It’s long been suggested that people look like their dogs, but when it comes to cats, it seems to be more the case that humans and felines can share similar personality types, according to new research. So, if you have a grumpy Tabby cat, a super friendly Ragdoll cat, or fiendishly feisty Bengal cat, could this actually say more about you than your pet?
A study into cat personality, carried out by the University of Lincoln and Nottingham Trent University, investigated the relationship between the different personalities of cat owners and the behaviour and wellbeing of their feline friends. The findings suggest that, just as a parent’s personality can affect the personality of a child, the same may be true for a cat and their human guardian.
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WHEN IT COMES TO COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR CAT, THE EYES HAVE IT ‘How can I communicate with my cat?’ is a question asked by every feline guardian at some point. Well, when it comes to the mysterious task of understanding cat language, focusing on one of a feline’s most appealing features – their captivatingly beautiful eyes – could be the key.
Feline expert Dr Lauren Finka says: “Many owners consider their pets as a family member, forming close social bonds with them. It’s therefore no wonder our pets could be affected by the way we interact with and manage them, and that both these factors are in turn influenced by our personality differences.”
The research involved surveying more than 3,000 cat owners. As part of the study, the researchers asked questions about owners’ personalities, as well as their cat’s behaviour, health and lifestyle. The results showed similar findings to previous research conducted on parent-child relationships.
The link between human personality and feline wellbeing
For example, human personality studies have shown that the personality trait of ‘neuroticism’ (where someone has a greater disposition to experience negative feelings such as anxiety, self‐consciousness and irritability) is strongly linked with negative outcomes for a child. The study found that owners who scored higher on the neuroticism scale were more likely to report their cats as having ‘behavioural problems’, displaying more aggressive and anxious/fearful behavioural styles, as well as having an ongoing medical conditions and being overweight.
At the other end of the scale, those owners who scored highly in the personality trait of ‘conscientiousness’ (where someone shows characteristics of being responsible, organised, hard-working and goal-oriented), were associated with cats who displayed less anxious and aggressive behavioural styles.
The research concluded that owners’ personality traits may be integral to the wellbeing of their pets. Dr Finka adds: “The majority of owners want to provide the best care for their cats, and these results highlight how influential our own personality can be on the wellbeing of our pets.”
The law of attraction – like attracts like
This latest research echoes the findings of a previous study, which suggests that cat owners are more likely to adopt cats who have similar personalities to their own. For this research, participants completed a series of questionnaires that assessed their own personality, their cat’s personality and their overall satisfaction with their cat.
According to the study: “Dominant cats are greedy, defiant, and aggressive and bullying towards people/other cats, which could be attractive to potential owners who have similar tendencies in their own social interactions.” Further findings included: “Impulsive cats are excitable and erratic, which could be pleasing to impulsive owners.” However, the researchers conceded that: “One limitation of the study was that both the personality of the owner and the cat was assessed by the owner, so it is possible that the owner perceives their cat’s personality to be similar to theirs, even when it’s not.”
A deeper understanding?
Another explanation is that humans just don’t understand cats that well. Cats Protection advises: “Cats will display a behavioural range that is natural to being a cat. This comes from their relatively recent domestication from a solitary hunter. The underlying reasons behind a cat’s behaviour are always influenced by the cat’s emotional state. Despite being emotional animals, they lack some of the emotions specific to humans, which can lead to misunderstandings.”
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This observation is echoed by feline welfare charity International Cat Care, which states: “The domestic cat is a complex creature and unfortunately, problems can arise for cats because sometimes we do not understand their natural drives and reactions”
So what can cat guardians do to ensure they’re having a positive impact on their favourite feline’s wellbeing? International Cat Care advises developing a deeper appreciation of what makes cats feel safe and secure: “Understanding what kind of environment they prefer to occupy, their social structure, feeding patterns and even toilet habits can influence decisions made about their care that have a significant benefit to their quality of life. Like all mammals, cats are fast learners and their emotions and behaviour can change very quickly. Routine and predictability in a cat’s life reduces stress and improves the cat’s quality of life.”
Want to become an expert cat guardian?
We’ve lots of top tips and expert advice that will help you understand your cat a little better, which will be incredibly rewarding for both of you. Here are a few feline-focused reads to get you started…
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- DOES YOUR CAT RECOGNISE YOUR HAPPY FACE? Are cats simply self-absorbed creatures whose relationship with their human is primarily based around the dishing up of cat food? Or, as new research suggests, is there a high level of emotional intelligence going on behind those fabulously enigmatic feline eyes?
- READ MY BODY LANGUAGE As well as meowing at you when they want something, your cat speaks to you with their whole body. Can you tell if they’re contended, anxious, intrigued, playful, scared or defensive? Pay close attention to your cat’s eyes, ears, body and tail and you’ll see that they’re all telling the story of how your favourite feline is feeling.
- CAT CHAT While cats use a range of vocalisations such as yowling, hissing and growling to communicate with each other, meowing isn’t one of them. This is a behaviour they’ve adopted just for humans. But what are they trying to tell us?
- A TRICK OF THE TAIL Along with eyes and ears, a cat’s tail can be the key to understanding what they’re thinking. You just need to learn what cat tail language means. If you make the effort to understand what the tail is telling you, it will be greatly appreciated by your feline friend.
- THE CURIOUS TALE OF THE CAT IN THE NIGHT Cats are known for their love of napping, but when they’re not snoozing, they can be extremely active. If your cat has decided that the wee small hours are the perfect time to play, what can you do?
- GOT A CAT QUESTION? ‘Why does my cat lick me?’, ‘Why does my cat bite me?’, ‘Why does my cat stare at me?” or want to know ‘What’s a female cat called?’ or ‘How long is a cat pregnant for?’. Whatever your cat-related questions, we’ve some interesting and informative answers – and you may see your favourite feline in a whole new light…
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- Dr Lauren Finka, postdoctoral researcher in animal welfare in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, worked on the research while studying at Lincoln and co-authored the study with Professor Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine at the University of Lincoln. The full paper, titled Owner personality and the wellbeing of their cats share parallels with the parent-child relationship,” is published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE
- The purrfect match: The influence of personality on owner satisfaction with their domestic cat (Felis silvestris catus) by Rebecca Evans, Minna Lyons, Gayle Brewer and Sonia A Tucci, University of Liverpool