France's household pets have been promoted from the status of furniture and other inanimate objects after lawmakers passed a controversial amendment qualifying animals as living beings.
MPs at the National Assembly legal committee in Paris voted to change part of a Napoleonic law, which classified dogs, cats, horses and other species as personal property or "movable goods".
The new bill, sponsored by President Francois Hollande's Socialist party, described animals as "living beings capable of feelings".
It was approved on the back of a petition signed by almost 700,000 people, urging lawmakers to modernise the definition of "animal" used in the 1804 Napoleonic civil code which is still in use.
Activists said the change was necessary to better protect animals against cruelty.
Pet owners will be able to claim damages for the suffering they incur if their animal is killed. Before the amendment, they were only entitled to compensation for the cost of the animal.
The law is also expected to facilitate judicial decisions in divorce cases concerning the custody of a couple's pets. Judges will assess if a pet has stronger feelings towards one party over another.
Critics have warned that the bill threatens farming, hunting and scientific research and said it could open the door for animal activists to take legal action against those who kill "beings with feelings".