“Dogs think that they are people; cats think that they are God.” -Anonymous
Domestic cats have been associated with people since the time of the ancient Egyptians, and yet thousands of years later, we cat owners know that cats only choose to be domesticated when they wish to. They will choose to interact with people when it benefits them and on their schedule. They are survivors and will respond accordingly, to varying degrees, when their routine or lifestyle is altered.
Domestic cats vary widely in temperament and personality, from feral ‘alley’ cats that cannot be easily handled to indoor-only cats that demand constant attention. The basic nature of a cat is to adapt to an environment only if he wants to.
So what is it that makes a cat a ‘lap kitty’ vs. a ‘shy cat’? Why such a variety to the types of cat personalities? Why do so many cats respond in different ways to different situations?
In a nutshell, cat behavior is affected by: genetics (the DNA of mom and dad), kittenhood experience (feral outdoor vs. indoor socialized), sexual status (neutered vs. in tact), age and physical health.
Needless to say, there is a huge variety of personality styles between cats that are not pure-bred, due to the random nature of their breeding. We do know, from published studies, that personality from the tomcat (father) is highly heritable (the genes are passed down) to kitten. For example, if you have a friendly tomcat, odds are good that you will have a friendly kitten.
Socialization, or the amount of time that kittens are handled by humans and are exposed to other cats and dogs, can also impact the way that cats respond to humans and other animals as they get older. For example, cats that ‘meet’ a lot of different humans as kittens tend to handle meeting new humans as an older cat with much more ease.
Neutered cats do not have the sexual drive that in tact male cats have, therefore are less likely to show behaviors such as roaming and aggression. Older cats or chronically ill cats tend to have less tolerance for change in routine or new additions to the household.
Because of the nature of random breeding in the cat world, you never quite know what genetics and personality you are getting with your cat until you spend some time with them. Cats are very routine-oriented, and as such it can take up to 6 months to truly know the nuances of your cat’s personality. And often we don’t know the parents, so it can truly be a guessing game as to what kind of cat you have until you become that pet-parent.
Just don’t tell your kitty that you are in charge. They know better.