Did you wish for a lap cat but adopt one that doesn’t happen to feel very sociable toward people? Did you want a laid back pet but find yourself living with a cat who is more aggressive than you would have preferred, or perhaps exhibits stress through excessive grooming and litterbox issues such as inappropriate elimination? Did you bring in a second cat to befriend one who was already there, only to find that the new cat isn’t into other felines?
More than 30 million households in the U.S. have cats, yet the fit between people’s personalities and those of their cats is not always entirely comfortable. Researchers at the University of Helsinki are at the beginning of improving the odds that the right cat will end up with the right people by identifying distinct personality/behavior traits in felines.
They asked the owners of more than 4,000 cats to respond to 138 prompts to help identify clear-cut personality traits. Survey respondents had to check off answers ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.”
In the end, seven clear-cut personality/behavior traits were identified:
- Aggression toward humans
- Sociability toward humans
- Litterbox issues (relieving themselves in inappropriate places, precision issues in terms of litterbox cleanliness)
- Excessive grooming
(The last two could indicate a cat who is prone to feeling stressed.)
Improving adoption compatibility
The researchers identified which cats are most prone to have certain personality traits depending on their breed. Of course, that’s not very helpful to people choosing a cat from, say, a shelter. Most cats are a mix of breeds, and most shelters — and cat owners — don’t know their cat’s breed makeup. So how can this new information help? The research codifies the things that need to be considered to assess a cat’s personality, whether it is a purebred cat or an alley cat.
More investigation is needed, the scientists say, but this is a solid start. In the future, it should become more possible to pair, say, people who want to play with their pets with cats who particularly enjoy the environmental enrichment of games and training. Likewise, cats identified as fearful may perhaps be paired with people who enjoy what the researchers call a “peaceful lifestyle” and would also be willing to provide ample hiding places and escape hatches for their not-so-bold pets.
We are glad for this step forward. Matching a dog with the right household is an effort made routinely. It is time for that consideration to be extended to cats, both for the improvement of feline welfare and the improved satisfaction of cat “parents.”