A team of scientists at the University of Helsinki has studied cat personality and behavior by collecting a large dataset of 4,316 cats from 56 different breeds, house cats and mixed breed cats, with online questionnaires.
Mikkola et al. examined the structure, test-retest reliability, inter-rater reliability, convergent validity and discriminant validity of a feline behavior and personality questionnaire and briefly examined the breed differences in personality and behavior. Image credit: Jan Mallander.
Cats have personalities, just like humans and other animals, with stable behavior differences between individuals.
Identification of a cat’s personality type is important as cats with different personalities have different environmental needs to reach a good life quality.
For example, active individuals may need more enrichment, such as playing, than less active individuals, and fearful cats may benefit from extra hiding places and owners’ peaceful lifestyle.
Cat behavior and personality have been studied with different approaches, for example, with owner-completed questionnaires.
The majority of these studies, however, lack a sufficient validation and reliability assessment of the questionnaires used.
“Compared to dogs, less is known about the behavior and personality of cats, and there is demand for identifying related problems and risk factors,” said first author Salla Mikkola, a doctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki and the Folkhälsan Research Center.
“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.”
In a questionnaire designed by the team, personality and behavior were surveyed through a total of 138 statements.
The questionnaire included five personality and two problematic behavior-related factors: activity/playfulness, fearfulness, aggression towards humans, sociability towards humans, sociability towards cats, litterbox issues, and 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,” Mikkola said.
“Litterbox issues and excessive grooming are not personality traits as such, but they can indicate something about the cat’s sensitivity to stress.”
“In addition to individuals, clear personality differences can be found between breeds. In other words, 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,” said senior author Professor Hannes Lohi, also from the University of Helsinki and the Folkhälsan Research Center.
“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.”
The team’s results appear in the journal Animals.
Salla Mikkola et al. 2021. Reliability and Validity of Seven Feline Behavior and Personality Traits. Animals 11 (7): 1991; doi: 10.3390/ani11071991