Do you feel that you are a parent to your cat?

There has been a rise in interspecies families and in parallel a decline in marriage. In the UK, for instance, there are 1.2 million more people in the age brackets 25-35 unmarried in 2021 compared to 10 years earlier. The decline in marriage opens a door to a rise in a different kind of family: an interspecies family.

An interspecies family is one in which “pets” are considered family members. This is usually cats and dogs. There is a difference between a cat caregiver regarding their cat as a family member and also regarding them as “children”. What I mean is how many cat and dog owners feel that they are parents to their companion animals?

Are you a parent to your cat?

Are you a parent to your cat? The picture is unique. It is in the post-impressionistic painting style reminiscent of Picasso actually who was not an Impressionist painter but a cubist. It was created by an AI computer called DALLE E.

There is a difference as highlighted in a study (Interspecies Parenting: How Pet Parents Construct Their Roles. Nicole Owens and Liz Grauerholz. Humanity & Society 1-24. 2018.).

I need to mention the profile of the participants. The study took place in America and the sample was mostly white with 28% identifying as Hispanic/Latino. 46% were single, 44% were married and 8% were divorced or widowed. 56% were women and 46% were parents of children. Their average household income was $76,000 and the average age was 36.6 years. Most of the participants had dogs only at 59%, or both cats and dogs at 39%, while 18% lived with cats only.

Useful links
Anxiety - reduce it
FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important

They concluded in that study that about 20% of the participants didn’t regard themselves as pet parents. And around 15% somewhat felt themselves to be pet parents. And it was mostly men who were less likely to feel that they were pet parents although they did regard their dogs or cats as family members. Tellingly, though, it would appear that around 65%-80% of participants did regard themselves as parents i.e. the vast majority.

|Although, some people seem to positively reject the idea of being a pet parent. They might have quite strong animal rights views and therefore regard themselves as a caregiver or caretaker of their companion animal who perhaps has equal rights to them. Perhaps parenting indicates a dominant position of parent to “child” or “pet”.

Companion animal caregiving is more equal and perhaps therefore suits people with a stronger belief in animal rights. This group of people also dislike the idea of pet ownership. People don’t own pets; they live with them and provide them with life’s basic necessities.

Even in homes where, let’s say, the wife regards herself as a parent to her cat, she may and probably will prioritise the parenting of her child over her cat because the human child takes precedence over the cat. She may feel guilty because she doesn’t have the energy or the time to respond – as she did before she had a child – to her cat’s needs.

The study found that the participants who they interviewed in person altered their relationship and treatment towards their pets after human children arrived in the family. This is called “flexible personhood”. One participant said: “He wasn’t getting enough attention. I felt so guilty. I was so busy with the baby, but he is a dog. He can for a while be by himself.”

The study found that parents of older children describe similarities between parenting humans to parenting companion animals. The participants who were parents of older children did not highlight the differences between parenting young children and pets.

The interspecies family, for instance of a single person looking after a cat, is unconventional by traditional standards. However, it is argued that that family unit should be recognised as a family by traditionalists.

Parenting non-humans shares many of the same features to parenting children and carries the same rights and responsibilities.

Most people have a need to discharge parenting responsibilities. It is ingrained in their psyche. Parenting a cat or dog allows them to express that need/desire. There is a need for society to respect these family units and the value of their loving bond and caring relationship.

Personally, I see myself as a parent to my cat companion. And I am sure that my cat, Gabby, sees me as his parent. Dr. Desmond Morris, the great zoologist, animal behaviourist, and author, claims that cats see us as surrogate mothers. The relationship is one of mother cat (the human) to kitten (the adult cat). Adult cats are mentally kept in the same state that they were in when they were kittens because they are eternally dependent upon their human parent.

Below are some articles on the human-to-human relationship.

Stress and irritability can lead to more cat scratches

Why do cats scratch some owners more than others?

I'd like to focus on one aspect of cat caregiving and a vital one. There is no doubt that a ...
Read More
Woman asks AITA for not lending her estranged sister money because of veterinary bills for her cat

Woman asks AITA for not lending her estranged sister money because of veterinary bills for her cat

For me, this is an interesting story of family strife and cat love. Two opposites really. The story kind of ...
Read More
Man asks AITA for demanding that his gf gives up her cats if she lives with him

Man asks AITA for telling girlfriend to give her cats to a shelter. Response: YTA.

Scenario: This is about the impossibility of an ailurophile living with an ailurophobe! Man gets good job and wants to ...
Read More
Tabitha - Cat lover can't get a boyfriend

Your love of cats prevents you getting a boyfriend

Are you like Tabitha Miles who lives in Essex, England. She is 40 years and has consistently put off her ...
Read More
What we are taught counts

How fast can you tie your laces? What we are taught sticks.

How fast can you tie your laces? Stupid question, yes? Perhaps not. We are taught how to tie laces when ...
Read More
Toxoplasma gondii

Domestic cats overly criticised for their role as hosts of Toxoplasma gondii

The life-cycle of Toxoplasma gondii is complicated. People tend to oversimplify it. They see the domestic cat infecting humans with ...
Read More
Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *