Through an online questionnaire based on approximately 140 questions and statements, a Finnish research team led by scientists from the University of Helsinki identified the 7 personality and behavioral traits of cats. Here are the most aggressive breeds with humans, the most fearful and the most “problematic” with the litter.
Credit: Milla Salonen / Heikki Siltala / University of Helsinki
Cat owners are well aware that their cats have a well-defined personality, often very different from cat to cat. Despite this, as veterinarian Salla Mikkola of the University of Helsinki points out, much less is known about the personality and behavior of cats than about dogs, and this can present a problem in the management of certain problematic situations. Some cats are indeed aggressive towards humans, others are aggressive towards other cats, while still others urinate and defecate all over the house but not in the litter box. Better understanding our four-legged friends is therefore essential to improve theirs and our well-being. To do this, a group of scientists developed an in-depth questionnaire and involved thousands of cat owners, concluding that cats have seven distinctive personality and behavioral traits, with significant differences between breeds.
The study was led by a Finnish research team led by scientists from the Department of Veterinary Biosciences at the University of Helsinki, who worked closely with colleagues from the Department of Medical and Clinical Genetics and the Folkhälsan Research Center. Scientists, coordinated by Professors Salla Mikkola and Hannes Lohi, to study the behavior and personality of cats have developed an ad hoc questionnaire based on 138 separate statements and questions. Among them, data was needed on age, sex, breed, coat color, behavior with other cats and with people, favorite daily activities, etc. The questionnaire was posted on a website (Petsofi) to reach as many owners as possible. Moreover, the study authors preferred this approach (albeit with its great limitations) over behavioral investigations in the laboratory, because cats can behave very differently from their “natural environment”.
Among the thousands of data entered by the participants, those of 4,316 cats were deemed suitable for analysis (after discarding the questionnaires with incomplete information). The researchers asked the owners to complete the questionnaire a second time after a certain time interval, or to have it completed by another family member. It’s about having the most accurate set of data possible. Based on statistical analyses, Finnish scientists were able to identify five distinctive personality traits and two behavioral traits of cats. These were: activity/playfulness; fear; aggression towards humans; sociability towards humans; sociability towards cats; problems with the litter box (not using it or abusing it); excessive grooming. “Issues with litter and excessive grooming are not personality traits as such, but they can indicate something about a cat’s susceptibility to stress,” Professor Mikkola said in a press release.
From the cross-referencing of all the information gathered, as expected, the researchers identified some distinctive characteristics of the different breeds, some being more aggressive, playful and/or fearful than others. “The most fearsome breed was the Russian Blue, while the Abyssinian was the least fearful,” Prof Lohi said.
“The Bengal was the most active breed, while the Persian and the Exotic were the most passive. The breeds that showed the most excessive grooming were Siamese and Balinese, while the Turkish Van breed scored significantly higher in aggression towards humans and sociability towards cats,” the expert added. .
“We wanted to get a rough idea of the differences in personality traits between races. In further studies, we will use more complex models to examine the factors that influence traits and problematic behavior. In these models, we will consider, in addition to the breed, the age, the sex, the health of the cat and a wide range of environmental factors,” Professor Mikkola concluded. Details of the research “Reliability and Validity of Seven Feline Behavioral and Personality Traits” have been published in the scientific journal Animals.