Cat Psychology 101

How to coexist in harmony

By Kimberly Blaker, August 2019 Issue.

What does it mean when your furry feline friend puffs its tail? What’s the best way to handle your cat’s neuroticism? Why is your kitty scratching up all of your furniture?

The truth is, cats have darn good reasons for most of their behaviors, none of which are intended to punish you or drive you crazy. So, the trick to prevent or remedy problems is to better understand your cat. This will result in a more adjusted cat and a peaceful coexistence between you.

Five Personality Traits

As most cat owners can attest, cats definitely have their own personalities. Like humans, every cat has a combination of traits that make up its unique personality. In fact, researchers from the University of Australia published their fascinating findings on cat personality in the journal, PloS ONE, in August 2017.

The researchers refer to the cat traits as the “Feline Five.” Dominance, agreeableness, extraversion, impulsiveness, and neuroticism are the traits that blend to form a cat’s personality. The researchers explained that understanding cat personality is helpful, so cat owners can better nurture their feline companions.

• Dominant cats tend to bully or act aggressively toward other cats. If you bring home a young kitten, discourage it from grabbing or biting you or playing aggressively. This will help prevent it from growing into a dominant cat. If you have multiple cats, feed them in separate areas to reduce competition. Also, give your cats equal time with you to reduce the possibility of jealousy. In addition, when your cats play together nicely, reinforce it by giving them plenty of praise, petting, and treats.

• Agreeable cats are gentle, friendly, and affectionate toward people. So, what more could a cat owner want? The truth is even an agreeable cat can have its drawbacks. Because of their friendly, affectionate nature, an agreeable cat might often paw at you for attention. If so, set up a routine for cuddling, which might help. Also, consider adopting an additional cat to keep yours company. Just make sure it’s not too dominant.

• Extraverted cats possess self-control and are decisive and persevere. At the same time, they tend to get bored easily and need plenty of stimulation. Extroverted cats should have plenty of toys, human interaction and, perhaps, other cats to play and socialize with.

• Impulsive cats tend to be erratic and reckless. This often results from a stressful environment. Factors that can cause your cat stress include other pets in the home, young children, confinement, or lack of access to hiding places or a litter box. Even insisting on interaction with your cat can be stressful if it’s more interaction than your cat wants. Resolving many of these issues is self-explanatory. So, evaluate the situations that could be causing stress, and try to remedy them.

• Neurotic cats can be fearful of people, anxious, insecure, suspicious, or shy. Offer these cats additional hiding places, as well as quiet spaces. Also, just like with impulsive cats, look for environmental stressors that might be aggravating your cat’s neuroticism.

Cat Behaviors

The following are a few of the common signals and behaviors every cat owner should understand.

• Feline vocalization

When your cat meows, it’s usually asking for something. Although, it could just be saying ‘hello.’ The more frequent and intense the meows get, the more intent your cat is on getting you to respond. But, if the meowing is continuous, particularly after trying to satisfy your cat’s needs, your feline may be sick or injured and need to be seen by a veterinarian.

Nonstop yowling can also be a sign of discomfort or illness. Cats yowl out of worry when their territory is threatened, or they want to mate.

Some cats even yowl when they’re bored. Many a cat owner has experienced this frustrating sleep interruption. Since cats are nocturnal, try to combat this by helping your cat adjust to a nighttime sleep schedule. Keep your cat awake more during the day, particularly in the evening before bedtime. You can also leave out food and water at night to pacify your bored cat.

Purring usually signifies contentment. Although cats sometimes purr when they’re worried as well. You can decipher the meaning by looking at your cat’s body language. A tense posture and ears laid back most likely indicate worry.

Hissing, snarling, or growling is a clear warning to back off, or else. When a cat feels threatened, it might scratch or bite. So, remove the threat (such as your playful puppy or toddler) immediately.

• Tails tell a tale

A cat’s tail movement says a lot about what it’s thinking or feeling. When a cat sweeps its tail widely, it’s annoyed or wants to be left alone. If a cat becomes very agitated or frightened, its tail movement is intensified and sweeps back and forth rapidly. Either cue indicates the cat wants to be left alone. The latter cue also indicates it’s ready to flee or attack.

Cat’s tails can puff up too, which can be for several reasons. If your cat’s tail puffs up with its ears erect and whiskers pointed forward, the cat’s usually happy or having fun. But, when a bristled tail points straight up or down, possibly coinciding with an arched back and flattened ears, the cat is fearful. When the fur on a cat’s whole body puffs up, the cat’s very angry and might even hiss. Cats sometimes do this to intimidate. But it can also mean an attack is imminent.

• Those destructive claws

If your cat still has its claws, you’ve probably dealt with the frustration of snagged upholstery, carpet, or drapes. But this is instinctive behavior cats do for several reasons. First, it’s kind of like a kitty manicure. Cats do this to shed the dead frayed layers and sharpen their claws. It’s also one of the ways cats mark their territory. Finally, it’s a natural part of feline play and stretching.

To combat the problem, give your cat a scratching post. Cats each have their own preferences though. So, you might need to try a variety of shapes, upholsteries, and other characteristics. Also, keep your cat’s claws trimmed. When your cat does scratch on other objects, clap loudly so the cat stops.

Some cat owners opt for declawing. The American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends against this. The procedure is much more invasive than most people realize and can result in infection and extended pain during recovery.

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