Cat Personality Types

by Michael
(London, UK)

Proactive, bold cat F1 Savannah FOCUS - photo by Michael Broad

Proactive, bold cat F1 Savannah FOCUS - photo by Michael Broad

A lot of people, including so called experts and scientists, don't think that there is such a thing as cat personality types. A lot of vets until fairly recently didn't even think cats felt pain so they declawed them without conscience! Things are changing.

People are often categorised into personality types. The Greek physician Hippocrates (460-370 BC) systemised and developed temperament theory.

Cat breeds have distinct appearances otherwise they would not be a cat breed. And people in the cat fancy also like to differentiate between the cat breeds in terms of cat personality. The Ragdoll is relaxed and the Bengal is active and so on.

It is neither that straightforward nor so well packaged because individual cat personalities outweigh breed personality traits. And it is possible to place individual cats, whether they are wild, purebred, random bred or feral into a category of cat personality type.

There are several terms to describe cat personality. I am sure some scientists don't like to think of cats as having personalities - it is too unscientific. Accordingly, other terminology is proposed such as: coping style, temperament, behavioral tendency, strategy, syndrome etc. However, there is now greater recognition amongst scientists that the personality of vertebrates varies between the extremes of bold at one end of the spectrum and shy at the other. A cat with a bold personality is proactive and the shy cat is reactive. Clearly there is a lot of middle ground.

Proactive cats tend to become aggressive quicker than reactive cats. They explore more and try and "manipulate the situation"1. They have less fear of new things or experiences (not neophobic). These cats are less "socially bound". They are therefore more prone to disperse but they have routines and are less innovative.

Reactive cats are what one might imagine them to be. They react to change and resist and/or adjust. They are "more cautious and more sensitive to external stimuli". They make decisions more slowly (cautiously) and adjust to changes rather than make changes. Reactive cats are less prone to take risk but are more prone to stress related illness.

In short:

  1. Proactive cat personality types control their environment and
  2. Reactive cat personality types cope with their environment

Whereas cats who are more reactive can suffer from stress more readily, proactive cats, in taking higher risk and demonstrating more aggression, are exposed to the possibility of a greater chance of infection of the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) particularly if the cats concerned are feral tom cats.

Feral tom cats who are proactive are the male cats with the highest social rank. Cats with the highest social rank also tend to be the largest and oldest cats. This links with the concept that aggression enables dominance and a higher social rank. Size and experience counts.

It is probable that proactive or bold cat personality type cats are under less stress and have at least potentially a better survival rate (but there is no science on this as far as I am aware).

However, as mentioned the bold cat get into social ranking fights. This leads to bites, which in turn leads to a greater risk of infection of FIV as it is transmitted through bites.

In terms of evolution it may transpire that bold cat personality types develop a resistance to FIV over time and/or they become less proactive or a least less aggressive whilst retaining their bold characters.

Inbetween these two extremes of the shy and retiring reactive cats and the bold up front proactive cats there is the vast majority of cats in the middle ground.

Looking at my two cats:

  1. Charlie who has three legs is definitely towards the top of the proactive bold type category. Despite having three legs, he chases foxes for a pastime!
  2. Binnie is very definitely reactive - a classic model of that kind of cat.

Both are charming in their own way. I know that true cat lovers and caretakers are very aware of their cat's personality. You get to know it intimately. It is some veterinarians in America who seem to see cats as automatons without feeling and individuality. This allows them to mistreat cats in declawing them. We are right.

Michael Avatar


Image of faces: Wikimedia Commons file

1. Bold attitude makes male urban feral domestic cats more vulnerable to Feline Immunodeficiency Virus by Eugenia Natoli et al published by Science Direct (online).

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Cat Personality Types

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Mar 02, 2012 Declawed cats NEW
by: Nay ohh mee

My cat, missy, is crazy but just because I'm going to get her declawed doesn't mean I don't see her as an individual… I know missy is unique and I try very hard to accept her and her painful past but after so many times of being attacked for no reason I feel the need to get her declawed… other than that my only option would be to get rid of her and I can't do that because she is loved here… so your statement about people getting cats declawed and how we don't see them as individuals is false…

Aug 23, 2010 Cat Personalities
by: Kay in WA.USA

Boy Oh Boy, does my Coco Hershey Kitty have a wide and diverse personality. I never knew a cat had So Many vocalizations to state her wants and needs. She has expressed a different voice for food, to be petted, to show excitement when she had brought me a gift and to let me know she has been afraid of something. When she wants to show me something she even has a vocalization just to let me know I must follow her to see what she has to show me. Last week one of my Show chickens was trapped in a small area in the yard and Coco was very adamant that I follow her to the poor chicken. ( Coco could not have trapped it there as she could not get into the gaged area)My prize winning Rooster would have died of stress trapped as he was. So Coco surely saved his life.
Coco has even learned how to stop other cats from chasing her when she is out and about. She just jumps over our chain link fence in our back yard and calls her four dogs to protect her, And ofcourse they bark madly at the other neighboring cats out side of our fanced back yard and the cats leave. All this ruckus goes on while Coco sits in a deck chair and cleans her paws.
We never tire of Coco antics as living on a farm can provide great intertainment at times. Regards Kay and Coco

Aug 18, 2010 You are right Michael
by: Ruth

I agree too. Over 36 years of many cats each one has had/has their own individual personality.
To me having a new kitten or cat is just like a new person coming into the family. A stranger at first but then you get to know and love them and learn how unique they are.
The problem with declaw vets is that they don't want to please the cat, they want to please the client (and their bank manager too of course)
Just like the people who think declawing is acceptable they see 'cats' as a whole, not 'each individual cat'

Kattaddorra signature Ruth

Aug 17, 2010 I agree
by: Leah

I agree totally Micheal. Cats do have different personalities as you described, however in America and Canada cats are clearly less important than dogs. They are clearly 2nd class citizens and as such afford very little consideration from vets which is very wrong.


Cat Personality Types — 6 Comments

  1. I have welcomed a new kitten in my home. He was tiny when he arrived. But, when he my very large male tuxedo. That little guy puffed up arched his back and raised one paw. He is not afraid of anything. His sister lives wit freoinds and she is the same way. My guy was very aggressive toward my big guy that big guy would hide from. He would also attack my hand full claws and teeth. My two guys wrestle around but little one does not put out his claws at all. Even thou big guy can pin him down with no problems. Both the little ones are very strong and agile with there paws. The female stashes candy. She will steal it from the dish and hide it in her special stash. My boy is verily aloof except when he i sleepie. Then he will climb up and rub on me like he’s so in love and wants to neck with me. He loves kisses. I have had many cats. All of u are right they r individuals each and every one. We see it so much more than vets because we love them vets only make there money off them.
    Can anyone tell me if these strange little ways r a sigh of a certain breed. They are both white and gray. She is beautiful looks like she was painted with a powder puff. He has stronger stripe almost brindle like o rear legs. Big paws. I’ve never had a cat like him before. So different. He is also very smart. Easily learned the ropes. Good Cat hope some can help solve the mystery. Thanks jana

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  3. Dont declaw. Its not a teddy bear, its a cat. This comes from someone who lets her kitty sleep in her bed with her and sometimes gets the odd scratched ankle. Clip the claws or hand her to a no kill shelter. What kind of people are you that want to control everything? Cats aren’t perfect. I live with 3, one scratches the carpet, one bites, and one pees. I dont just put up with it, but I know there is a possibility that you can train them if you can understand why they do what they do, stress causes people to wig out as well and its always better to analyse and treat stress. Would you cut a man’s hand off if he hit another man?

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