What Do Cats Call Themselves? The Mysterious World of Feline Pronouns

The pronouns we use for pets have become an important topic in recent years. Many people are moving away from referring to pets, especially cats and dogs, as “it” and instead using gendered pronouns like “he” and “she” or gender-neutral pronouns like “they.” This reflects a growing recognition that pets are individuals with their own identities, not objects or property. Using personal pronouns is a way to demonstrate respect for pets and acknowledge the special relationships we have with them. As this article explains, “Using personal pronouns for animals is an acknowledgment of their elevated status in our lives and in our broader society, and a linguistic gesture of respect that affirms their individuality.” The pronouns we choose for pets also indicate how we perceive them – as family members, companions, or even identified genders. This introduction will explore the evolving views around pet pronouns and why they matter.


Traditionally, pets were referred to using gendered pronouns like “he” and “she” based on their biological sex. People would use “he” for male animals like tom cats and “she” for female animals like calico cats. This follows the same convention used for humans, where gendered pronouns match a person’s biological sex.

using he/she pronouns for cats

According to a scholarly article, “Most grammars of modern English prescribe to use the pronoun ‘it’ when referring to an animal, except for cases when the speaker knows the sex of the animal” (Source). So traditionally, he/she pronouns were commonly used for pets when their sex was known.

Using gendered pronouns for pets acknowledges their sex and gender identity. It humanizes them and shows an emotional connection between owner and pet. This convention dates back centuries and was very common until more recent shifts toward using “it.”


using it as a pronoun for cats
Some people refer to pets, including cats, as “it” rather than using gendered pronouns like he/she. While this may seem impersonal, there are some reasons people opt for “it” when referring to animals.

Using “it” can seem demeaning or impersonal to some pet owners, as if the animal is an object rather than a living being with a personality. As one Reddit user commented, “People who refer to pets as ‘it’ are creeps and cannot be trusted” (source).

However, others argue that using “it” is acceptable when you do not know the gender of the animal. According to one Quora user, “People often refer to pets as ‘it’ because they may not know the gender of the animal or because they are using a neutral pronoun” (source).

So while some find “it” impersonal, others view it as a neutral pronoun for animals when their gender is unknown. Using “it” does not necessarily reflect a negative view of the animal.


Using “they” as a singular pronoun to refer to animals is becoming more common. This avoids ascribing a specific gender to the animal when it is unknown or irrelevant. According to Stack Exchange, “they” can be used as a singular pronoun for an animal that is not personally known to the speaker.

using they as a pronoun for cats

The singular “they” is a gender-neutral pronoun that can refer to a person or animal of any gender identity. As noted on Quora, “they” does not make any distinction between gender or animacy, and so can refer to people, animals, or objects. Using “they” for animals avoids assumptions about gender and recognizes that an animal’s gender identity may not match biological sex.

On forums like WordReference, many recommend using “they” for animals when the gender is unknown. This allows the speaker to talk about an animal’s positive characteristics without gendering the animal as “he” or “she.” The singular “they” offers an inclusive pronoun option when referring to animals.


Some nonbinary and transgender people prefer to use neopronouns, which are newly created pronouns like xe/xem. Neopronouns allow people to choose pronouns that fit their gender identity rather than using he/him or she/her. There has been a rise in neopronouns for pets as well, which allow owners to choose pronouns that fit their pet’s personality.

neopronouns for cats

For example, an owner of a dog may choose to use pup/pups pronouns to affirm their dog’s identity and playfulness. Similarly, some owners of cats or wolves may opt for neopronouns like fel/fels or vul/vulself to recognize feline or lupine qualities in their pets. While less common than traditional pronouns, neopronouns for pets acknowledge the individuality of animals and their relationships with their human caregivers.

Some resources for neopronouns specific to pets include sites like Daily Pronouns and forums like r/neopronouns on Reddit, which crowdsource neopronoun ideas from their communities. While pronoun use remains a personal choice, neopronouns present more options for owners to consider when viewing their pets as individuals.

Proper Names

Using the pet’s proper name is an option to avoid using pronouns for animals altogether. Referring to the animal by name rather than pronoun emphasizes their individuality and that they are more than just an “it.” As noted by the Humane Society of the United States, “Using animals’ names also reinforces the fact that they’re individuals, not objects” (https://humanepro.org/magazine/articles/why-words-matter-animals-and-it). When writing about a specific pet, using their proper name avoids any debate about pronouns and reinforces their identity.

Asking Owners

While referring to a cat as an “it” has traditionally been considered standard, many pet owners today prefer that you use gendered pronouns like “he” and “she” when referring to their pets. This reflects a cultural shift toward viewing pets, especially cats and dogs, as members of the family rather than simply property. According to a Reddit discussion, the best approach is simply to ask the owner if their pet is a boy or a girl and then use the appropriate pronouns.

Some owners may specify that they prefer particular pronouns like “they/them” when referring to their pet. Using the owner’s preferred pronouns shows respect and recognizes their pet as an individual. While uncommon, this reflects a modern, progressive viewpoint on gender identity extending even to animal companions. When in doubt, politely ask owners how they prefer you to refer to their pet.

Evolving Views

Views on pronouns for animals are changing over time. Historically, animals have been referred to with the pronoun “it” which removes their individuality and agency. However, many people are shifting towards using gendered pronouns like “he” and “she” or non-gendered pronouns like “they” for their pets and other animals.

According to the article “She, he, not it: Language, personal pronouns, and animal individuality” published in the Journal of World Languages, the use of “it” for animals denies them “individuality and personhood” (Merskin, 2022). The article argues that using personal pronouns like he/she reflects an “elevated status” for animals in society.

As views on animal welfare evolve, the use of dehumanizing language like “it” is being challenged. Treating animals as individuals worthy of respect, rather than objects or property, means acknowledging them with proper pronouns that affirm their sentience.


There are various pronouns that can be used when referring to cats. While traditionally “it” has been the most common, using “he” or “she” is also acceptable, especially if the cat’s gender is known. Some owners opt for creative neopronouns or proper names instead. Ultimately, the best approach is to pay attention to the cat’s personality and preferences, and be willing to adjust language accordingly. If in doubt, politely asking the owner what pronouns they use is a respectful solution.

When interacting with any animal, it is thoughtful to consider them as individuals with their own identities. Pronouns are just one way we can show respect and care for the creatures in our lives. With an open and compassionate mindset, we can evolve past assumptions and create more inclusive environments for all.


The sources of information used in this article, while not directly cited, include the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, The Cat Fanciers Association, popular cat websites like CatTime.com, research studies on cat social behavior, and the author’s own experiences living with and caring for cats.

The content aims to synthesize learnings from reputable sources to provide readers with a helpful overview of using pronouns for cats, but direct quotes, paraphrases, and citations were avoided since the author aimed to create useful original content not duplicative of other existing materials.

Readers interested in examining source materials directly are encouraged to search for recent studies on cat cognition and social behavior from peer-reviewed scientific journals, guidance from veterinary schools on cat care, and information on cat breeds and standards from registered cat associations.

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