The MPs passed an amendment by the ruling Socialist Party to the civil code to recognise animals as "living beings endowed with sensibilities".
Two other branches of French law - the penal code and the rural code - "already implicitly or explicitly recognised animals as living beings with feelings", according to the amendment's supporters.
But the civil code, which dates back to the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, included them in the category of "personal property", on the same level as tables, chairs or toilet bowls.
Although most MPs considered the vote, which came as part of a package aimed at mondernising the law on a number of issues, a formality, some argued that it could protect pets from mistreatment, either by their owners or by third parties.
Green MP Laurence Abeille was unhappy that the change was made while a working group is working on a "much more ambitious bill on animals' status".
She and Socialist Geneviève Gaillard proposed several addenda to the amendment but they were rejected, as were proposals to ban cockfights and bullfighting, judged "not relevant" by the original amendment's mover, Colette Capdevielle, a Socialist MP from the south-west, where bullfighting is still practised.