Turkish animal lovers call for 18% tax on pet food to be abolished amid soaring prices

Amidst historic economic crisis in Turkey, protests have erupted on social media against the 18% tax levied on pet food in the country. In the eastern Turkish city of Elazığ, cat lovers are pushed to spend most of their money to feed animals.

The Canpolat family with their five cats

Ardıl Batmaz / DUVAR

In the midst of a historic economic crisis in Turkey, attention has turned to the sky-high taxes levied on dog and cat food - 18%. In the eastern province of Elazığ, citizens who care for Turkey’s famed cats are being forced to spend most of their money on food, or watch the animals go hungry.

The price of pet food has skyrocketed as the value of the Turkish lira has dropped on the FX market. Some pet owners say food has gone up between 30 and 50 percent. Others say prices have increased over 100 percent. In the face of this, social media users and the animal-loving community have turned their attention to the uniquely high 18% value-added tax (VAT) levied on dog and cat food. For comparison, VAT on luxury items such as yachts is 1%. Other kinds of pet food are also spared - fish and bird food, for example, only has 1% VAT.

This increase in prices has left people in Turkey who care for animals desperate. Turkey has a long-established culture of community care for animals, especially street cats and dogs. However, now maintaining this has become increasingly difficult.

Nuriye Yücesoy, 63, feeds over 70 street cats in the historic Harput district of Elazığ. She is known as “Aunt Nuriye” and has been caring for the neighborhood’s cats out of her home for nine years. While at first, she did this out of “interest” she said that it quickly got out of hand. People began bringing pets to her neighborhood to be cared for by her, and during the pandemic, when restaurants that used to feed cats closed, the number skyrocketed.

Yücesoy says that she now buys 15 kilograms of food for the cats every three days. In total, she spends over 2,000 Turkish Liras each month on the cats when they are in good health. With little family income, she is in an increasingly desperate economic situation. She is calling for the VAT on pet food to be abolished so she can continue caring both for her family and for the cats.

“My husband receives a pension, I have a disabled child, and they cut his income as well,” she said. “We only receive take caregiving fees. The other children are studying, they don’t have jobs. These animals are hungry, what are they supposed they eat?”

She has asked the Justice and Development Party (AKP)-run municipality for food, litter, and medical support for the stray animals, but has received nothing. She has been forced to pay for sterilization and other operations out of pocket and also buys litter for the cats on her own.

“The state should look after these stray animals. We are undertaking the duty of the state, the least they can do is support us,” Yücesoy said.

The Canpolat family lives in temporary housing in the Kırklar neighborhood of Elazığ, where they were forced to move after a 6.8-magnitude earthquake devastated the city two years ago. Çetin Canpolat, his wife Serpil, and their two children live in a 20 square meter “container” home, temporary housing erected after the quake. In their home, the family also takes care of five cats. As they struggle to rebuild their lives, they are also calling for the VAT on pet food to be abolished. 

The Canpolat family, like many in Turkey, is struggling financially. They have trouble finding work and income, have had their rent support cut by the state, and do not receive support from authorities. They say with the rise in pet food prices, they’ve not only had trouble caring for the cats but also themselves. 

“We are scarcely supporting our cats, let alone ourselves,” Serpil Canpolat said.

The cats go through at least 30 kilograms of food a month. The family has also had to pay for sterilization and other medical care. With the price hikes, they’ve had to reduce the quality of the food they give the cats, but are still struggling to make ends meet. The cats cost them more than their student children, Çetin said.

"This is serious money, especially for a family that does not work and has no income. It’s destructiveSterilization, surgeries, and food should be cheap. They cost almost as much as a person,” Serpil added.

If VAT was reduced, at least, she says it would lighten the load and allow them to continue caring for the cats.

“Let’s love the animals, not ignore them,” Meva Canpolat, Çetin and Serpil’s daughter, said.  

(English version by Erin O'Brien)