Why People Do - and Don't - Own Cats

Survey's goal was to gather perceptions of cats from non-cat owners.

Posted: December 17, 2009, 3 a.m. EST

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Gray kitten
More than half of non-cat owners have an overall negative attitude toward cats, according to a new survey sponsored by Morris Animal Foundation, the American Pet Products Association and Maddie’s Fund. Top drivers for negative opinions were litterbox smell, shedding, unprovoked biting and perceived inability for cats to get along with other pets.

The online survey of 1,102 respondents, which was launched to gather information about perceptions of cats and likelihood of cat ownership among non-cat owners, also revealed that the three top-rated negative behaviors cited were “jumps on counters/tables,” “scratches furniture” and “spits up hairballs.”

“Interestingly, the primary negative factors for not owning a cat can be readily addressed with appropriate behavioral training, scratching posts and specific diets,” said Patricia Olson, DVM, Ph.D., president and chief executive officer of Morris Animal Foundation. “If people had a better understanding of feline health and behavior, they might be more willing to adopt a cat.”

Thirty-one percent of respondents indicated that they did not own a cat because someone in their household was allergic to cats.

However, 10 percent of the non-cat owners said they would definitely or probably consider having a cat, and an additional 12 percent would maybe consider having a cat.

Top drivers for positive opinions included the match between a cat and a person’s lifestyle and a cat as being a potentially good pet for children. The three top-rated positive behaviors included “likes to play,” “entertains itself” and “makes people smile.”

Those that were more inclined to welcome a feline friend included younger individuals, single individuals, Hispanics and men, which goes against the stereotype of the “crazy old cat lady,” according to Morris Animal Foundation. These results indicate that potential targets for future cat ownership might exist and that this pilot study should serve as an impetus for a larger study to validate the results, the foundation noted.

About 38.2 million U.S. households own 94 million cats, according to the 2009-2010 National Pet Owners Survey, as reported by the American Pet Products Association. Based on this new non-cat owning survey, if 10 percent of households not owning a cat would consider one, an additional 6.2 million cats might find a home, according to the Morris Animal Foundation.

“Many of the negative attitudes indicated in the survey responses are based on stereotypes and misperceptions of feline behavior,” Dr. Olson said. “Studies have shown that cats significantly benefit human health and well-being, so if we as a society could work to eliminate the negativity surrounding cats, both cats and humans would reap the benefits.”

The survey was part of the Morris Animal Foundation’s Happy Healthy Cat Campaign, with was launched November 2008 to increase funding for feline health and welfare research and for training new feline-focused scientists.

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Reader Comments

Evelyn    Beamsville, ON

2/6/2010 7:34:08 AM

I love my cats and would not want to do without them.

Pat    Omaha, NE

12/23/2009 5:18:30 AM

None of these reasons were why I didn't want a cat. I just didn't want to be tied down, now it's too late! And I never even knew about hairballs, and that's what I dread the most. I have stained rugs cause of them, oh well.

cheryl    Indy, IN

12/22/2009 2:16:52 AM

Nothing melts my heart more than a cat. I'll take the cat hair, the scratching and the 2am hairballs any time! I know very few people who can resist a cat's charm after spending some time in their company.

andrea    london, AL

12/20/2009 9:10:55 AM

I am an owner of three cats and almost all my life
lived with cats, the two years of my life I didn't
live with them were definitely my loneliest and most unbalanced time ever. I am happier with cats.
I am sure most non-cat owners are misguided about cats and don't know cats are good human healers.

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