Cat Psychology 101

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.


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


• 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


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.


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)


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


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


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