Canadians pounce on cat-ownership opportunities during pandemic: poll

Last month, Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians about their experience as dog owners.

We learned about the incidence of “pandemic canines” and gauged views on the existence of a “pet soul.” We also found out that dog owners who voted for the Conservative Party are more likely to seek the services of breeders.

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This time, we turned our focus to cats, the other major animal presence inside Canadian homes. More than a third of Canadians (35%) are cat owners. There are significant differences across the country, with Atlantic Canada (48%) and Quebec (41%) leading the way on this category. The proportion of cat owners is lower in Ontario (34%), British Columbia (32%), Saskatchewan and Manitoba (31%) and Alberta (21%)

While 11% of dog owners in Canada chose to bring a pet into their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, the proportion is markedly higher among cat owners (18%). Part of this trend may be connected to the belief that domesticated felines are easy to take care of in a time of restrained outside activity. Across Canada, 24% of cat owners – including 29% of men – say that they got one because it is a “low maintenance” pet.

This does not mean that there are no other motives for cats to be invited to our lives. Significantly higher proportions of cat owners mention companionship (63%), the wishes of a family member (39%), and fun and entertainment (34%) as reasons that led them to acquire a feline.

There is an interesting tidbit on the list of reasons to get a cat. While 10% of Canadian cat owners say they wanted to keep mice and wildlife away, the proportion doubles to 21% in rat-free Alberta. In this province, domesticated cats might be acting as a deterrent for squirrels, gophers or muskrats.

In stark contrast to what we learned during our research on dogs, cat owners across Canada are more likely to have rescued their pet. More than two in five cat owners in the country (42%) got their feline from a shelter, including majorities of those who reside in Atlantic Canada (55%), British Columbia (54%) and Manitoba and Saskatchewan (52%).

While the reliance on breeders remains high among dog owners, the story is different when it comes to cats. Only 11% of Canadian cat owners purchased their pet directly from a breeder and a slightly higher proportion (13%) bought their cat a store. Almost one in five (18%) simply received the feline as a gift.

Sizable proportions of Canadian cat owners aged 35 to 54 (51%) and 55 and over (47%) acquired their pet from a shelter. The proportion of cat owners aged 18 to 34 who followed the same path is significantly smaller (28%).

As was the case when we analyzed the opinions of dog owners, there is consensus on three specific issues. More than four in five Canadian cat owners (82%) are convinced that their pet has a soul. Satisfaction with their experience as cat owners is near universal (71% “very satisfied” and 25% “moderately satisfied.”) In addition, four in five (79%) have spayed or neutered their pet, with Ontario boasting the highest proportion in the entire country (89%).

There is one finding that calls for pause. We found that one in four Canadian cat owners (24%) believe it is acceptable to physically discipline their pet. On a nationwide basis, this is six points higher than what dog owners told us when we asked a similar question last month.

There is a monumental generational gap on the issue of physical discipline, with generous majorities of Canadian cat owners aged 55 and over (89%) and aged 35 to 54 (82%) eschewing the idea of spanking, beating or hitting their feline. Among Canadian cat owners aged 18 to 34, we find an even split: 48% think it is acceptable to physically discipline a cat, while 48% consider it unacceptable.

It is clear that pets have given some Canadians comfort in the midst of the global pandemic. There are more cats and dogs in our homes, and owners widely welcome the opportunity for companionship. The way Canadians acquire cats differs greatly from how dogs make it into our homes: we are more likely to rescue or receive felines as a gift, and less likely to seek the services of a breeder.

Last but not least, is the issue of “maintenance.” Some dog owners are thrilled with the chance to venture outside with a canine. For some cat owners, it is more about staying put and being ready when the cat decides it wants to be petted. This, as anyone who has shared their home with a cat knows, is an entirely unpredictable scenario.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online survey conducted from February 25 to February 27, 2021, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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