Petful Style Guide

Last updated: Aug. 8, 2018. If something is not listed below, we default to AP Style. Please use this dictionary:


There are no hyphens in this emergency telephone number.


Use a slash in this popularized name for the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.


Use the “er” spelling rather than “or” whenever this word comes up — including, of course, in our previous name, “Pets Adviser.”


Use periods.


Very rarely you can put words in all-caps for effect.

a.m., p.m.

10:30 a.m., 10 p.m. Eastern, 3 o’clock, at 3 in the morning, noon.

animal welfare supporters vs. animal rights activists

Be careful not to mix up these terms. They are very different. We at Petful are animal welfare supporters. Those of us in the animal welfare community seek to prevent suffering and cruelty to animals, and to provide care and good homes for pets in need.

This is not to be confused with animal rights activists (such as PETA), who seek to end all human “exploitation” of animals, including eating meat and apparently even keeping animals as pets.


Call us old-fashioned, but we do not use this word for a female dog (except in direct quotes).

breed names

We now capitalize all formal breed names. However, generic uses of “hound,” “terrier,” “retriever,” “setter,” “pit bull” and the like are lowercase (unless it looks weird to the editor in the context of a specific post).

Formal NameGeneric Use
Boykin Spanielspaniel
Labrador Retrieverretriever
German Shepherd Dogshepherd
Miniature Pinscher, Min Pinpinscher
Standard Poodlepoodle
Bluetick Coonhoudcoonhound
Cardigan Welsh Corgicorgis
Australian Cattledogcattledog
Border Collie, your Bordercollies
American Pit Bull Terrierpit bull
American Shorthairdomestic shorthair cats

Please pay particular attention to the lowercase “pit bull” — it’s not actually a breed name. To quote Wikipedia: “Pit bull is the common name for a type of dog. Formal breeds often considered to be of the pit bull type include the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, American Bully and Staffordshire Bull Terrier.”


Capitalize the first word after a colon if that clause would be a complete sentence on its own.

  • Think smart: Eat green.
  • The bears in the forest agree: Tourists suck.
  • My grocery list was simple: apples, milk and dog treats.


There is no comma before the last item in a series. For example:

  • Dachshunds can have black, brown or purple coats.
  • My grocery list included apples, milk, rice and dog treats.

Exception: Cases where the last item in the list contains “and” or “or”:

  • Dachshunds can have black, brown, or black and brown coats.


Dashes are 2 hyphens together with a space before and after — which WordPress will automatically convert to the correct long dash you see here.


When using more than one identifier for a date, use a comma to separate the day and the month. (Examples: His presentation on Sept. 14 was most informative. The event was held in January 2019. We set the next meeting for July 14, 2019, in Brooklyn.)


2010s, ’10s

dog fighting/dogfighting

When we’re talking about 2 dogs fighting at the local park or having to break up some dogs who happen to be fighting, let’s go with 2 words: dog fighting. It’s probably even better if we write around it (“the dogs were fighting” etc.).

But when we’re talking about illegal dogfighting for profit, it’s one word in all references: dogfights, dogfighting.

dog house

Two words.


Avoid “doggy” (and “kitty”). “Dog” or “puppy” works best. If you do have to use “doggy,” then spell it this way rather than “doggie.”

dogs and cats are “who” — not “that”

  • Was this the dog who went to the nursing home?
  • She was the cat who was so well loved.

dogs and cats are “he” or “she” — not “it”

  • Maria swooped up the kitten and held him (or “them” if you don’t know the sex, but not “it”) in the palm of her hand.
  • Your dog should have her (or “their” if you don’t know the sex, but not “its”) teeth cleaned.
  • Note on singular form: A pet of unspecific sex should be referred to as “they” for a gender-neutral form. Our previous style was to choose either “she” or “he,” being careful not to always call dogs “he” and cats “she.” But now we prefer “they” or “them” in these cases. (Example: Train your dog to go fetch their ball.) Of course, if you are writing about a specific animal whose sex you know, then use “he” or “she.” (Example: Misty the cat scratched her ear.)


We always use “Dr.” before a veterinarian’s name and also list the credentials. It may seem redundant to use “Dr.” as well as, say, “DVM” or “VMD,” but that is our style. Example: Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD.

E collar

When we’re talking about the “cone of shame,” be sure to use the term “Elizabethan collar” somewhere near the beginning. After that, we can call it the E collar (note the capital E; no hyphen).


This is how we style the text when we’re talking about an electronic dog collar (shock collar).


Instead of writing about getting a pet “fixed,” please use “spayed” (female) or “neutered” (male).

furbaby, furbabies, furball, furkid

All of these variants are a single word.

group, organization, company

A group is an “it” rather than a “they.”

  • The AKC introduced its first breed (not “their” first breed).
  • The company released its report.

Grumpy Cat

Grumpy Cat wants you to know she is a “she,” not a “he.”


In almost all of our headings, we use the title case. Capitalize all verbs and nouns (even short ones: Is, It), any stressed words, and any word that has 4 or more letters (such as That, Than, With and From).

Exception to using title case for subheads (H3 or H4): We use sentence case (in other words, we capitalize only the first word) in subheads IF the subheads are long phrases or sentences.

Numbers in headings are always in numerical form, even at the beginning:

  • How to Be a Silly Kitty in 7 Quick Steps
  • 4 Ways to Groom a Shy Puppy

In WordPress, use heading H3 for subheads to separate chunks of text within your articles. If you need to use another level below H3, then use H4.

Don’t use puns in subheads. Subheads are designed to “tell the story” of your article for those readers who are just scanning. Be direct.


Use this instead of “housebreaking.” It’s hyphenated.

internet style

  • HTML
  • URL
  • PDF
  • internet
  • website, the web
  • online
  • email, ebook
  • Links: (omit https://,  www. and unnecessary slashes from the visible text)

italics vs. bold

No big blocks of italics. We use italics for emphasis sometimes of 1–3 words. (Example: That is not what I was thinking.) When we want to emphasize a whole sentence because it is an important fact for readers to know, make it bold.


Use only when we’re talking about police dogs, not as a generic nickname for “canine.” There is a hyphen in “K-9.”

lists (bullets or numbered lists)

We love them. Please use at least one wherever it makes sense in your article.

  • In a list of items, capitalize the first word of each item.
  • Use periods after each item in a list only if those items are complete sentences. If you have just a single item in the list that needs a period, give all of them periods for consistency’s sake.


Spell out inches, feet, square feet, yard, pounds, ounces, cup.

“non” words

Generally, no hyphen: nonfiction, nonprofit, etc.

numbers, 0–9

  • In general, use numerals for all numbers (except at the beginning of a sentence). This is a notable departure from AP style. We want readers to find facts at a glance, and numbers are facts.
  • Exception: “that one time” or “that’s one dog I wish I had” or “that’s one thing you should do,” etc. We don’t want to use “1” as a numeral if it looks totally out of place. So save “1” for facts.
  • Another exception: Spell out “first” if you’re just saying something like “that was the first time I saw her.” Reserve the “1st” form for strictly factual appearances, especially when it appears beside other numbers.
  • Another exception: Use your best judgment when 2 numbers appear side by side. For example, we would probably want to write this: four 4-foot-tall dogs.
  • For percentages, we now use the % symbol (e.g., 10%, 8%) in all cases except when a percentage is given at the very beginning of a sentence (“Fifty-eight percent of cats are overweight.”)

numbers in titles

Using numbers in titles (“12 Ways to Win Over Your Cat”) can be extremely effective. Readers love them.

Any article that uses a number in the title should be presented in a numbered format. The reader should click to “12 Ways to Win Over Your Cat” and be able to see, at a glance, the 12 ways. The subheads would be numbered 1–12.


We don’t spell it as “okay.”

pet owners / pet parents

Do not use the phrase “pet owners” except when you’re quoting someone. Instead, try one of these alternatives:

  • The pet’s family
  • Caregivers
  • Caretakers
  • Human companions
  • The pet’s human/person
  • The pet’s mom and dad

Avoid “pet parents.” There has been a lot of backlash over this expression. Also don’t use “pet guardians,” which has legal implications.

Instead of “pet ownership,” try “pet care.”

Never, under any circumstances, refer to someone as being a dog’s “master.”


Even though our logo uses all lowercase letters, when we write out our name we use a capital P. On certain pages of our website, we also use a registered trademark symbol the first time our name appears: Petful®. This symbol appears, too, at the bottom of most pages of the website. But this symbol should not be used in most regular posts/articles. It’s just: Petful. One more note: If we’re referring, generically, to the concept of “being petful,” use a lowercase p.

photo captions

Most photos should have a caption. Remember that the photo caption is the first thing many readers will look at, so make it good enough to draw the readers into the article. Photo captions should not be so basic that they make you go, “Duh.”

pit bull–type breed

puns in headings

No puns in post titles or subheads, please. Keep headings serious and to the point. Each subhead should serve as a little title that guides the reader into that section of text. Fact: Many readers scan only the headings — so this is no time for puns. Be direct and to the point.

questions in article titles

It’s fine to ask a question in a title, but don’t ever ask a yes/no question in a title. So we would not have an article titled “Does Your Dog Eat Grass?”

If you do ask a question — such as “Why Do Dogs Eat Grass?” — then give the answer in your first paragraph. Do not bury the answer at the end or in the middle. This guidance goes for any article, really: The most important info should appear at the top of the article.

Rainbow Bridge

Let’s capitalize it this way.


No hyphen.


Lowercase and do not italicize.

search and rescue dogs

No hyphens.


Refrain from using semicolons. Just go with 2 sentences instead.


One word.

special needs pet

No hyphen with “special needs,” even when it’s a compound adjective.

state names

Spell out names of states. Place a comma between the city and the state name, and another comma after the state name: Lake City, South Carolina, is where Dave from Petful grew up.

sufferers and victims

People with illnesses should not be called sufferers.


  • Cancer victims
  • PTSD sufferers
  • People battling a disease
  • Someone fighting cancer
  • People struggling with an illness
  • He was wheelchair bound / confined to a wheelchair
  • She is handicapped / crippled / deformed


  • She was diagnosed with cancer
  • Her child is on the autism spectrum
  • People with cancer
  • He is living with PTSD
  • He uses a wheelchair
  • She is disabled / people with disabilities


Do not use them. Correct: 14th. Incorrect: 14th.


This is our preferred spelling, not “titre.”

titles (jobs)

Lowercase a job title if it comes after a person’s name (John Smith, vice president). If the job title is before the name, it is capped: (Vice President John Smith).

titles (published works)

Book, movie, album and television titles are italicized. Short stories, songs and television episodes are in quotation marks.

  • Air Bud 2 haunted me for weeks after I saw it.
  • The story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is found in the book A Good Man Is Hard to Find.
  • “Strawberry Fields Forever” is the best song on Magical Mystery Tour.
  • My favorite episode of The Walking Dead is “The Grove.”

veterinarian, vet

Use the full word “veterinarian” on first reference; after that you can just say “vet.”


The “X” is always capitalized.