Research has shown that it may be possible to classify cat "personalities" similar to the classifications for dogs. One such study identified cats that were shy, timid or fearful and those that were confident. The timid cats took significantly longer to approach persons and be held by them. Another study identified cats that were "shy" and those that were "trusting". That research noted that trusting cats were trusting regardless of where they encountered people, while shy cats were more fearful the further they were from home.
Based on these and other studies there are two common personality types:
- sociable, confident and easy going;
- timid, shy and unfriendly
Some other research has indicated an active aggressive type as well. What influences the development of personality type? Not surprisingly studies have confirmed that not only is personality inherited from the mother, but also that friendliness specifically is, in part, inherited from the father.
Are cats a social species?
Although they are fairly independent and can do well on their own, cats are quite social. Although feline social behaviour has not been as extensively studied as for dogs, domestic cats are much more social than has been traditionally reported. Colonies of feral (wild) cats will be found in areas where food is abundant and shared, such as barns, dumpsites or around fishing ports. The cats in the group will allogroom (lick each other) and allomark (rub on each other) one another. They will share the raising of kittens, fostering others from different litters.
Cats that receive insufficient exposure and contact with people, other animals and new environments during their first two months may develop irreversible fears, leading to timidity or aggression. Expose your kitten to as many people, places and things as you can in their first 1 to 3 months of life. This is the most critical period in the social development of your cat.
What can you do to improve your chances of having a social non-fearful cat?
The genetics of an individual cat plays a critical role in how sociable, playful, fearful, excitable, or domineering a kitten will become. The first issue in helping to ensure that a kitten will be friendly and social when it grows up, is to choose an appropriate kitten for your family. Since cats have a variety of personality types, the question is whether these personality types can be determined at the time of selection.
Kittens that are stimulated and handled from birth are more confident, more social, more exploratory, mature faster and are better able to handle stress as they develop. Therefore, kittens obtained from a breeder or home where they have had frequent contact and interaction with the owners are likely to be more social and less fearful as they develop.
Socialisation of cats to people is variable. The two most important factors appear to be the cat’s genetic personality, and the amount of socialisation it receives during the sensitive period of socialisation which is thought to be 3 - 7 or perhaps up to 9 weeks of age. Certainly, the greater exposure a kitten has to humans of all ages, other pets and novel situations, the better adjustment that kitten will have.
Depending on the personality and early experiences as a kitten, your cat may enjoy, accept, or dislike, certain types of handling from petting to bathing. In order for the cat to learn to accept and enjoy a variety of types of physical contact from humans, it is critical that the human hand only be associated with positive experiences and that all physical punishment is avoided.