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Which of these cat characteristics best describes your fur baby?

Cat characteristics: Images of six different cats
(Image credit: University of Helsinki)

With cats being the most popular pet of choice in the world, and yet often the least understood by their owners, the need for research into helping us relate to our fur babies and identify if anything is wrong is much needed. To answer the call, the University of Helsinki has carried out a study to try to work out common feline personality and behavior traits to help pet parents decipher how their fur babies are feeling. 

The research group provided 4,300 kitty owners, who owned 26 different cat breed groups, a carefully constructed questionnaire on their furry friend's behavior. By collating and comparing the answers they identified 7 personality and behavior traits that could help nip potential personality problems in the bud. The research team were also able to identify common personality differences between breeds 

Researcher Salla Mikkola from the University of Helsinki explains “Compared to dogs, less is known about the behavior and personality of cats, and there is demand for identifying related problems and risk factors. We need more understanding and tools to weed out problematic behavior and improve cat welfare. The most common behavioral challenges associated with cats relate to aggression and inappropriate elimination.”

According to the study, the full list of feline personality traits and behaviors they identified are:

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

Salla says, “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. Litterbox issues and excessive grooming are not personality traits as such, but they can indicate something about the cat’s sensitivity to stress."

Personality differences between different breeds

The questionnaire also highlighted that different cat breeds have quite distinct personality types and show different behaviors which may signify stress. 

Professor Hannes Lohi explains, “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. We had already observed the same phenomenon in a prior study.” 

Although this was just a preliminary study, the University hopes that they can build on this research to identify genetic, environmental and personality factors relating to problematic feline behavior. Just imagine, soon we may even know what those inscrutable felines are actually feeling!

Jamie Middleton

Jamie Middleton is a freelance editor and writer - or at least he is when he is permitted to by his cat Pirate, who enjoys the warmth of laptops too much to allow being creative to get in the way.