One in Four Cat Owners Think of Pet Like Their Child, Study Finds

One in four cat owners see their pet as like their child, researchers have found.

A study from scientists in the Netherlands is shedding light on the ways cat owners project human characteristics onto their feline friends. Published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, showed that many of the 1,800 cat owners included anthropomorphized their pets by assigning them roles that mirror human relationships.

For example, 27 percent of cat owners involved in the study chose the relationship description "my cat is like a child to me" from a series of responses. Similarly, half of cat owners in the study (52 percent) described their cats as "part of the family."

Study co-author Esther M.C. Bouma, from the University of Groningen, told Newsweek there were both benefits and potential draw backs to cat owners projecting human relationships onto their pets in this way.

"Owners who perceive their cat as a small human might misinterpret their cat's (subtle) behaviours and exaggerate their social abilities. Attribution of social skills like 'perceptive,' 'empathetic' and 'considerate' makes it possible for animals to be a source of companionship and social support," she said.

"But as descendants of solitary hunters, the social skills of cats might be less evolved than in group-living animals such as humans and dogs, for whom social skills are necessary for survival. Looking at a cat from a human perspective can result in a miss-match between the need of the owner and the need of the cat."

The study also found the intimacy of an owner's relationship with their cat could impact on how the animals were treated.

For example, those who see cats as a "member of the family" were expected to allow greater unrestricted access to the outdoors.

In contrast, the 27 percent of owners who considered their cats as being "like a child" were expected to restrict access to the outdoors because they felt "the cat is dependent on the owner for care and protection," the study said.

Bouma said she hopes the study will encourage cat owners to think more deeply on their pet's social needs and the role their own perceptions about cats could play. "We hope that our results make owners more conscious about their own (social) needs and how these influence the living environment and wellbeing of their cats," she said.

"Owners who want to protect their cats from outside dangers should be aware that the welfare of their cats might be compromised when the indoor environment is suboptimal."

cat in stroller
Stock photo of a cat in a stroller. Researchers in the Netherlands have found over one in four cat owners see their pet as a child. Getty Images