Are Domestic Pet Cats “Just Tiny Tigers”?
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According to an article recently published in “Catnip”, (the newsletter for caring cat owners) produced by the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, “Our loveable domestic cats have more in common with big cats than previously thought.”

Domestic cat big cat

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The study made by The University of Edinburgh in Scotland and the Bronx Zoo in the USA compared the personalities of domestic cats with big cats living in captivity. Included in the study were snow leopards and African lions.

Researchers in the United Kingdom observed that our domestic cats are more “neurotic and controlling” than we appreciate and their opinion is that kitty guardians may be giving our cats more loving attention than is appropriate. The researchers also concluded that our adored “lap cats” have many things in common with the African lion, which include neuroticism, impulsivity and dominance.

The researchers “mapped their behavior with the ‘Big Five’ human personality traits: Openness to Experience, Extraversion/ introversion, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness and Neuroticism following the study of 100 domestic cats at two shelters. They also monitored the behavior of snow leopards, clouded leopards, Scottish wildcats and African lions.

The results of their study showed that regardless of their size, all of the cats that were observed had similar personalities. The researchers concluded that

“Across the five felid species we assessed, personality structure was strikingly similar.”

But what troubled me about the conclusions that the researchers reached was based on its methodology, since the study only involved domestic cats in shelters, and big cats living in a zoo environment. Although lead researcher Marieke Gartner, from the University of Edinburgh basically conceded that the mental makeup of our own pet cats may be slightly different than shelter cats, based on the study his opinion remains that we probably don’t fully understand our kitties as well as we think we do. He said, “People often don’t know how to treat them and then are surprised by their behavior.”

But as far as I am concerned, comparing shelter kitties to cats who are living in the home of feline savvy, trusted, loving guardians and comparing big cats confined in cages in a zoo, to big cats who can roam free in their native habitat are, pardon the old adage; comparing apples to oranges. I am of the opinion that if the researchers also compared domestic pet cats living in stable, loving homes, with exotic big cats living in their natural habitat, the results of the study might be more compelling.

While the results of all this “highly” scientific research may seem rather ominous to those of us who live with beloved, however diminutive predators, must we as guardians wonder if we are protected from being stalked, captured and ultimately devoured by our pet cats simply because we are so much larger than they are? I think not. After all, aren’t our beloved pet felines who live in nurturing, trusted environments, capable of building strong, loving bonds with their guardians?

It’s no secret to anyone who truly understands felines that cats living in shelters and big cats confined in zoos are very likely to develop neurotic and impulsive behavior. Of course we observe dominant, impulsive and territorial behavior in domestic pet cats since they are part of feline nature. But I must take umbrage with the results the researchers reached who based their findings only studying the behavior of shelter cats kept in cages, and big exotic cats confined in a zoo environment.

What is your opinion of this study? Do you think it is limited? Share your thoughts in a comment.


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Are Domestic Pet Cats “Just Tiny Tigers”? — 4 Comments

  1. Though cats are my favorite and most beloved species (yes, including humans) and I believe all animals, those I love and those I don’t, were created by a Power far more knowledgeable and wise than we could ever comprehend, I don’t believe anthropomorphizing (applying human traits to those of other species) helps anyone understand or live in harmony with the other living beings with whom we share our planet. That said, animals do exhibit stress behaviors of various kinds when kept in captivity; and I do not advocate non-domesticated animals being kept in captivity, especially in the hands of those whose purpose in keeping them is to exploit them. It’s my understanding that domestic cats decided to live with us for reasons which we don’t totally understand. I’m okay with that as I don’t believe it is possible or even desirable for us to try to know everything. As for cats seeking out human affection, that’s a no-brainer to anyone who has ever loved cats! But all cat species share certain traits, though I do not agree with the popular mainstream idea that cats exist to hunt, catch and kill, or that they are bloodthirsty predators. They need to survive, and they fulfill that need either by being fed by us, or by catching their own prey. They do not kill for the sake of killing; that dubious “honor” goes to humankind.

  2. I have to agree that the study has flaws. Living with cats here has taught me so much over the years. Our cats are highly social creatures and VERY predatory. Our cats see us and family. When Sabu was with us he was very territorial and made it plain that I was his and no one eases. He blocked people from getting near me and was the alpha in the apartment. He forcibly patrolled the apartment and, unfortunately, sometimes marked territory. The girls here are the predators, as they are in a lion pride. Everything is prey including us when they play. Since moving to the apartment, there is nothing to hunt. The old house had mice. We have stepped up enrichment for them with feather fliers and boxes with toys inside that they can “Hunt.” If you understand your cats you know that they need their wild side exercised. Interesting article and study. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Tiger behavior and genetics (in the wild) have not been altered by the intervention of humans. They kill only to feed their own. Whereas the domesticated cat, after centuries of being selectively bred by humans, were genetically selected and designed by humans to kill anything that moves around their own lands. Those which stayed around humans and killed all small animals whether the cats were hungry or not were encouraged to breed to make more of their kind with those specific behaviors and traits. Those that didn’t support the needs of humans were destroyed and those genetic lines ended there.

    Tigers (in the wild) kill the weak, the slow, the sick to feed themselves; thus ensuring survival-of-the-fittest of all other species in their environment.

    The domestic cat kills anything that moves for its tortured play-toys; whether that prey animal is weak, slow, sick or not; whether the cat is hungry or not; and does nothing to ensure the survival-of-the-fittest for all other species that it preys upon.

    Cats are as good for the survival-of-the-fittest of all the species it preys upon in nature as much as rat-poison or any other man-made poison is good to ensure the fittest of the species. Those man-made things also kill any living thing, whether that living thing is the best genetic representative of its species or not. Cats are as good for nature as an uncapped bottle of DDT.

    If you can’t comprehend this 3rd-grade grammar-school level explanation of how the natural world works and how your human-engineered selectively-bred cats are destroying the natural world, then you need to remove yourself from the human race and from nature itself.

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