The research has had a tangible impact on the well-being of cats. In 2020, the recommended age of kitten weaning was raised in Finland to 14 weeks, up from 12 weeks. Separating kittens from their mothers and siblings at slightly later age significantly reduces the risk of behavioural problems. The decision was based on a study published in 2017.
Seven personality and behaviour traits identified in cats
A dataset of more than 4,300 cats representing 26 breed groups revealed seven personality and behaviour traits, with significant differences observed between breeds.
Feline behaviour is increasingly being investigated due to a range of behavioural problems. Another topic of interest in addition to behaviour traits is personality since it can be connected to behavioural problems.
In a questionnaire designed by Professor Hannes Lohi’s research group, personality and behaviour were surveyed through a total of 138 statements. The questionnaire included comprehensive sections on background and health-related information. By employing, among other means, factor analysis to process the data, the following personality and behaviour traits were identified.
- 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
In addition to individuals, clear personality differences can be found between breeds. In other words, certain personality and behaviour traits are more common among certain cat breeds.
Internationally speaking, the study is the most extensive and significant survey so far, and it provides excellent opportunities for further research.
“The reliability of prior feline behavioural questionnaires has not been measured in such a versatile manner, nor are they as comprehensive as this one. Establishing reliability is key to making further analyses worthwhile and enabling the reliable identification of various risk factors,” says Lohi.
Further research has already been carried out on the data collected through the survey, of which here are a few examples.
Cats’ non-fearful and sociable personality as well as a clean litterbox appear to decrease litterbox issues
Litterbox issues are among the most common challenges associated with cats, and can even result in giving up the pet. Cats can, for example, urinate or defecate outside the litterbox, in places undesirable for the owner. Litterbox issues are particularly common in non-sterilised cats, who may use urine also to leave marks for other cats. However, urine marking is, as most breeders understand, inherent feline behaviour.
According to the researchers, feline stress is another significant risk factor, which can be caused, for example, by other pets in the household, the absence of stimuli or, on the other hand, recurring changes in the environment. In addition, cats may find the substrate used in the litterbox or the box itself unpleasant, preferring to relieve themselves elsewhere. Cats can also learn to associate pain while urinating, linked to a previously treated disease, with the litterbox itself, making them avoid using it. Litterbox issues are more common in fearful cats.
Fearful cats also express other problematic behaviour – Socialisation important already at early stages of life
At times, their aggression towards humans and other problematic behaviour poses challenges to our co-existence with them and can even result in giving up the pet. The causes underlying problematic behaviour can be varied, and they are poorly known. Even internationally, very little research has been conducted on the topic.
The study found that getting used to unfamiliar people is important already in the kitten stage.
Cats who had come into contact with unfamiliar adults and children under 12 weeks of age only a few times or not at all were more fearful than cats who met strangers on a weekly or daily basis. Prior studies have also shown that fearfulness can lead to aggressive behaviour, such as hissing and biting, if the cat sees no other way out of a frightening situation.