (9th Cir. 2008) that even dogs could qualify as livestock under U.S. law:

Ron and Mary Park own and operate a dog kennel, Wild River Kennels, on property along the Clearwater River in Idaho. Their property is subject to a scenic easement that was granted to the United States, which prohibits commercial activity but permits livestock farming. In this appeal, we are asked to determine the unusual question whether dogs are “livestock.” Despite a gut inclination that the answer might be “no,” resolution of the issue is not so clear, thus precluding summary judgment at this stage of the proceeding. As it turns out, the term “livestock” is ambiguous at best and much broader than the traditional categories of horses, cattle, sheep, and pigs.

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No, not really. Native English speakers would assume that a domestic animal means something closer to a pet, such as a dog or a cat, but that livestock refers more to animals reared on a farm, such as a cow, sheep or pigs.

Obviously there's some overlap in some circumstances, for example a pig farmer's daughter might have a baby pig as a pet, but in common parlance you should avoid mixing the two.

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"Domestic animals" is a term that can have two meanings; one is very broad, the other is more narrow.

Sometimes, "domestic animals" is used as a term that roughly equates to "pets."

Other times, "domestic animals" has a broader definition, and refers to any animals that rely on humans for food and shelter, to include livestock and cattle.

Here is a definition from Dictionary.com that leans toward the first meaning:

domestic animal (n.) any of various animals that have been tamed and made fit for a human environment

Here is a statute from the United States (the state of Florida, specifically) that indicates a broader use of the word, referring specifically to horses, cows, goats, sheep, and pigs:

"Domestic animal shall include any equine or bovine animal, goat, sheep, swine, dog, cat, poultry, or other domesticated beast or bird."

A Canadian law website provides a definition that seems to refer to pets:

Domestic Animal A pet; dogs, cats or other tame animals or birds and which serve some purpose for its owner or others.

Yet Wikipedia's list seems much more inclusive.

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As a technical term, "domestic animal" means the same thing as "domesticated animal". Both terms refer to animals that have undergone domestication. This includes livestock, but it's a broader category including non-livestock such as domestic cats. Because it's a broader category, it's not appropriate to use the two as synonyms.

That said, the term has another meaning, as well. People often use "domestic animal" in a more narrow sense, meaning "pets such as cats or dogs". Why? I have two theories, but I don't know if either is correct:

  1. If you want to refer to livestock, "livestock" is the most natural word. If you say "domestic animal", it's natural to assume you don't intend to refer to livestock, because if you did, you'd have said "livestock" instead.

  2. "Domestic" can mean "in or around the home". Perhaps "domestic animal" has been reinterpreted to mean an animal that you'd have inside the home--in other words, a pet such as a cat or dog.

This narrower definition doesn't change the answer to your question, though. "Livestock" isn't the same as the broad or the narrow definition. The answer is still no. Livestock is a different term.

As an aside, if you want to communicate the technical sense of "domestic animal", you can say "domesticated animal" instead. Otherwise, I think people might assume you mean the narrower sense.

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Not quite when looking from a more technical aspect, even though they might overlap in some contexts (e.g. a farm, or someone can have a pet cow/horse/whatever).

Livestock are animals raised specifically for the production of food (and other byproducts, such as manure used as a fertilizer) or for doing work (e.g. horses), while domestic animals are mostly raised for companion. From Wikipedia:

‘Livestock’ are defined, in part, by their end purpose as the production of food, fiber and/or labor.

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