Feline behavior can be a puzzling thing, even for long-time cat owners. If you’ve ever used the word “neurotic” to describe your cat, you’re not alone. What’s behind some of the quirky behaviors of our pet cats, and do they share these qualities with cats in the wild? A recent study published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology offers some interesting answers!
Researchers studied the personalities of 100 domestic cats and dozens of wild felines living in captivity in various zoos. The wild cats studied were the clouded and snow leopards, the Scottish wildcat, and the African lion. All of the cats were evaluated with a 45-question personality survey.
It turns out that both our housecats and all of the wild cats share three personality traits: neuroticism, impulsiveness, and dominance. How do these personality traits manifest themselves in feline behavior? Neuroticism includes fear of humans, suspiciousness, and insecurity. Impulsive cats were likely to be erratic, impulsive, and excitable. Dominance manifested itself as aggressiveness, jealousy, and “bullying” of members of the same species.
What does all of this mean for cat owners scratching their heads over their kitty’s “weird” behavior? The researchers note that for the wild cats living in zoos, their captive status could very well be contributing to their behaviors. They argue that if we think of our domestic cats as little house lions, we can gain a greater understanding of how they tick, too.
Since cats in the wild live a predatory (and often solitary) way of life, we can take steps to enrich the environment and care for the emotional health of our pet cats (and also shelter cats). This includes providing cats with stimulation such as food-dispensing puzzle-feeder toys, and play sessions that involve interactive toys like fishing pole-style wands and objects like fuzzy mice and ping pong balls (placed in boxes or bags for added stimulus).
Cats also like vertical spaces, which help them feel safe and secure. Things like cat trees, shelves and kitty walkways, and even window perches (with a view of the action outside) can do the trick. Don’t forget to also provide them with safe hideouts like boxes and covered beds to help them feel cozy and secure. And of course, encourage their natural scratching behavior with scratching posts covered in rough material like sisal.