Editor's note: This article is part of a series on what the Church has actually taught about various topics. To read more about the Church’s teachings on cremation, garments, beards, and more, click here.
Many Church members have opinions and personal feelings about whether animals will be resurrected and join us in the afterlife. Since pets play such an important role in the lives of many of us, it’s natural for us to hope to be reunited with them on the other side. But what have Church leaders actually taught about the subject?
Do pets have spirits?
In the August 1927 edition of the Improvement Era, Elder Orson F. Whitney shared, “the affirmative of the question ‘Do Animals Have Souls?’ is amply sustained by divine revelation.” Speaking of the Prophet, he added, “Joseph Smith so believed, or he would not have said … concerning his favorite horse, when it died, that he expected to have it in Eternity.”
In fact, some direct revelation to Joseph Smith implies that all animals, like human beings, have spirits that are eternal in nature. In Doctrine and Covenants 77, Joseph Smith asked several questions about the Book of Revelation, and God gives His answers. For example, in Revelation 4:6, John describes God’s throne: “And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.”
When Joseph Smith asked about the meaning of the four beasts mentioned, the response was that “they are figurative expressions, used by the Revelator, John, in describing heaven, the paradise of God, the happiness of man, and of beasts, and of creeping things, and of the fowls of the air; that which is spiritual being in the likeness of that which is temporal; and that which is temporal in the likeness of that which is spiritual; the spirit of man in the likeness of his person, as also the spirit of the beast, and every other creature which God has created” (Doctrine and Covenants 77:2; emphasis added).
Will our pets and other animals be in heaven?
President Joseph Fielding Smith perhaps taught about this subject more than any other Church leader. In an October 1928 conference address, he said, “The animals, the fishes of the sea, the fowls of the air, as well as man, are to be recreated, or renewed, through the resurrection, for they too are living souls.”
He also wrote in Answers to Gospel Questions that “animals do have spirits and that through the redemption made by our Savior they will come forth in the resurrection to enjoy the blessing of immortal life.”
Joseph Smith said this: “Says one, ‘I cannot believe in the salvation of beasts.’ Any man who would tell you this could not be, would tell you that the revelations are not true. John heard the words of the beast giving glory to God, and understood them” (Documentary History of the Church, vol. 5, 343–44).
Apostle Bruce R. McConkie was also of the opinion that animals, and all forms of life, are eternal: “Animals, birds, fowls, fishes, plants, and all forms of life occupy an assigned sphere and play an eternal role in the great plan of creation, redemption, and salvation. They were all created as spirit entities in pre-existence” (Mormon Doctrine, 1966).
An interesting article from the Ensign in 1979 gives more information on the topic. Although the article was written by an institute director, not a general Church leader, it draws on teachings from the scriptures and past leaders.
Here are the most important points from the article:
- It appears that yes, animals will be resurrected, based on Doctrine and Covenants 77 and teachings of Joseph Smith.
- The scriptures speak about animals being in the celestial kingdom, but we don’t know if they’ll be in the other degrees of glory.
- Animals most likely won’t be judged since they have no conscience or sense of right and wrong.
- Animals might be reunited with their owners in the afterlife, but we don’t know.