Are Feline Lovers Blessed with a Cat-loving Gene?

I have often wondered about hardwired human behavior. Are we drawn to certain foods or types of music and books, excel in sports or develop a passion for animals based on our genetic makeup? Probably fifty percent of our behavior is determined by environmental influences, while the other fifty percent is determined by our genes.

Inherited attraction to cats

So whether it’s environmental or genetic, or even a combination of these two factors, I am positive that the ability to deeply love and have compassion for animals is programmed genetically. Although we can learn to love these amazing creatures (especially if exposed to them positively at a very young age), the extraordinary passion we feel for them must be passed on genetically.

My father was an ardent felineophile and animal lover. On the other hand, my mother hated cats. Therefore I am positive that my father passed on to me the cat-loving gene. Since my mother had a rooted antipathy to felines, I wasn’t able to have a cat until I moved into my own apartment after being married to my first husband.

My dad was a gentle, extraordinarily handsome man bearing an amazing resemblance to Ernest Hemingway. He was a gifted photographer and wherever he went, he always had a camera dangling from his shoulder. When he would go out for his morning walk and he met up with a stray kitty, he would bend down, start a quiet conversation with the kitty, scratch the cat lovingly under the chin and, of course snap a photo.

He had an extensive library of feline related books. As I got older he filled my bookcase with fascinating books about cats. But what gave him the most pleasure was spending hours talking to me about kitties, sharing anecdotes about the one special cat he was finally permitted to have when he was a youngster.

I imagine my father inherited the cat-loving gene from an unknown distant relative. His father could tolerate them and his mother was a staunch ailurophobe. When my father was a young boy, he smuggled a black and white kitty into the house and did everything to hide him. But since cats are curious critters, Spinach eventually made its presence known to my grandmother.

This cat had a huge predilection for spinach! Whenever his mother cooked the green leafy vegetable, the cat would crawl under the dining room table and put his front paws on my father’s knee, begging for a taste. And since the cat’s passion for spinach was so very intense, my father named him Spinach.

My grandmother finally insisted that my father take the cat to Central Park, an area which was miles away from their New York brownstone home on Henry Street. My father tried desperately to keep him, but ultimately he had little choice but to obey orders.

He was bereft after depositing Spinach in the park. When he arrived home from doing the dastardly deed, his eyes were red from crying. He was so angry at his mother that he refused to speak to her at all for several days.

But all of a sudden almost after a week, a miracle occurred. For a reason that my father never completely understood, Spinach, appeared on their front stoop. He was somewhat bedraggled but alive and very hungry. But this time my father defied my grandmother orders. He finally put his foot down and insisted that he keep Spinach.

Since Spinach’s sudden reappearance was cloaked in mystery, I suspect that if my grandmother was at all superstitious, given some fear that something disastrous might happen if she didn’t allow the cat to stay, she had to comply with my father’s demands.

Spinach indeed earned the privilege of a permanent home where he lived, lavished with my father’s love for his remaining eight lives.

Is it your opinion that passionate felinophiles are endowed with the cat-loving gene? Tell us your opinion in a comment.

Jo


Photo credit of black and white cat: Flickr User: Minette Layne (This is not Spinach). The picture of chromosomes is from iStockphoto.

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Comments

Are Feline Lovers Blessed with a Cat-loving Gene? — 44 Comments

  1. Jo, thank you for writing this article. It is solid. You suggested 50:50. That’s not arguable, is it? 😉 what if i were suggest to you that it is 80% genetic. ?

    • I tend to agree with you that the cat-loving gene is probably the dominant reason why people like cats. I’m not sure whether I would give it 80% but I would tend to give it more than 50% of the influence upon us that makes us love cats. It may go wider than that and probably does. There may be an animal-loving gene or there may be a gene which makes us more sensitive towards the vulnerabilities of others. That would lead to a love of cats because they are vulnerable.

    1. What do your felines do with their tails, when vexed? My red tabby hits his against any solid object. I like that. I know exactly how to react when he tells me he’s vexed. 😉
    2. Do other cats do this, besides Shrimptaro? Whack their tail, I mean…
    3. And usually, almost always, it is because he he knows what he is talking about. [And always, what he is responding to.] 😉
    4. Doesn’t Cornell hold over 4K DNA samples of our felines in their files?
    • He might not be vexed when he wags tail. He’s probably indecisive and a solid object just happens to be there! 😉

      I’m not sure what that has to do with loving cats or genetics, mind you!

      I didn’t know that Cornell held 4000 DNA samples. I’ll look into that.

      • M, Shrimpster doesn’t “wag” his tail. 😉 He moves it to his right, as hard as can. He knows that the sound will wake me. I have not mentioned why he became conditioned. It’s embarassing to me and vexing to him. The little one, Marco Polo, was not neutered early and had already begun his habit of humping poor little Shrimp, all twenty-three pounds of gentle red tabby. I have to stay awake 24/7 to keep on top of it. Now you know. By the way, Shrimp still has to have his doxycycline every twelve hours and right now, that means 3am and 3 pm. It ain’t too much fun for him. 😉

        • And yes, not enough can be said about steeling yourself against giving in to those beautiful eyes when they are begging for a treat, in this case, deli turkey. (Shrimp has been off of the dry for two years, as far as I know.) And yes, not enough can be said about neutering a male rescue as early as possible–and this means doing it as early as possible, regardless of money constraints otherwise the poor dear will most likely develop a fetish…

  2. I understand your feelings, Jo. so much so that I can empathise completely. same situation with own parents. Thanks for the article. I never mean to be stupid, which is more often than not, what I am. My cat, Shrimp, just like your babies, love what you write.

    • I just remembered your excellent post before I bumped into your comment and link. I liked Jo’s story about her father. This topic is a very important topic so I suppose a couple of webpages on it on this website is okay.

  3. Yes some of Jo’s stories tie in nicely with mine written previously and she said before she didn’t mind me posting the link when they fit together 🙂

    • Thanks, Ruth!

      It only backs up my theory:)

      While I was playing it on the safe side to give the odds of a genetic transfer to 50/50, I would say it is more like 80/20 .

  4. The more I think about how people come to love cats, the more I believe that it is inherited – mostly. I believe that this is a case of our personality being hardwired into our brains.

    However, I am not sure that the hardwiring completely relates to liking cats. We may have inherited one of our parent’s liking of animals in general. And the way to express that is to keep a companion animal and then there is a choice between a cat or a dog, usually. That choice is dependent upon other aspects of our character which are probably also inherited.

  5. Neither of my parents was terribly fond of cats, but neither hated them. Dad was from farming people so he had the very pragmatic attitude that comes with that–animals work for you or you eat them. Mom’s grandfather who raised her had a cat but I don’t think anyone who came before me in the family was as fond of cats as I am. My brother and niece and nephew love cats too but I do think I’m probably the most extreme of us all. It could be as you say that there’s a genetic predisposition to loving cats but perhaps environmental factors like growing up on a farm might squelch that to some extent.

    • Both of my parents grew up on farms too, my mother more so – cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, pigs, all for products and consumption. I hate thinking about it because I witnessed a horrible slaughter by my grandfather when I was young that changed my life.
      But, growing up, no one would have ever known that my parents experienced those things daily. They both loved animals. I can’t ever remember a time that we didn’t have dogs, cats, rabbits, even a rooster (all in a residential area).
      I guess that, in the days of real farming, the things that I think of as horrors, were just accepted and, maybe, a means of survival/income. It just gad to be that way.

  6. Even if it is hard wired in your genes, some of is don’t really know for many years. I come from a large family. And we didn’t keep pets. I had neighbors with dogs, and there were a few cats around, but I never knew them personally. It just wasn’t part of life. We were always in survival mode. But I do remember one of my younger sisters was always rescuing something. It might be bugs, or birds. Never to bring them home to live, but it was really a part of who she was. I didn’t see her for some 15 years after I left home and she was still just a little girl. But when I did…I could see that that part of her was still very much there. We were visiting, and driving down the road when she yelled ‘STOP’. In the middle of the road was a snake. She jumped out of the car, ran without fear and lifted the snake to the other side of the road. I still hardly see her, but she always has a yard filled with animals. She raised a squirrel. Rescued dogs off the freeway. Seems the DNA part was certainly strong in her. However, she doesn’t keep the animals in the house. That is where we are different.

    I didn’t know how much I loved cats until I was grown woman. I fed some strays, a favorite I called Macho who was a gnarely un neutered male gray tabby who terrorized the small beach town I lived in. Because I worked many hours in those days, I didn’t really have the pleasure of getting to know him or the others.

    Retirement helped a lot.

    I’m not sure how this plays into the theory. Seems at times it is learned. There is a certain freedom necessary to get to know and understand an animal. I cannot get enough of it now. I suppose I was spared a lot of heartbreak during childhood and early adulthood. I find cats to be so interesting. They have personalities that are unique to each one. Our relationships are deeply personal with each of them, and so different.

    • I’m a bit like you in that I didn’t adopt my first cat until the late 1980s when I was middle-aged. If it is hardwired into me then I agree that you need to live under circumstances which allows that genetic motivator to express itself. But I think it comes out in the end. There are perhaps lots of circumstances which prevent a person expressing what they like to do, and what they want to do, but eventually the circumstances which are suitable arrive and then if you are a cat lover, you get a cat.

  7. Interesting theory. We never had a cat when I was growing up until a girlfriends cat had kittens and I decided to take one home. Then we had two, then we had 2 more Siamese. So I don’t know about genetics. We did have several outside dogs when growing up but I don’t remember having much to do with them. Back in the ‘olden days’ though there weren’t all the shots, flea treatments, heartworm treatments etc etc etc that you need these days.

    I like dogs, mostly when they are someone elses. To me they are just too high maintenance and too expensive compared to kitties. I WOULD enjoy having a dog to walk outside before daylight but the thought of the mud and snow brought in 3 seasons a year is a bit much for me.

      • Yeah, I think there is definitely a cat loving gene. Mine was probably just suppressed until I saw my first kitten Dinky, and from there, there was no stopping it. Cat’s definitely rule in my book. I FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY have the guts to lock them out of my bedroom at night so I can sleep. That only took 20 years. LOL

        • Donna, now there’s a story about how the sleep with your cat lying right next to you all night long. That’s what my cat does sometimes and I can definitely say that I find it much harder to sleep when he is right next to me.

          Although I find it very nice to have him there and I love him there, it just interrupts the way I like to get off to sleep. Plus he is very hot.

          It’s like having a hot water bottle next to me when it is already warm anyway. I might do an article about this tomorrow so I can moan a bit more. About a week ago I took him off the bed and put him in the living room before I went to bed. I didn’t lock him out though.

          • Michael,

            On these chilly Florida nights I gotta tell you that having two Oriental Shorthair kitties sleeping nearly on top of me- or snuggled close to me saves a lot of money on heating bills. Nice little bed-warmers for sure.

            On the other paw, if I move around too much, they head for the living room and sleep on the couch. Fussy little kitties!!!

          • Michael, I wouldn’t mind one cat sleeping with me, but since I have 6 cats and 5 of them want to sleep with me, there isn’t much room left in the bed for me! And rolling over…forget that! LOL I do have a lot of allergies (supposedly to cats…but I doubt that) so a plus to keeping them out is maybe my asthma / allergies will bother me a little less. I used to feel bad locking them out of the bedroom when I worked but now that I am retired and they have me all day, I don’t have to feel so bad. 🙂 Even my almost 20 year old Pirate has adjusted!

            • You are a herione 😉 I could never do that because I need to turn over and adjust. Plus it would be like sleeping in an oven 😉 Maybe if the bed was 8 feet wide it would be OK.

              • That’s why I’m closing the door now. I’m sleeping better and like I said, now that I’m retired and they have me home all day, I don’t have to feel bad. (Why I would feel bad I don’t know LOL all they do is sleep!) But they do love their cuddle time and my almost 20 year old does like to eat on demand.

  8. I believe it’s individual. My father never liked cats at all until he informed his 5th wife-to-be of that and she replied “Love me, love my cats. ” He converted! She gave him a Siamese kitten when they got married and that was that.

    My parents had a dog when I was a baby but when they divorced, they gave him to someone who lived out in the country. My mother was more of a cat person and we had cats. Both of my maternal grandparents disliked cats. When my mother and her brother were growing up, my grandparents allowed a monkey at one point and later a dog.. Not animal lovers.

    My husband comes from a family of not animal lovers. We’ve always had cats. Both of my grown kids have two cats and are planning to get a dog.

    Genetic? Environmental? Not either one.

    • Thanks for the comment. It would seem that your father learned to like cats or put up with them because he loved his 5th wife to be and she pretty well insisted that the cats stayed. Good for her, she was correct.

      • Indeed, he did learn to love cats… in his 60s after a lifelong dislike.. She bred Siamese. My point was that I’d say that my family pretty much disproves that it’s genetic.

        • Fair enough. No one could argue against that because no one is sure. My personal opinion is that there is not a cat-loving gene but a gene which makes us sensitive to others and makes us empathetic to others. This is a nurturing gene. Cat lovers care and they want to help and nurture and look after their companion cats. It could be almost any animal but cats are the most appropriate under all the circumstances. It’s a caring gene.

  9. I don’t have a clue what it is.
    It just is for me.
    Always has been, always will be.
    As effortless as breathing.

    • think i was age 3 here found out the name the other day it was joseph so great to put a name to the cat as i cant remember almost 36 yrs ago.. lol

      • That is a FANTASTIC photo kylee:) I just loved it.

        In fact it has inspired me to write another blog about what happened to me when I was three years old when I had an experience with a kitty that under these circumstances, might have put off people from loving cats. Of course it didn’t affect me adversely, which makes me think even more strongly that there must be a genetic component here- that we who hang out here have all inherited!

        • wow thats awesume its great i was able to inspire you with this pic. I agree with what you said about genetic component and how we have inheited. Since coming here i just cant stop visiting. It sure helps my own health to continue on at this moment all 3 cats ozzie,rebel,jasmin all sleeping on the bed. i do think id be a mess without my kitties. 🙂 but i agree need humans too..

      • Jo, LOL recessive trait? Maybe that’s a little nitpicky? Michael, that tendency to be caring and nurturing makes more sense. There’s a saying that in Ancient Egypt, cats were worshipped as Gods and they’ve never forgotten that. Does that make us cat-worshippers at heart?

  10. yea i must have it. lol. this is prob one of my favourite pics of me when i was little. Considering at that time in my life wasnt prettty. i think i was 3 or sumthing was in 1978.

  11. yea was a long time ago 36 yrs ago. back in the 70s yea childhood wasnt wonderful but i survived. i must make a scrap page of that.

  12. around that time i had cebral palsy and abuse was happening in family. though not to animals:) i also had learning probs i had to learn to speak properly the best part of that life was got to play in backyard and could go outside and play too all hours without worrying when to come home.

  13. This is an interesting question. My whole family loved animals and I was born into a home where the cat was allowed into my crib. Fluffy stayed at the foot of the crib and purred her little heart out with joy. As my kids grew, before birth, our cat Murphy laid on my stomach and purred to them. He was intrigued that my tummy kicked him sometimes. He slept in both my children’s cribs as they grew. I don’t know if my kids were hard wired to love cats and all animals or they learned from Murphy and out other animals. I guess it will stay a mystery. 🙂 My husband grew up in a family that didn’t like cats and never had pets because they lived in apartments in the city. He met Murphy and he was a goner. Now he can be found snuggling with a cat as he watches TV. His love of cats sure was a learned behavior.

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