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Family Member, Best Friend, Child or 'Just' a Pet, Owners' Relationship Perceptions and Consequences for Their Cats

By E. M. C. Bouma, M. L. Reijgwart, A. Dijkstra

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Describing the relationship with one's cat in human terms might reflect an underlying anthropomorphic view of the relationship which might be associated with an owner's behavior towards their cat and the cat's living environment. Owners self-categorized the relationship with their cat as either a 'member of the family', 'as a child', 'best friend', or 'a pet animal'. The extent to which owner- and cat-related factors influence these four relationship descriptions are examined in survey data of approximately 1800 cat owners. Differences in outdoor access, care during absence of the owner, and access to the bedroom are examined between the four relationship perceptions. The owner's age and household composition, ideas about their cat's equality, support, and dependency, and whether their cat is a pedigree were significantly associated with relationship description and explained 46% of the variance. Owners who perceive their cat as a child or best friend see their cat as loyal, empathetic, equal to family, and dependent on them for love and care. Their cats are less often left in the care of others, are allowed more often in the bedroom and have less often (unrestricted) outdoor access. Moreover, cats perceived as children are more likely to live in a multi-cat household. Our results provide insight in the factors that are related to different (anthropomorphic) perceptions of the human-cat relationship and how perceptions relate to the living environment of cats.

Publication Title Int J Environ Res Public Health
Volume 19
Issue 1
ISBN/ISSN 1661-7827 (Print)1660-4601
DOI 10.3390/ijerph19010193
Author Address Department of Social Psychology, University of Groningen, 9712 TS Groningen, The Netherlands.EthoPet, 6815 HG Arnhem, The Netherlands.
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal welfare
  2. Cats
  3. Children
  4. Family
  5. Friendship
  6. Functions
  7. Human-animal bond
  8. open access
  9. Relationships
  1. open access