The Personalities of Cats

by Joelle Steele

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Many people think all cats are the same: distant, aloof, independent, finicky, etc. But cats have very diverse and often complex personalities. Those who think differently have obviously not known very many cats. I've had a lot of cats and known a lot of cats, and I've never found any of my cats or those I've met to be the same personality-wise. They are all so distinctly different.

I've had twelve cats of my own so far. My first was Candy. I got her when I was 8 years old. Candy was feisty and territorial. She was a good hunter, and she could intimidate the biggest, baddest cat in the neighborhood, because she was even bigger and badder than they were, at least in her own mind. She routinely drove them out of her yard with nothing more than a well-uttered hiss. But, she was always very affectionate and loyal – to me. I could put clothes on her, dangle her, even wrap her around my neck like a scarf, and she would be fine with that. She never scratched or bit me, never growled at me, and was always very gentle with me. But she scratched the daylights out of my mother twice, and my mother doted on her. Candy was unpredictable with anyone other than me.

My second cat was an adopted young stray named Pandora. She and Candy got along pretty well. Pandora was quiet, shy, kept mostly to herself, and was cuddly and affectionate. Cats #3 and #4 were raised together as kittens and were always very close pals. Puff, the female, was outgoing, curious, and very playful. Puff got into everything. You couldn't leave anything out because she would find it and play with it, usually destroying it in the process. In particular, she liked a little white stuffed rabbit that someone gave me as a gift. I even hid it on the top of a closet shelf and she found it, so I finally gave in and let her have it, and she treated it like a kitten, washing it for years until there was pretty much nothing left of it. Whisper, the male, was the shyest and most gentle little cat I've ever met. He truly could not have been sweeter. He absolutely adored my mother, and she felt the same way about him. As an adult, he became friends with my parents' cat, Lucky, following him around the yard – and probably the whole neighborhood – whenever we visited my parents.

Cat #5 was the great love of my life: Twinkle. I got her when she was an abandoned, 1-1/2 week-old kitten. She was the greatest cat that ever walked the earth. She was very smart and could figure out how to open things. She could do a variety of tricks – she learned very quickly – and could dance on her rear legs and play fetch and retrieve. She and Puff only moderately got along, but Whisper raised her. Twinkle was disabled, but it didn't stop her from getting whatever she wanted out of life. She believed in the saying that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and when she wanted something, she really let you know. She loved shoes, and liked to sleep on them and partially in them. My shoes, the neighbors' shoes, any shoes she could find. She also liked to curl up inside of things, including the waste basket and laundry hamper, and she liked to sleep with something soft in her mouth, usually a sock that she pulled out of the hamper.

Twinkle went on to raise three other of my cats and to be friends with a lot of neighbor cats. She raised cats #6, #7, and #8 – Misty, Muffin, and Timmy. Misty was very pretty, sweet, and a little shy, and she died very young. Muffin was not shy, but she kept to herself a lot. She and Twinkle were very close and they were never far apart. Like Twinkle, Muffin played fetch and retrieve. Muffin was also very accurate at predicting earthquakes. She would retreat under the bed for two or three days before a quake. She was a good watch cat. She recognized footsteps in the hallway that didn't belong, and would walk up to the front door and stand there and growl at whatever stranger was near my door. Muffin was also very good with children, as was Timmy. He loved everyone and never met a cat he didn't like. He actually had play dates with my neighbors' cats, and if anyone had kittens, Timmy would babysit them and keep them out of making mischief. When someone knocked at my front door, Timmy would get up from wherever he was and be right there to greet my friends and clients when they arrived. Everyone I knew, knew and loved Timmy. He was very agile and could jump very high and straight up. He used to walk along a very narrow dish rail in my old apartment. He also liked to eat bugs, and so my life was always bug-free during his 19 years.

Cats #9 and #10 were adult female strays that I took in, Izzy and Hedy. Izzy was assertive and wanted to rule the roost immediately. Poor Timmy! He was used to making friends immediately, and Izzy made him work at it. In the end, those two were like an old married couple, always curled up around each other on a tiny pillow. As for Izzy and Muffin, they simply gave each other a very wide berth, as they never managed to form a close bond. Izzy was very social and friendly with people, and she was affectionate, but only when she wanted to be, and only with people, not with other cats except Timmy. The rest of the time she kept to herself. Unlike Timmy, Izzy was afraid of the front door, and when it was open, she hid as far away from it as possible – probably afraid she was going to get locked out and become a stray again. Hedy was very cuddly, and she and Muffin bonded almost immediately. They both liked to lay in a sunny window all curled up around each other. Hedy's idea of a perfect day was one where she was in my lap for as long as I could possibly remain sitting.

The following is a very short video of T'ai going for his morning walk.

Cats #11 and #12 are with me today. T'ai is 14 and Tansy is 12. They are both very sweet and affectionate, are totally bonded to each other, but are opposites personality-wise. Both of these two were strays. I got T'ai when he was 4 weeks old, and he is partially blind with congenital cataracts. I got Tansy when she was 4 months old. While T'ai is very shy, Tansy is quite outgoing and social. T'ai likes to go outside on the back patio and also likes to be walked on a leash, very much like a dog, although he doesn't like to walk on trash collection day because he gets freaked out by the trash cans. Tansy will go out on the back patio on occasion, and walking her on a leash is laughable because she just never gets it through her head that there is a human on the other end of that leash. Both of these kitties are very vocal, but T'ai is the better communicator. You can tell what he wants. Tansy is more of a whiner with no obvious reason for all the noise. T'ai is very curious and very strong. He can open the heaviest doors, including the sliding glass door which weighs a ton. He doesn't mind being wet at all. He will walk through a puddle or walk in the rain. Tansy doesn't like it if you touch her with a damp hand, and she does not go out on the patio if the patio is wet or if it is even drizzling the slightest bit. T'ai is definitely top cat, and while he and Tansy spend all their days sleeping next to each other, playing together, etc., T'ai will not hesitate to hiss at her if she gets in the way of something he's trying to do, or if he isn't in the mood to play. Tansy is territorial and does not like other cats to be in her yard. T'ai is curious about other cats and, with the exception of some unneutered strays that show up occasionally, is fairly friendly and non-aggressive towards them. We had my cousin's male cat stay with us on a couple occasions, and he and T'ai got along very well.

As you can see, just from my own cats, no two cats are ever truly alike. They may have certain kinds of typical feline traits in common, such as curiosity and playfulness, but they also have their own preferences for how they like to spend their time and who they like and don't like. If you don't have a cat and are thinking of getting one, remember that how you raise a kitten or adult cat will only affect part of their personality, and the rest is just the unique little animal that they are inside.

This article last updated: 02/09/2012.

The articles on this Web site are informational only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice or treatment. Cats are not "one size fits all." They are different in terms of breed, age, health, lifestyle, and tolerance for different foods and other substances.