Researchers at the University of Helsinki have developed a new comprehensive questionnaire for assessing the personality and behavior of cats. A dataset of more than 4,300 cats from 26 breed groups showed seven personality and behavioral traits, with significant differences between the breeds being observed.
Cats are our most common pets, and cat behavior is increasingly being studied because of a number of behavioral problems. Another interesting topic besides behavioral traits is personality, as it can be linked to behavioral problems.
“Compared to dogs, less is known about cat behavior and personality and there is a need to identify related problems and risk factors. We need more understanding and tools to root out problematic behavior and improve cat welfare. The most common behavioral problems in cats are related to aggression and inappropriate elimination, ”says PhD student Salla Mikkola of the University of Helsinki and the Folkhälsan Research Center.
Seven feline personality and behavioral traits
In a questionnaire developed by Professor Hannes Lohi’s research group, personality and behavior were recorded using a total of 138 statements. The questionnaire contained extensive sections on background and health information. Among other things, through the use of factor analyzes to process the data, a total of seven personality and behavioral characteristics were identified.
- Activity / playfulness
- Aggression towards people
- Socializing with people
- Socializing with cats
- Problems with the litter box (emptying in inappropriate places, precision with the cleanliness of the litter box and the substrate material)
- Excessive maintenance
“While the number of traits identified in previous studies varies, activity / playfulness, anxiety and aggression are among the traits identified in our study that are most common in previous studies. Litter box problems and excessive grooming are not personality traits, but they can indicate the cat’s sensitivity to stress, ”adds Mikkola.
Differences in the prevalence of traits between races
In addition to the individuals, there are also clear differences in personality between the races. In other words, certain personality and behavioral traits are more common in certain breeds of cats.
“The most fearful breed was the Russian Blue, while the Abyssinians were the least fearful. The Bengal races were the most active, while the Persians and Exotics were the most passive. The breeds with the most excessive grooming were the Siamese and Balinese, while the Turkish Van breed scored significantly higher in aggression towards humans and lower in sociability towards cats. We had already observed the same phenomenon in an earlier study, ”says Professor Hannes Lohi from the University of Helsinki and the Folkhälsan Research Center.
The researchers would like to emphasize that no pairwise comparisons between the breeds were made at this point.
“We wanted to get a rough idea of whether there were differences in personality traits between races. In further studies, we will use more complex models to examine factors that influence traits and problem behavior. In these models, we take into account not only the breed, but also the cat’s age, gender, health and a large number of environmental factors, ”says Mikkola.
Assessment of reliability and validity
For example, the behavior and personality of cats can be examined through questionnaires for cat owners. Such questionnaires can measure cat behavior over the long term and under everyday circumstances, which is impossible in behavioral tests. In addition, cats may not behave in a typical manner in test environments. Due to their subjective nature, the reliability of the questionnaires has to be assessed before the data can be used any further.
“In an international comparison, our study is the most extensive and most important survey to date and offers excellent opportunities for further research. The reliability of previous cat behavioral questionnaires has not been measured as widely and is not as comprehensive as this one. Establishing reliability is the key so that further analyzes are worthwhile and various risk factors can be reliably identified, ”says Lohi.
The researchers reached out to cat owners who had completed the questionnaire one to three months ago and asked them to fill out the questionnaire again or to ask another adult living in the same household to complete the questionnaire on the same cat. The aim was to assess the reliability of the questionnaire both in terms of time and between respondents. With the help of two additional data sets that were accumulated by this method, the reliability of the questionnaire could be assessed in terms of time and between the respondents.
“By comparing the responses, we found that the responses for the same cat were very similar, while the personality and behavioral traits were shown to be reproducible and reliable. We also examined the validity of the questionnaire or whether it measures what it was trying to measure. In this respect, too, the questionnaire worked well, ”says Mikkola.
The research carried out by Lohi’s group will make it possible to identify genetic, environmental and personality factors associated with problematic cat behavior.
Mikkola S, Salonen M, Hakanen E, Sulkama S, Salmon H. Reliability and validity of seven behavioral and personality traits of cats. Animals. 2021; 11 (7): 1991. doi: 10.3390 / ani11071991
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