Why are cats referred to as “it”? Should their status remain as “property”?

The folks who often visit Pictures of Cats.org (PoC) love their kitties and the majority of kitty guardians consider their cats as family members. Sharing our hearts and homes with these delightful animals gives us a great deal of pleasure and in this writer’s opinion; nothing beats the unconditional love that feline companions give us.

We should refer to cats as he and she
Photo by Via weknowmemes.com
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

This said I am having a hard time understanding why cats are often referred to as “it” rather than “he” or “she” and why they are legally considered “property” (incidentally, Michael who owns PoC, always refers to cats as “he” and “she”. He makes a point of it). After all, do we “own” our children or our spouses? The answer to that absurd, rhetorical question is a no-brainer; children or spouses are people so they aren’t legally considered property.

At the same time how many of us often refer to our cats as “fur-kids”? In fact, according to an article on National Geographic published in 2014, in 2013, pet guardians spent $55 billion on the animals with whom we share our lives, and over 80 percent of them would probably risk their lives for them. This sounds like “family” to me. For most kitty lovers cats are not considered “property”, and I have yet to hear anyone who is owned by kitties refer to their “fur-kids” as “its”.

Fortunately, the good news is that times are a-changin. This may lead to our cats (and dogs) being rightfully referred to as “he” or “she”. The majority of pet guardians (aka “pawrents”) are growing mightily uncomfortable with the law that continues to consider our pets to be no different in status than a car or TV set.

When it comes to our cats’ arcane legal classification, what appears to be happening more and more is the emergence of a variety of changes in the law which are beginning to blur the line between “human” and “animals” and “persons” and “property”; i.e. cats and dogs.

RELATED: Governments should always consider the welfare of animals as sentient beings

For example, in custody cases some judges are now taking into consideration the cat’s well-being and which home would be more suitable for the kitty. Additionally, in some states pet guardians may be able to sue for “loss of companionship and emotional suffering” if a cat or dog is killed. At one time this possibility was only available in regard to children or spouses.

But the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is opposed to the idea of giving pets legal “personhood” status. I would think that since it gives companion animals greater respect, the organization would be in favor of this change.

Apparently the AVMA may be considering if pets are no longer property and “its”, veterinarians may be worried that if they make a mistake, a client could more easily sue them for malpractice. Since pets are considered property, suing for malpractice is almost impossible unless the “owner” can prove veterinary negligence or incompetence. The most an “owner” can expect in compensation would be the pet’s monetary value. But if pets are finally awarded legal “personhood” status, it would considerably up the amount of financial award should the guardian wins his or her case.

There are also some who think that “personhood” for pets might somehow devalue being human. Additionally, if pets are to be considered “people” would it be ethical to have them neutered or spayed; or for that matter, bought and sold?

I wonder if our beloved cats will forever continue to be referred to as “it”? But whether or not cats eventually do attain “personhood” status; isn’t it time to stop referring to them as property? What do you think? Share your opinions in a comment.

Jay Leno and his cat
Jay Leno and his cat. Screenshot.

RELATED: Does Jay Leno like cats?

Note from MikeB: this article was first published in 2016. It deserves a republish as I thoroughly agree with it. The law is behind in terms of attitudes towards companion animals compared to what it is happening and has happened in homes. The law regards cats as inanimate property. Cat caregivers don’t. They are sentient beings to all good caregivers. Interestingly even top authors from around 10 years ago refer to cats as ‘it’. It is noteworthy that the four vets who authored Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook refer to cats as ‘she’ throughout. They refuse to take the ‘it’ approach. Dr Bruce Fogle DVM for all his fantastic writing refers to cats as ‘it’ as does Dr Desmond Morris in Catwatching and Cat World. I don’t think they would do it now. It is an old-fashioned way of referring to companion animals. It is outmoded. It is over, dead and buried, as a term of the English language. And if you are writing about an abstract cat chose one sex or the other. It does not matter. I alternate between ‘she’ and ‘he’ about equally.

Below are some more pages on the human to cat relationship.

Tear duct overflow due to a deformed drainage system in a flat-faced Persian who also seems to be suffering from a deformed mouth due to the same reason: extreme breeding

Flat-faced cats take longer to be rehomed than moggies after being dumped over care bills

The RSPCA tell us (via The Times - thanks) that dumped Persian and Exotic Shorthair cats at their rescue centres ...
The need to touch and be in contact with their human caregiver is a sign that your cat loves you

Telepathy allows pet owners to understand what their companion animal thinks

Companion animal owners want to know what their pet thinks. They can find out through telepathy according to Nikki Vasconez ...
Kimba and escaped lion tranquilised

Discussing methods and drugs in tranquilizing a lion or other big cat with a dart

I was prompted to write about this topic after reading a new story, today, about a lion, Kimba, which escaped ...
What is speciesism?

Speciesism is applied less by the British compared to New Zealanders

A survey carried out by the University of Exeter concerning the difficulties of distinguishing between wildcats and feral cats in ...

Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

14 thoughts on “Why are cats referred to as “it”? Should their status remain as “property”?”

  1. Our cats are family members here. They are all girls and very happy to be called by name or , ” Hey girls, time for breakfast. They know that means time to eat. I once had a vet that used “IT.” Notice I said once had. My cats are family and are treated with great love and respect.

  2. Pets of any kind or animals in general are not property. Those of us that love animals take a pet as a “family” member. It is a living being and not a “thing”. Having a pet does not give any person the right to think of having it as “ownership” and to feel they have the right to dispose of the pet when it becomes old or is no longer useful.

    Anyone who does that has no rights and should never have had a pet in the first place or be allowed another.

    Also, laws need to stop considering them “property”. Refer to them as he or she and give them the rights and care they deserve.

    1. Well said Rosie. We all agree with you here on this website. Unfortunately the law makers don’t seem to want to make changes to update the legal status of companion animals.

  3. My ancestors always recognized the fact that all living beings are intrinsically equal and have great value in and of themselves. My ancestors who were enslaved would undoubtedly abhor the use of the word “owner” to describe our relationship to any other living beings, as do I. As to “it” and “property,” my loathing for these terms as regards living beings cannot be measured. It’s 2016, and although the world is probably in a bigger mess than it’s ever been, it IS time to progress beyond this archaic, unjust, and hurtful use of words. That’s why we HAVE words in the first place.

  4. I always refer to my cat as a she and she is a member of our family, she is a cat and I did buy her so I do own her. This gives her some degree of protection because no-one can legally take her away from me. I have never heard the expression “fur-kid” before and I am sure I will never use it. It’s my responsibility as her owner to try to make her life as happy as possible and to make decisions regarding her welfare that as a person she would probably object to (spaying for example). But when it comes down to it though I am her owner she makes the decision to stay with me. And fortunately she is completely unaware of the fact that it was I who had her spayed!

    1. Well, it seems to me that if your KITTY has made the decision to stay with you- I guess SHE owns YOU! LOL.
      I have no doubt in my mind that our cats own us! So I guess they can start calling us “it” LOL. Too funny.

      On the serious side however, I don’t feel as if I own our cats. We have a mutual relationship, Alan. We adopted two of our three cats and we recently bought our third kitty. I much prefer the word “guardian” to “owner” since the word “owner” definitely puts the cat into the possession category. With guardian- it really speaks to the relationship. We protect them, we do whatever we need to do to keep them happy and healthy- so I really love “guardian” or even “pawrent”.

    2. I used to think of myself as a cat “owner”, but in the last year, I’ve changed my definition to “guardian”. I think that by using that term, I and others are reminded that we are much more than “owners”. Our cats can then be seen as beings, that we are responsible for.

      Of course, many people may call a cat “it” when they don’t know the gender. But I don’t hear guardians calling their cats “it” because they use the name or the proper pronoun.

      I think it’s more important to focus on changing attitudes towards the truly harmful practices, rather than on the mis-use of the word “it” to describe a cat.

      1. Sandra Murphey I agree with you that there are more important issues to deal with than calling a cat “it” When I am not sure of a cat’s gender when I write about them I generally refer to the kitty as “he or she”. I think that the “it” word is symptomatic of the fact that cats are not taken seriously enough nor is the species thoroughly understood by so many people. It just reflects many people’s opinion about cats in general. Just my humble opinion.

  5. People who referr to cats as “it” absolutely drive me crazy ! I read comments all the time on “Cats of Google+” where everybody referrers to the cats as “it”..
    Cats have heartbeats too and should not be called an “it”..Michael, either you read my comment about people calling cats “it”, or you were reading my mind.
    My car is an “it” and my TV is an “it”..The way people referr to cats as “things” has long been a “pet peeve” of mine! Thank you for writing and posting this article..

    1. What drives me up the wall… speaking about objects referred to with gender.. how many folks refer to their cars as “he or she”, and boats are always “she”. Well if boats and cars can have genders then living animals should have that right!! Our cats are not “its” and my car is not a “she”. LOL

  6. Excellent article Jo. As you say I have always made a point of referring to cats as he and she. “It” has always sounded wrong to me. In some ways you can tell if a person loves cats or not by whether they refer to their cat as it or he and she.

    I like the reference to veterinarians. They are making another poor decision (the other is to declaw cats). They need to improve their image and referring to cats as he and she at all times – it would help.

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