The Companion Animal Diary - A Science Update November 2017
According to the latest Companion Animal Report produced by the New Zealand Companion Animal Council, Cats are New Zealand’s most popular companion animal, with approximately 44% of New Zealand homes having at least one cat. But how much do we really know about the personalities of our furry companions?
A new study by Litchfield et al (2017) investigates the personalities of a large sample of companion cats and analyses how the results can be utilised to better understand cats’ behavioural needs and ultimately improve their welfare.
A survey was completed by cat owners from across New Zealand and South Australia, analysing the personality traits of a total of 2802 cats. The survey required owners to rate their cats’ personality using a measure of 52 personality and behavioural traits (a full list of these traits is provided in the full article at the below link). Those 52 traits were analysed and further categorised into five primary personality factors referred to as the “Feline Five”; Neuroticism, Extraversion, Dominance, Impulsiveness and Agreeableness.
The authors propose that the most relevant use of this research may be where an individual cat has scored particularly high or low on a certain personality factor, suggesting that a change in the way the cat is managed may be required.
Cats that score highly on the Neuroticism and Impulsiveness factors, for example, may be suffering from stress and anxiety, and may benefit from changes to their environment such as provision of additional hiding places. High scores for Dominance are likely to be reflective of a cat that tends to display unsociable behaviours towards other cats and may not be suitable in multi-cat households. Cats that score highly in all three of these factors may suffer from deeper behavioural issues that could benefit from consultation with an animal behaviourist.
Cats that have scored particularly high on the Extraversion factor are likely to have been perceived by their owners as smart, curious, and inventive, and therefore these individuals may benefit from being provided with extra enrichment to meet their behavioural needs and prevent boredom. Extraversion may also be a useful indicator of potential health issues manifesting through the cats’ behaviour. Cats that scored low for Extraversion (displaying behaviours such as clumsiness or aimlessness), for example, may be suffering from health issues and require assessment by a veterinarian.
Certain factors can also be a good indicator of a happy, healthy cat. For example, low scores for Impulsiveness and high scores for Agreeableness may represent a cat that is comfortable and happy in its environment. Conversely, low scores for Agreeableness, resulting from display of traits such as aggression and irritableness, are likely to indicate a cat that has been poorly socialised or that may be suffering from underlying health issues requiring veterinary attention.
The authors have highlighted several limitations of this study. The length of the survey was an issue in that it was too long thus causing parts of some surveys to be missed or left incomplete. Future research should consider shortening the length of the survey to maintain participant engagement until completion.
Furthermore, most of the survey participants were female. The authors suggest that this limitation can be mitigated in future research by setting gender ratios so that males and females are equally represented as participants. It was also noted that the survey did not ask how long the participant had known the cat prior to rating its personality, which could have affected the validity of some results.
To conclude, the Feline Five can be applied to interpret and understand the behaviour of companion cats, and has the potential to assist owners in making improvements to the way they manage their cats therefore creating a more welfare friendly environment. Unfortunately, the authors have not provided a copy of the initial survey completed by cat owners and therefore it is not possible for readers of the article to use the Feline Five to assess the personality of their own cat.
The full article is available here http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/file?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0183455&type=printable
Litchfield, CA; Quinton, G; Tindle, H; Chiera, B; Kikillus, KH; Roetman, P. The ‘Feline Five’: An exploration of personality in pet cats (Felis catus). PLoS ONE. 2017, 12(8): e0183455
 The New Zealand Companion Animal Council Inc. Companion Animals in New Zealand 2016. Retrieved from http://www.nzcac.org.nz/images/downloads/Companion%20Animals_in_New_Zealand_2016_Report_web.pdf