FloridaWild Vet Hospital

Why cats some consider undesirable may make perfect pets for others.

Picking out a perfect cat to adopt can be similar to finding a needle in a haystack.  Therefore it is critical to choose a cat who more fully suits your life-style and personality. Some people prefer living with an out-going gregarious cat and there are those who find the company of a placid, laid-back feline more enjoyable.  Learning more about the various feline personality types and how they develop can make it easier to locate a cat that will give you years of pleasure and joy.

It makes no difference if you are looking for a purebreed or a mixed breed cat. Just like humans every cat has a different and unique personality. Even if cats were born in the same litter their temperaments and dispositions will likely be quite different. With the wide variety of feline personality types, it is helpful to ask yourself what characteristics in a cat you require. Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman, BVMS DACVB, former Director of the Animal Behavior Clinic Director at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University emphasizes that “It takes two to tango.  In choosing a cat, you are part of the equation.”

Some cats have mellow dispositions, while others are high-strung.  Some are courageous and confident while others are just plain scaredy-cats. Certain breeds tend to be “chatty” while others are quiet; and certain cats who are fiercely independent, while some are made of Velcro.

According to Dr. Dodman, “Cat personality types can be put into three different basic classifications; Alert, Sociable and Equable.”  Alert cats are confident, active and curious.  Sociable defines the range of temperamental characteristics that revolve around the cat’s ability to get along with other cats or people. At one end of the scale sociable cats are extroverted and outgoing. They are compatible with other cats and enjoy human companionship. However, at the other end of the sociability scale these cats can be anti-social loners.  Equable cats are even-tempered and can remain stoic even faced with difficult situations.  On the other end of the equable scale however, for no apparent reason they can suddenly fly off the handle.

While genetics play a significant role in a cat’s personality, what are some of the other factors that contribute to the feline temperament?  Dr. Dodman explains that one of the main reasons for these distinctive personality types is the cat’s critical bonding period. This sensitive developmental phase occurs between two to seven weeks of age. Kittens who are frequently handled by a variety people and who are exposed to other species and situations tend to be more companionable, less afraid of humans and other animals than kittens who have been deprived of these critical socialization events.

If a lovable lap cat is what you are looking for, Dr. Dodman suggest that adopting an adult cat whose personality is “What you see is what you get” may be a solution. Adult cats are generally calmer, and less pernicious.  However, Dr. Dodman recommends that no matter what type of feline temperament that you are seeking, if you will be adopting a cat from an animal shelter it is wise to ask the shelter staff about any pertinent information they may have about the cat’s background.

Since the history of some cats surrendered to shelters is generally unknown, inquire about the staffs’ interactions with the cat.  Is the cat’s personality stable? Is the cat friendly and outgoing? Is the cat easy to handle?  Does the cat have any medical issues about which to be concerned?

You can facilitate your decision about whether or not to adopt a specific feline companion by having time to interact with the cat.  Some shelters will allow adopters to spend some supervised time with a potential adoptee. Take advantage of this opportunity and observe how this cat behaves and interacts with you. However, some cats are wary of strangers so their true personality may not shine through immediately.

Since purebreed cats are famous for having distinct personality traits, predicting a kitten or cat’s behavior may be easier if you purchase or adopt from a reputable breeder.  For example: Siamese and Oriental Shorthair cats can be “overly” talkative and demanding of attention, while Persians and Scottish Folds are sweet and gentle by nature.

But just because a particular breed is known for certain personalities, this doesn’t mean that every cat or kitten of that breed will exhibit these traits.  A lot depends on what the kittens have experienced in that sensitive first two to seven weeks. If you are planning to purchase a purebreed cat or kitten ask the breeder if their kittens or cats have been handled extensively, are accustomed to being around people, children, visitors, and are comfortable with other animals.

When assessing a cat’s personality, you cannot judge a book by its cover.  Cats respond in a variety of ways in different situations. For example: During a veterinary visit a fearful cat may “freeze”, appearing to be well behaved; while others become fractious and are difficult to handle.

According to Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM, Clinical Instructor, Department of Clinical Sciences, Animal Behavior Clinic, Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, with patience, compassion and understanding even a cat who has what is considered an “undesirable” disposition has the potential to be slowly transformed into one with  a more trusting and predictable nature.

Since cats require predictable routine, daily scheduled activities can promote bonding and trust. As extremely intelligent animals, cats thrive on both physical and mental stimulation. As predatory animals they flourish on games that exercise their predative nature. Interactive play several times a day using feathers on a string may accelerate the bonding process. To prevent feline boredom, puzzle toys filled with kibble will keep most cats occupied for hours. Games and routine facilitate trust and affection.

However, cats that lacked the critical bonding period with humans may not readily accept human touch. They may coexist with their guardians but will have difficulty interacting with them. These cats may take up to six months to settle more comfortably into new home and may prefer feline companionship. While some people desire friendly, outgoing cats,  on the other hand, these cats can make the ideal feline companion for people who do not require a great deal of interchange with their pet.

No matter what feline personality type is appealing, the proclamation written by Paul Gray, the noted American musician and songwriter, “One must love a cat on its own terms”, gives us insight into the most important lesson in  having a successful and meaningful relationship with a cat.

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