There are many things that we humans are not reasonable about. Sometimes it’s hard to keep my lips sealed and my eyebrows from lifting in amazement when I hear strong statements, usually following introductory words of “I love” or “I hate.”
It’s great to be passionate, but I also think it’s better to step gently when voicing these passions. If we’re a little quieter and slower with words then maybe we could get along better.
Take for example Dora, my red devil dog. We always have wonderful conversations. She’ll sit and inquisitively stare at me as I talk (when I can tear her away from squirrels and possums outdoors). When my voice changes in inflection, an ear will twitch, and the tail begins to sweep. She’s agreeing with me! She eagerly twirls in circles when I offer a walk. Never does she demur with one excuse or another. What an extraordinary friend. No extreme opinions, and she happily follows my lead.
Tell me, does this happen with a cat?
Absolutely! I admit that it has taken me a few decades to understand this creature. They’re cool, but different – really, really, different from dogs.
I cringe when I hear people say “I hate cats” – a strong, unreasonable opinion said with little understanding. They’re predators. They believe they are big, bad hunters, so they enjoy living alone. They hide when danger is near and slash out with nails or teeth when confronted. Quiet, rarely demonstrative, they lead serious lives.
They have provided companionship to us for thousands of years, but little is known about their “real” personality. Most behavioral studies on the typical domestic cat have been conducted in laboratories, at shelters or in feral cat colonies. It’s also been focused on stress-related behavioral problems rather than normal behavior in psychologically healthy cats. Until now.
“The Feline Five” (sounds like a great movie!) is a hugely interesting study published in 2017 by the online journal PLOS by researchers in South Australia and New Zealand. Fifty-two questions about cat personalities were answered by approximately 2,300 cat owners who collectively owned 2,800 cats.
The five main personality factors in pet cats were identified as:
• Impulsiveness: Erratic and reckless behavior.
• Dominance: Bullying, jealousy, aggression toward other cats.
• Agreeableness: Affectionate, gentle, friendly towards people.
• Extraversion: Vigilance, inquisitiveness, inventiveness, playfulness, intelligent.
• Neuroticism: Insecure, anxious, fearful of people, suspicious, shy.
What is your cat’s personality? Understanding this will help you keep him happy and healthy. It also helps us at the clinic when we see him.
For example, a high neuroticism score is an anxious, shy cat. He hides from your guests under the bed when they visit. He hates being put in a carrier and screams the entire way to the clinic. Ask us about pheromone sprays and plug-ins for your house. Use a carrier with an opening at the top so reaching in for your cat is easy. At the clinic, we’ll use a box that he can hide in while doing his examination.
A high dominance score is a bully cat and aggressive towards others. It will be hard to introduce another cat to your household. Playing with him will tire him out so he’ll behave better. Using squirt guns or noise to startle can break him of stalking and attacking. He’ll need anti-anxiety medicine (given at home) or sedation so we can complete our tasks at the clinic.
These are pictures of Martin, a ginger cat that we saved and was our clinic mascot cat for years – until he told us he was unhappy by secretly peeing in various locations at the clinic. Now he lives with Lynn and is living life large.
Can you tell he’s over the top with agreeableness and extraversion? He has a happy “whiskers up” face. He’s exploring and playing with the box. How can you not love this cat? This is the cat we all hope to have!
Come to think of it, would it be so bad to share some of these cat characteristics? To be affectionate, gentle, inventive, playful and intelligent? Oh yes, we can learn so much from our pets!