I am owned by two cats named Mr. Heckle and Mr. Jeckle. I have several nicknames for each of them, including Big Guy, Little Guy, Tuffy, and Flying J., just to name a few. One thing I never call them is it. And I’m not alone: most pet lovers use gendered pronouns for animals (e.g., “Mr. Heckle wants his dinner” instead of “Mr. Heckle wants its dinner”).
But are we just personifying our furry friends? Maybe. However, most of our primary style guides agree that animals can be more than an it.
Let’s look at what the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA style), The Associated Press Stylebook (AP style), and The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago style) have to say.
Gendered Pronouns for Animals — APA Style and AP Style
The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA style) says that an animal with a name and known sex can be assigned a gendered pronoun,1 while The Associated Press Stylebook (AP style) says that an animal with a name or known sex should be assigned a gendered pronoun.2
Lord Biscuit enjoys napping and playing with his cat toys. (This example follows APA style and AP style.)
The mare walks in the field with her foal. (This example follows AP style.)
A bear left its paw prints in the snow. (This example follows APA style and AP style.)
Gendered Pronouns for Animals — Chicago Style
The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago style) is less specific, but it does suggest that non-human nouns (including ships and other water vessels) can be given gendered pronouns.3 Therefore, I’m going to assume that Chicago style also allows animals with a known sex to be paired with gendered pronouns.
Interestingly, Chicago style clearly states that the use of it doesn’t mean that the subject or object doesn’t have a gender, only that the gender is unknown and doesn’t matter in the context of the sentence; therefore, we can refer to human babies as it in certain circumstances.4
Of the three primary style guides mentioned above, APA style is the least flexible by requiring animals to have both a name and known sex before receiving a gendered pronoun.
If you don’t have to follow APA style (or an alternative guide with similar requirements), AP style and Chicago style show that you can confidently use gendered pronouns for animals with a known sex—even if they don’t have a name.
Further Reading: Relative Pronouns for Animals: Are Animals “Who” or “That”?
1. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th ed. (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2020) 4.19; Note that APA style describes gendered pronouns for named animals with a known sex as “acceptable.” I interpret this to mean that gendered personal pronouns for those animals are not mandatory.
2. The Associated Press Stylebook 2019 (New York: Associated Press, 2019) 18.
3. The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017) 5.47.
4. The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017) 5.47.