Are Cats Considered Personal Property in the Golden State?


In the United States, pets like cats are considered personal property under the law. This classification gives owners certain rights and responsibilities when it comes to their feline companions. However, there is an ongoing debate around whether pets should be classified as property or granted some special legal status. Understanding how cats are classified legally in California can help cat owners better protect their rights and know their obligations.

Legal Definition of Property

The legal definition of property refers to anything tangible or intangible that can be owned, possessed, or controlled. Property law distinguishes between different categories of property, including real property and personal property.

Real property refers to land, buildings, and anything affixed to the land. Personal property is movable and includes physical objects like cars and furniture as well as intangibles like stocks, patents, and copyrights. The distinction between real and personal property is important for issues of ownership, taxation, inheritance, and more.

According to Britannica, property law is defined as “principles, policies, and rules by which courts determine which rights to recognize in whom and under what conditions.” Essentially, property law determines what can be legally owned and the rights associated with ownership.

Pets as Property

Pets are generally considered property under the law in the United States. This means that legally, pets are treated similarly to inanimate objects or possessions that can be bought, sold, or owned. According to PetsBest, pets have been classified as property under the law for centuries, dating back to early British and American common law traditions that did not recognize animals as having individual rights.

Treating pets as property provides legal clarity around issues of ownership, liability, damages, and settling disputes. For example, if someone’s pet cat wanders onto a neighbor’s property and damages their garden, the cat owner could be held liable for the damage since the cat is considered their personal property. The legal status of pets as property also allows for pet ownership to be transferred through sales or custody agreements in case of divorce or other family disputes.

However, many animal rights advocates argue that classifying pets solely as property is problematic, as it does not account for their sentience and emotional bonds with owners. There is an ongoing debate around recognizing pets as both property and as living beings deserving of certain rights and protections.

Cats as Property in California

Under California law, cats are considered personal property. This classification means that legally, cats are treated as objects that can be owned, rather than as living beings. According to the California Penal Code Section 491, “Dogs are personal property, and their value is to be ascertained in the same manner as the value of other property.” Though this specifically references dogs, case law has established that cats are also classified as personal property in the same manner under California law.

Some of the implications of this property designation include that cats can be bought, sold or gifted like other personal possessions. Owners have rights over their feline property similar to rights over inanimate objects. Cats do not have separate legal rights of their own. In the case of disputes over cat ownership or liability involving a cat, the property framework shapes how these situations are handled legally. Overall, classifying cats as property gives owners rights, but reduces cats to objects under California law.

Critics argue that classifying cats as property fails to recognize their sentience and living being status, while proponents argue the classification protects owners’ rights and interests. Nonetheless, California statutes clearly delineate cats as personal property belonging to their owners.

Ownership Rights

In California, cats are legally considered personal property of their owners, similar to other pets or items owned by someone. This grants the cat’s owner certain rights and responsibilities.

As property, cat owners have the legal right to possess, use, and enjoy their cat. They can decide where the cat lives, what it eats, its veterinary care, and other aspects of the cat’s life. Owners also have the right to sell, gift, or leave their cat to someone else in their will. The law protects owners against theft or damage to their cat by others.

However, owners also have duties to provide proper care and shelter for their cat. Cats must be licensed and vaccinated as required by law. Owners can be held liable if their cat causes property damage, injuries, or other losses. Animal cruelty and neglect laws also apply to pet owners. Overall, owning a cat as property involves balancing rights with responsibilities for the cat’s well-being.

In disputes over cat ownership or custody, courts will consider evidence of who purchased or adopted the cat, veterinary records, microchip registration, and who cared for the cat on a daily basis. While cats have sentimental value, legally they are still treated as property under California law.



In California, pet owners are legally responsible for any injuries or damage caused by their cats under the state’s strict liability laws. According to the California Civil Code, pet owners are liable for any bites or scratches inflicted by their cats, even if the owner did not know the cat had any dangerous tendencies (1). This means that cat owners can be held financially accountable if their cat attacks and injures another person or animal. Liability also extends to any property damage caused by a pet cat, such as torn furniture, ruined carpets, or broken belongings. The injured party does not need to prove negligence or fault on the part of the owner (2). The law treats cats as inherently unpredictable, so owners assume liability when choosing to keep cats as pets.

If a cat bite or scratch requires medical treatment for a person or animal, the owner is responsible for covering those costs. Pet owners may also be sued for pain and suffering damages. In cases of very severe injuries, compensatory damages in a lawsuit can total hundreds of thousands of dollars (2). To avoid liability, cat owners are advised to take precautions like keeping cats indoors and properly socializing and training cats to reduce aggressive behavior (3). But ultimately, California’s strict liability statue means owners bear responsibility no matter what steps they take to restrain their cats.


Settling Pet Custody Disputes

In California, cats are considered property under the law. This means that in divorce or relationship breakups, cats are treated similarly to any other shared property that a couple must divide. Since cats have special sentimental value, settling custody of a pet cat can often be contentious.

According to the law firm Modern Family Law, California courts will generally determine pet custody based on who is the legal owner of the cat Legal ownership is determined by who adopted or purchased the cat initially. If the cat was adopted by one partner, that person likely retains sole ownership under the law.

In 2019, California passed a new law allowing judges to consider the care of pets in divorce proceedings. As explained by Minella Law Group, this law gives judges power to assign joint custody or visitation if they believe it is in the best interest of the pet However, the original owner still has priority under legal ownership rules.

If an amicable pet custody agreement cannot be reached, the options are limited since the cat is property. The original owner of the cat retains full rights, unless visitation or shared custody is ordered by a judge, which remains relatively rare. Some couples try to settle these disputes in small claims court, but results may be inconsistent.

Cats in Rental Housing

In California, there are specific laws related to having cats in rental properties. Landlords are allowed to charge a pet deposit for tenants with cats, but the maximum they can charge is 2 months’ rent for an unfurnished unit and 3 months’ rent for a furnished unit (source). Landlords are also permitted to charge monthly pet rent in addition to the deposit, but there is no statutory limit on how much they can charge for pet rent (source).

Under fair housing laws, assistance animals for tenants with disabilities are not considered pets, so landlords cannot charge deposits or fees for them. They also cannot deny housing to someone because they have an assistance animal (source).

If a rental property has a no-pets policy, tenants can request a reasonable accommodation to have an assistance animal. Landlords are required to make exceptions to no-pet rules for tenants who have a disability-related need for an assistance animal.

It’s important for both tenants and landlords to understand the laws regarding pets in rental housing in California. While landlords can charge fees and rent for pets, they cannot deny housing based solely on someone having a pet, especially if it is an assistance animal required for a disability.

Arguments Against Pet as Property

Many animal rights advocates argue that classifying pets as property is unethical and should be changed. They believe that referring to sentient beings as property diminishes the value of animal life and validates mistreatment. Some view pets as family members rather than possessions that can be bought or sold.

There are legal and philosophical arguments against considering pets as property. Legally, pets have additional protections against cruelty and abuse compared to inanimate property. Killing or harming a pet may result in criminal charges, while destroying other types of property typically only generates civil liability. Philosophically, opponents believe living creatures deserve greater moral consideration than objects. Referring to pets as property fails to recognize their capacity to feel emotions and experience suffering.

Those against pets as property argue the designation promotes commodification of animals. Classifying living beings as property to be traded facilitates unethical industries like puppy mills. Some believe the property label provides a justification for objectifying pets and discounting their interests. There are calls to legally re-categorize pets as somewhere between persons and property. However, determining an alternative legal status for pets involves complex considerations.



This article explored the legal status of cats as property in the state of California. We discussed how pets, including cats, are generally considered personal property under the law. This means that cats are subject to many of the same laws and regulations as other forms of property.

In California, cat owners have certain ownership rights and responsibilities. Owners are liable for any injuries or damage caused by their cats. In custody disputes, courts will consider what living arrangement is in the cat’s best interests. Cats are also subject to various housing and rental laws in the state.

While some argue that defining animals as property is unethical, this remains the legal standard. The bottom line is that in the eyes of California law, cats are considered property belonging to their owners.

To summarize, despite opposing viewpoints, cats are currently classified as personal property under California law. Cat owners have specific rights and liabilities according to this legal framework.

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