Cats have 7 types of personalities, say researchers

Cats, according to practitioners and researchers, have an elevated risk of problematic behaviors–the most common behavioral challenges being aggression and refusal to use a litter box–that can lead their humans to surrender them to animal control shelters or just open the back door and set them free. For this reason researchers have been interested in studying the personality and behavioral tendencies of cats to determine how to best lower the risk of household pets being abandoned.  To this end a group of researchers developed a new comprehensive questionnaire for surveying feline personality and behavior. Researchers tested their cat personality and behavior survey tool against a data-set of more than 4,300 cats representing 26 breed groups. The findings revealed seven personality and behavior traits, with significant differences observed between breeds. 

Study overview

Cat personality and behavior were assessed through cat owners who were surveyed with a total of 138 statements. The questionnaire included comprehensive sections on background and health-related information. Using factor analysis to process the data, seven personality and behavior traits in all were identified:

  • Activity/playfulness
  • Fearfulness
  • Aggression towards humans
  • Sociability towards humans
  • Sociability towards cats
  • Litter box issues (relieving themselves in inappropriate places, precision in terms of litter box cleanliness and substrate material)
  • Excessive grooming

“While the number of traits identified in prior research varies, activity/playfulness, fearfulness and aggression are the ones from among the traits identified in our study which occur the most often in prior studies. Litter box issues and excessive grooming are not personality traits as such, but they can indicate something about the cat’s sensitivity to stress.”

– Salla Mikkola , doctoral researcher, the University of Helsinki and the Folkhälsan Research Center

Personality/Behavioral Traits Vary Between Breeds

The researchers discovered that certain personality and behavior traits are more common among certain cat breeds.

“The most fearful breed was the Russian Blue, while the Abyssinian was the least fearful. The Bengal was the most active breed, while the Persian and Exotic were the most passive. The breeds exhibiting the most excessive grooming were the Siamese and Balinese, while the Turkish Van breed scored considerably higher in aggression towards humans and lower in sociability towards cats.”

-Professor Hannes Lohi, University of Helsinki and the Folkhälsan Research Center

What’s Next

The researchers hope their tool will make it possible for professionals to identify genetic, environmental and personality factors relating to problematic feline behavior.

For more interesting research findings on cat personality and behavior see our recent post:

photography of two cats

Cats do not want to sing for their supper: Study

Perhaps not so surprising for humans who live with cats, the results of a new scientific study reveal that when given the choice between a free meal and performing a task for a meal, cats would prefer the meal that does not require much effort. In other words, the study found that cats would rather eat from a tray of easily available food rather than work out a simple puzzle to get their food. This fact does come as a surprise to animal behavior scientists because most animals prefer to work for their food — a behavior called “contrafreeloading”…

Journal Reference: Salla Mikkola, Milla Salonen, Emma Hakanen, Sini Sulkama, Hannes Lohi. Reliability and Validity of Seven Feline Behavior and Personality Traits. Animals, 2021; 11 (7): 1991 DOI: 10.3390/ani11071991