We try to take good care of our feline companions. We provide food and water, of course, but also terrific toys, plenty of perches and tasty treats. It appears, however, that we may be giving our cats a bit more than these simple creature comforts.
According to a study published in PLOS One, cats may be adopting some personality traits of their humans — to good and bad effect.
(And we thought pets and their humans just looked alike.)
Adopting personality traits
Inspired by findings that parents' personalities influence the kind of care their children receive, researchers from the University of Lincoln and Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom decided to see how the personalities of feline caretakers affected the cats. Researchers launched the study with the hypotheses that human personalities, along with the cats' breeds, would influence feline well-being traits like weight and behavior.
Additionally, the researchers thought they would find that human caretakers' personalities would influence the type of cats they had and the cats' well-being.
Roughly 3,331 humans from around the U.K. responded to a survey (though only 95 percent of those completed it) asking them about the household, the cat's overall health — How often does the cat vomit? How shiny is its coat? — occurrences of specific behavioral issues, and how happy the owner believed the cat and the humans to be. The humans then answered the 44-item Big Five personality inventory that would tell the researchers how the humans saw themselves. (If you'd like to look at the survey, click here and then click on the bold link S1 Appendix, which will download the test.)
What the surveys found was that human personality does influence feline health. Humans who scored high in the Big Five's neuroticism category were associated with more ongoing medical issues in their cats, including being overweight, stress-linked illness and anxious or fearful behaviors. These cats had no outdoor access.
The flip side of the personality scale demonstrated the opposite traits. Humans who scored high in traits like agreeableness, extroversion, conscientiousness and openness reported better cat health and behavior. Cats with these human companions were a healthy weight for their size, they were more sociable and exhibited fewer instances of anxious or fearful behavior. Extroverted owners allowed their cats more outside time, though they noted, perhaps ironically, that people who scored high on openness tended to keep their cats indoors.
Of course, cats can't self-report, so the researchers had to rely on the humans' interpretation of how the cats were doing. This could skew some results, something the researchers acknowledged. Additionally, correlation of traits doesn't necessarily mean the traits are the cause.
"This study merely identifies a correlation between owner personality and aspects of cat behavior, management and well-being and cannot assume causation," the study's lead author Lauren Finka told PysPost. "Further research is needed in order to understand if, and how, aspects of the owner’s personalities are directly influencing the welfare of their cats.
"We also relied upon owner's reports of their cat's health and behavior, therefore further studies should also explore how reliable these reports are compared to more objective measures of cat well-being."
So don't panic just yet, but maybe be a bit more chill with your feline friend.