by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Personality is defined as the combination of characteristics or quality that form an individual’s distinctive character. While this definition is the same for cats, felines are complex and very adaptable, so can assume different personalities at the flick of a whisker!
Kittens inherit their core personality from their parents; studies have indicated that personality comes from mother and friendliness from father. Early signs of personality begins to show at about 4 weeks of age; most obviously the divide between outgoing, dominant and submissive kittens.
Mother cat has the biggest early influence on her kittens; they learn from her behaviour and care of them. Siblings learn from and teach each other. During this time they learn to hunt, fight, and defend themselves, patience, and how to deal with adversity when they don’t get what they want. Socialisation between the ages of 7 to 12 weeks determines the relationship with people. All of these lessons help to develop their personality.
Other factors that influence their personalities are their life experiences and environment. Good experiences and a safe and happy home environment contribute towards a confident and loving cat, while bad experiences will cause them to be cautious.
Purebred cats have general breed traits in their personalities; that is what makes them a member of that specific breed. Even so, each cat is an individual, and does not always conform to the ‘rules’ of the breed. Siamese are known for their intelligence, active and vocal natures, while Maine Coons are typically the ‘gentle giants’ of the cat world, relaxed, friendly, playful. Domestic cats, those of no specific breed, do not have a breed profile; their personality is dependent on the other factors.
Gender and sterilisation also have an influence. Intact cats are busy with the life of being a cat and reproducing, and therefore typically not as friendly or social as those that have been sterilised. Once sterilised, cats of both genders tend to be more home-bound, and show their friendly side. I am not aware of any research on the possible influence of early sterilisation on cats’ personalities.
Fur colour is related to the genetic makeup of the parent, and therefore does have some influence on personality, although there are many conflicting ideas. Grey and black tabbies, and black cats, are considered closest genetically to their wild ancestors, and have typically outgoing, strong personalities. Ginger females and tortoiseshell cats have the potential to be assertive, sometimes bordering on aggression, while lighter coloured cats, blue, cream and lilac, are considered curious and fun-loving. Cats with coloured points should be affectionate and vocal, while white cats can be timid and retiring.
Feline personalities have roughly been divided into 5 groups, although cats can exhibit traits from each group in varying proportions under different circumstances.
- Outgoing extroverts, those that put 100% into all activities; playing, socialising, eating, sleeping.
- Friendly socialites, the agreeable cats who love to have human company.
- Curious cats, that need to investigate and understand everything.
- Dominant cats, those that prefer to live alone without interference.
- Sensitive cats, who prefer safety to socialising, happy to hide until it’s all over, often good with other cats.
While cats are not naturally social, they have adapted to living with us in the un-natural environments that we provide. Any incident, noise, movement, person or other animal can trigger a change in personality. Cats in shelter or rescue environments often don’t show their true personality until they feel safe and secure in their adopted homes.
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