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Feature October 2016 Issue

Adopting the Right Cat for You

Felines that some people may consider undesirable can be perfect pets for others. Here's how to look for temperament cues during the adoption process.

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A patient and interactive pet — one who enjoys being in the mix of a variety of activities — is ideally suited for a family with children.

Choosing the right cat or kitten to adopt is obviously an important decision. Therefore, it is critical to choose a cat that suits your lifestyle and personality. Some people prefer living with a gregarious and playful cat, whereas others find the company of a placid, laid-back feline more enjoyable. Learning more about the various feline personality types — and how they develop — can help make it easier to find a cat that will bring a lot of joy into your home.

It makes no difference if you are looking for a purebred or a mixed breed cat. Just like humans, every cat possesses a unique personality. Even if cats were born in the same litter, their temperaments and dispositions can still be quite different. With the wide variety of feline personality types, it is helpful to ask yourself what characteristics in a cat you require. “It takes two to tango. In choosing a cat, you are part of the equation,” says Nicholas H. Dodman, BVMS DACVB, former Director of the Animal Behavior Clinic Director at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

Some cats have mellow dispositions, while others are high-strung. Some are courageous and confident, whereas others are just plain scaredy-cats. Certain breeds tend to be “chatty,” while others are quiet; there are cats who are fiercely independent, while some seem to be made of Velcro.

Classifying personalities
According to Dr. Dodman, “Cat personality types can be put into three different basic classifications; alert, sociable and equable.” Alert cats are confident, active and curious. Sociable defines the range of temperamental characteristics that revolve around the cat’s ability to get along with other cats or people. At one end of the scale, sociable cats are extroverted and outgoing. They are compatible with other cats and enjoy human companionship.

However, at the other end of the sociability scale, these cats can be anti-social loners. Equable cats are even-tempered and can remain stoic even when faced with difficult situations. On the other end of the equable scale, however, are the cats that suddenly fly off the handle for no apparent reason.

While genetics play a significant role in a cat’s personality, there are other important factors that contribute to the feline temperament. Dr. Dodman explains that one of the main reasons for these distinctive personality types is what takes place (or doesn’t take place) during the cat’s critical bonding period. This sensitive developmental phase occurs between two to seven weeks of age.

Socialization of kittens
Kittens who are frequently handled by a variety people, and who are exposed to other species and situations, tend to be more companionable, less afraid of humans and other animals than kittens who have been deprived of these critical socialization events.

If a lovable lap cat is what you are looking for, Dr. Dodman suggests that adopting an adult cat — whose personality is more likely, “What you see is what you get” — may be an ideal solution. Adult cats are generally calmer, and less pernicious. However, Dr. Dodman recommends that no matter what type of feline temperament that you are seeking, if you will be adopting a cat from an animal shelter, it is wise to ask the shelter staff about any pertinent information they may have about the cat’s background.

Because the history of some cats surrendered to shelters is generally unknown, you can inquire about the staffs’ interactions with the cat. Is the cat’s personality stable? Is the cat friendly and outgoing? Is the cat easy to handle? Does the cat have any medical issues about which to be concerned?

You can facilitate your decision about whether or not to adopt a specific feline companion by spending time interacting with the cat. Some shelters will allow adopters to spend some supervised time with a potential adoptee. Take advantage of this opportunity and observe how this particular cat behaves and interacts with you. However, some cats are wary of strangers, so their true personality may not shine through immediately.

Since purebred cats are famous for having distinct personality traits, predicting a kitten or cat’s behavior may be a bit easier if you purchase or adopt from a reputable breeder. For example: Siamese and Oriental Shorthair cats can be “overly” talkative and demanding of attention, while Persians and Scottish Folds tend to be sweet and gentle by nature. If you are planning to purchase a purebred cat or kitten, be sure to ask the breeder if their kittens or cats have been handled extensively, are accustomed to being around people, children, visitors and are comfortable with other animals.

Seeking out a pure breed rescue group can be an option, too, if you’d rather adopt a pet in need of a home. When assessing a cat’s personality, you cannot judge a book by its cover. Cats respond in a variety of ways in different situations. For example: During a veterinary visit a fearful cat may “freeze,” appearing to be well behaved, while others become fractious and are difficult to handle.

With patience, compassion and understanding, a cat who has what some consider to be an “undesirable” disposition has the potential to slowly transform into one with a more trusting and predictable nature, stresses Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM, Clinical Instructor in the Department of Clinical Sciences at Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

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If you’re looking for a companionable, affectionate type of pet, it might be best to find an adult cat who already demonstrates those specific qualities.

Cats like a routine
Since cats require predictable routine, Dr. Borns-Weil advises that daily scheduled activities can promote bonding, affection and trust. As extremely intelligent animals, cats thrive on both physical and mental stimulation. As predatory animals, they flourish on activities that exercise that nature. To help accelerate the bonding process, Dr. Borns-Weil recommends playing interactively with the cat several times a day with feather toys attached to a wand. Bored cats generally can get into all kinds of destructive mischief. To help prevent this undesirable behavior, she suggests using puzzle toys filled with kibble, which can occupy cats for hours.

Dr. Borns-Weil cautions that cats who didn’t benefit from the critical bonding period with humans may not readily accept human touch. They may coexist with their guardians, but may have difficulty interacting with them. These cats may take up to six months to settle comfortably into their new home and they may ultimately prefer feline companionship.

While this particular feline personality type may be unsatisfying for some people, there are potential cat owners who do not require a great deal of interaction with their pet or who have busy schedules — so these more aloof cats may just be the ideal feline companion.

But no matter what feline personality type most appeals to you, the American musician and songwriter Paul Gray wrote, “One must love a cat on its own terms.” This holds the secret to building a successful, meaningful and trusting relationship with a feline companion. — Jo Singer

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