In a rally Wednesday in KwaZulu-Natal province, Zuma told thousands of supporters people who spent money on dogs, taking them to the vet and for walks, belong in white culture, not African culture, South African newspaper Mercury reported.
The statement elicited criticism from pet lovers and others who accused the president of being racist, the BBC reported.
Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said Zuma's message was meant to warn people against loving animals more than humans.
"More than that, the essential message from the president was the need to decolonise the African mind, post-liberation, to enable the previously oppressed African majority to appreciate and love who they are and uphold their own culture," Maharaj said.
"They should not feel pressured to be assimilated into the minority cultures."