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Why Your Cat's One of a Kind

By Darcy Lockman

Why Your Cat\'s One of a Kind

Thirty-two-year-old Brooklyn, N.Y. cat owner Amy Morgan can name the most prominent behavioral characteristics of her seven-year-old calico cats, Mashy and Ruki, without thinking twice. "Mashy is uppity, stubborn, verbal and affectionate," she says. "He's on top of me as soon as I wake up every morning, kneading my blankets and laying with me." Then there's Ruki: "He's an entirely food-motivated idiot savant. He knows how to turn door knobs. And when the bathroom door is closed, he tries to get in there through the kitchen cupboards, which is impossible, but it's a good guess given the layout of the apartment. He's also a bit of a bully toward Mashy."

What Morgan cannot state so easily is how her cats developed the pronounced personalities they have today. But she is able to hazard a guess. "Mashy was abandoned by his mother so maybe that's why he's so clingy. And Ruki may eat so much because he was the runt of the litter, so when he was nursing it was hard to get enough."

Cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy of Redondo Beach, Calif., agrees that Morgan may be onto something. "As with people, multiple factors play into cats' personalities," Galaxy says, "and you can never know for sure what kind of cat your kitten will grow into based solely on genetics or environment. I'm a tall, bald, tattooed guy and people assume that I'm going to be a dog person. You can't always make those kinds of generalities with cats, either."

Keep that in mind as Galaxy discusses some general likelihoods of cat character.

Not surprisingly, genetics play a role in your cat's personality. Galaxy says some guesses can be made about the kind of adult cat a kitten will become based on its breed. He has found that Asian breeds, like Siamese cats, tend to be very sensitive to stimuli, which owners misperceive as neuroticism due to their quick response to sounds and rapid movements.

Tortoiseshell cats (cats that are mostly black and orange) tend to be high strung, tabbies, on the other hand, are known for being playful and assertive and Persians are often thought of as docile. But, adds Galaxy, "These traits are tendencies. They're not what make cats individuals."

Your cat's environment also helps to shape its character. The crucial phase of development for kittens is between two and nine weeks. If a cat is hand raised from very early on, they are going to encounter other cats and have all kinds of communication problems, Galaxy believes. "They won't know about hissing and meowing. They'll have to learn how to talk cat." Felines that aren't around siblings don't understand what inhibited play is, because they have never been bitten by another kitten as a cue to back off. "With siblings, you learn the social rules. Kittens raised solo are socially stunted."

Similar difficulties can arise in kittens that spend their critical phase with all cats and no people. If they don't have human contact during that phase, they will have a different kind of social difficulty, according to Galaxy. "They perhaps will never feel completely comfortable around humans."

The age at which a male kitten is neutered can also affect its personality. "If you do it early on, at eight weeks to three months, you're not going to see these dominant male traits like territorial marking come out. If you wait longer, say six to eight months -- which I don't recommend -- they'll still develop the male sexual personality traits, though they'll be pseudo-sexual."

The X-Factor
Additionally, there is a mystery of personality in every species, from feline to primate. "What makes me different from you? I take a cat's history when I go into a home to work, but I also spend time getting to know it," Galaxy says. "Not to do that would be insulting. The same should go for you when you adopt a cat. Know its background. And then get to know the cat."

The next step: accepting the cat for itself. "I get a lot of calls from people who want me to change their cat," says Galaxy. "They hope I can turn it into an animal that wants to be held or picked up, when really a cat expresses affection by rubbing up against a human or exposing its stomach. I tell those clients, 'If you want a cat that you're going to be able to hold, then adopt another cat.' You can't change its stripes."

How To Bring Out Your Cat's Best
Galaxy emphasizes that accepting your cat does not mean allowing a once-abused, newly adopted cat to spend its life hiding under the bed. "That's not a healthy, quality life. We can help that cat to trust us, to come out from its isolation."

You can also encourage the traits you find most endearing in your cat by rewarding those traits. "I love my cats' sociability," Galaxy says. "When I have company over and they come out on their own, I immediately give them a treat. This works best if they're food motivated. Clicker training -- or associating food rewards with the noise of a clicker so that eventually the sound is experienced as praise -- is a great way to encourage your cat to be more of the cat you want it to be."

Of course, sometimes the traits you don't want to encourage are the ones you can't resist. "We try to punish Ruki for bullying Mashy," sighs Morgan, "but he is so endearing in his fat dumbness that we end up laughing. At this point, I think he gets that we think he's adorable."

Darcy Lockman is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to The Daily Cat. Her work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times and Rolling Stone.

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Posted on July 31, 2008

Crystal Campbell says: my 5 month old kitty "Baby" will not eat hard cat food. She is the runt of the liter and when we got her we had to give her back to her mom after a week cause she couldn't/wouldn't poop. After about a week we got her back. She is only half the size of her brothers and sisters. Is her being the runt causing her not to be able to eat hard food yet or is she just being stubborn? we mix hard food with soft and it takes her a few min but she eats it.

Posted on February 19, 2008

Carole says: She is 6mo old. When I feed her she eats a little then start to paw at her dish and the mat under her dish. I have always had male cats. She is a calico a lot of fun. She jumps sll over the house. But also wakes me at 7:45 every morning. My other cats never did this Is this normal for this type of cat Thank You

Posted on February 9, 2008

valerie says: My cat muffin is the sweetest cat in the world he is the kind of cat if you had a bad day you do not mind comming home to he also talks alot you say hello he says meow so many people say cats are unfriendly and distant but muffin can prove that is not at all true. he is a joy to have.we all spoil him because you just can't help it

Posted on February 18, 2008

Lynda says: Simon is a silent siamese who does not meow. He is THE most loving cat I've ever had. He loves lying over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes to be carried around. He actually, literally HUGS me. Puts both paws around my neck, and licks my nose/face very gently. He does growl and chirps, so he is not completely silent. I just adore him!!!

Posted on February 19, 2008

Ollie says: I have a two year old short-haired cat by the name of Oreo. He is not a lap cat, but he is quite affectionate and follows me from one room to another. The problem is he hates when I give anyone else attention especially my grand kids. He tries to ambush my granddaughters and hisses and attackes them when they are not watching. As soon as they leave he goes back to normal. I would love to adopt another cat, but I afraid that won't go very well for Oreo or the other cat. Does anyone have any ideas. I hate locking him up when they come over

Posted on January 27, 2008

Jane says: he's almost 10 months, tri tabby neutered about 7 months. He bites my feet alot, if holding, petting or he's on back he'll bit either my arm, hand, face or neck w. skin breaks half time, ears back. Goes easily to men, but not ladies, espec me. other than find replacement home any thoughts - I'm concerned if to animal society he won't find home.

Posted on January 21, 2008

Genna says: We adopted patches 5 months ago. She was feral, but gets along so well with our other cat and my husband that it seems as though shes adapted. But she gets in bed while im sleeping, climbs onto my back and pees at least once a week. weve tried everything we can think of. Id hate to give her up, but cant handle the behavior. I have two other wonderful pets, a siamese and a dachshund, and dont think its fair to them to be in this stressed environment patches is creating. Anyone ever had a pet on kitty valium or prozac? Any advice?

Posted on January 25, 2008


Posted on January 27, 2008

Jane says: he's almost 10 months, tri tabby neutered about 7 months. He bites my feet alot, if holding, petting or he's on back he'll bit either my arm, hand, face or neck w. skin breaks half time, ears back. Goes easily to men, but not ladies, espec me. other than find replacement home any thoughts - I'm concerned if to animal society he won't find home.

Posted on January 20, 2008

dawn martin says: we have two cats in our home who are not siblings but have been raised together since about two months of age and they are now seven. A female who is part siamese/calico named Coco and a male grey tabby named Tiger. Both cats have been fixed. My problem is that Coco has started spraying all over my house, to the extent that I no longer want her in the house. She will even do this right in front of me but then runs when she sees me come after her. She has the run of the entire house minus the master bedroom and our front yard and comes and goes as she pleases through a pet door. What could be causing this behavior? I don't think it is health related.

Posted on December 15, 2007

Joe says: My cat (tuxido) loves to lay on newspapers, Why?

Posted on December 17, 2007

ADRIENNE V says: Re: your cat Kibbles seems to want to go out side and play with the dogs. I agree, it WOULD be fun to have cats in the fresh air and sunshine. But don't. Its too wild out there. When the dogs are out playing, take the time to do something special with Kibbles. Grooming, a special toy to play with, a treat....

Posted on January 3, 2008

lucy says: I just moved into a new home with my husband and our three cats. The two younger cats are 3 years old, and brothers. The older cat is about 11 and is constantly fight with the other two. Since we have more space now, things have calmed down with the fighting, but even before we moved from our tiny apartment, one of the younger cats has been licking his stomach incessently. He has been given cortisone injections and I've been monitering his food. He stopped licking once we got to the new house, but now he's at it again, and nearly his entire stomach is without fur. He is clearly the most dominant cat in the house, and has always been pretty particular. Do you think his licking is allergy related or simply nerves?

Posted on January 8, 2008

Gwen says: Ok I have a siamese that is around 7 years old. Now she is clawing at the dog all the time. And my other cat freya is afraid of her.She also has little bumps by her chest which is probably cancer because she isn't fixed. I had two other cats I had to put down for the same reason so i'm really paranoid. What should I do?

Posted on January 18, 2008

louise says: i have 2 cats, Yam 3 and thumper 9months. They have been realy close but over the last few weeks yam has started hissing and growling at thumper. I thought it was because thumper wasn't desexed, but i have now had her fixed and yam won't let thumper anywhere near her without hissing, growling and hiting her. Will this pass? Or do i ow have 2 cats that don't get along?

Posted on January 10, 2008

linda smith says: Hi, my cats have such different personalities but were all raised in the same inviroment since birth. Is that a norm? Linda

Posted on December 13, 2007

Jolie says: My cat Emmett has developed a strange behavior. About a month ago, we took in my daughter's two cats while their condo was being worked on. All the cats (I have another besides Em) got along with each other fine. My other cat, Neo used a cozy pad from time to time, but now more regularly. Emmett never slept on one until about two weeks after the other cats came to visit. After about a week, he started shredding the pad until he tore a hole in it. I left it alone and finally replaced it with two new ones for each of my cats once the visitors left. Everything was fine until today, when Emmett shredded his pad. What causes this kind of behavior? The changes we made were the following: 1. Two cats came to visit for a month - more food bowls were out. Emmett ate too much and gained some weight. 2. Emmett started sleeping on the cozy pad for the first time in his 9 years after the visitors were in the house. Everyone shared bowls, litter box and sleep spaces, even the cozy pad from time to time - Emmett and Neo once slept together on the pad. 3. Visitors went home, fewer bowls of food are out, new cozy pads were placed in their old sleeping area and were used for the past 3 weeks without an issue. 4. Emmett started shredding the new cozy pad, which he alone sleeps on. I don't want to keep replacing the cozy pads - I would rather find out why he's shredding and help him stop doing it. I don't want it to escalate to shredding our furniture. Help!

Posted on December 11, 2007

Shirley Rogers says: I am curious why my cat removes her snacks from her dish(clean) anf leaves them all over the counter.

Posted on December 13, 2007

Dennis Hayden says: What would cause a 3 year old calico to viciously attack it's owner for no reason and be relentless at trying to get to her, the attack left deep cuts and bruises, along with a very frightened owner.The attacks continued for 24 hours.We had to have someone come and capture her and take her away.

Posted on December 3, 2007

Carlos V. Pender says: My Cat, named Cat talks to me. She says outside, food, feed me, feed me, feed me. Wheres the food. now now now.

Posted on December 4, 2007

Randy says: Love the poem -- I can definitely relate!!

Posted on December 4, 2007


Posted on December 7, 2007

Angel Avalos says: I have a black and white short hair kitten who is around 6mo. old and she is always getting into mischief. She goes under our bed and rips the net that is on the bottom of the boxspring...then she moves her cat dish around and never leaves it in one place...She gets all hyper around 2 or 3 in the morning...This morning she shredded several roles of toilet paper.....Help me! I love her dearly but she's driving me nuts...Oh by the way her name is "RAIDER"....she has to be around me at all times, even when I go to bed..she sleeps between me and my husband..and she likes to knead alot! sometimes on my I put her in the bathroom cause she wouldn't let us sleep and when we got up in the morning she had literally tore that bathroom apart....we were laughing but it was really a mess..We couldn't believe a kitten that small could do so much damage...Is she at that age of being hyper? or do I need to do something....HELP! I need answers.... Raider's mom Angel

Posted on December 10, 2007

floriduh says: I have 2 older females and a stray male I picked up outside right before Hurricane Wilma was due to hit. He was the size of a little beany baby when I found him. He made a wrong turn walking w/his siblings behind their mother who still lives outside. His siblings seem to be all gone from the complex for at least two years by now. He was spayed late and he attacks my maine coon. I feel like I am the bad one. I have an upstairs and he gets aggressive at night when I'm upstairs and they're all downstairs. Now I read here why he's like that. He never had any kitten siblings to learn with either. I feel so bad. He has a dog pen in the liv room for when I go out and for sleeping unless he's behaving and then he can go anywhere in the house. I hate to use it for time out but he's in there right now. I make noise putting him in and he does get frightened. Then I feel so guilty. Meanwhile, he taught the maine coon to walk on the dining table so I can't lv any plates out w/any food on them. They work together to eat my food but he attacks her and I can usually hear her crying for help and have to drop what I'm doing cuz she won't run upstairs when I call for her. Talk about stress. Three is too many. The chubby tabby is a loner, quiet and content. The younger male tabby and older maine coon try my patience every day. I feel so guilty scaring the little guy now knowing it was bad he didn't get to play w/his siblings. A hurricane was set for the next day, he was by a busy road, I picked him up and I've tried since 2005 with some successes and a whole lot of stress and guilt.

Posted on December 1, 2007

Meagan says: My cat, Nagi, chews on my hair anytime he can. He is a little over a year old and has done this since i rescued him and his brother from the street. His brother never did this. Is this normal?

Posted on December 2, 2007

Laura Freeman says: When my daughters first kitten, Sadie, a beautiful black short haired cat, got to be about a year old, she decided that she would go and live at the house directly behind us, and adopted a new family(who by the way, love her now). For weeks I would drive by our back-door neighbors house, at the insistance of the cats original mommy, and my daughter would walk up into the driveway, call for Sadie and the cat would drive home(around the block) with us. We repeated this process daily but eventually we gave up trying to keep her home. Laura wrote a 3X5 card giving all Sadies important info including vet name, original owners # etc..and sadly, allowed her to go. Sadie then began coming home on her own for about an hour each evening. She would stand at the back door and meow and upon letting her in, she would dash back to my daughters' bedroom (her old stomping ground), where Laura still had food and water sitting out in the event she ever had a change of heart. She would nibble on a minimal amount of food, get some affection from us, then demand to go out again, where she proceeded back over the fence to her new residence. After several months, I finally found a new kitten (Kibbles) for Laura, to try to ease the pain of Sadies ultimate betrayal . She's a Calico with beautiful long fur, and a stubby-bent tail that the Vet believes was likely deformed while in utero. She was the runt of the litter. This kitten is so talkative and I swear she meows "Mama". She is the most loving, affectionate little thing but she's can also be very demanding and wild and crazy beyond belief. She does the same biting thing discussed in anothers' question, where it appears she tires of the affection she has demanded, then she nips and gets wild, sometimes continuing her attacks, lunging at her unsuspecting victims from a kitty vantage point above our heads. We have 2 house dogs, a Golden and Daschund, who go outside frequently. Kibbles will sit at the back door and watch them play and when the door is left open(trust me,only by accident) she will cautiously venture out to the porch. My daughter freaks !! She refuses to "ever" allow this Kitten to go outside because of her painful and traumatic loss of Sadie Kitty. I think the kitten is still too young (5 months old and still very small), but I fear the day will come where she will get by us. After that long historical essay, this is my question: Is it wrong to keep our new Kitten inside when she obviously wants to go out and play so badly?? Isn't it natural for Cats to need to learn about the outside world?? I am afraid that she will go "stir crazy" if forced to stay in the confines of our home. Please tell me, what is the best thing to do in the interest of this Kittens normal growth and development. Thanks for your help. Kathy-Laura's Mom and grandmother to Sadie and Kibbles.

Posted on November 22, 2007

sya says: My husband and I adopted 4 kittens, of which 2 had turned to adult. Each one demonstrates different personalities. The first one, Nikita (or Nicky) is very independent and proud - would never greet us by rubbing against our feet, but only rubbing against the wall or furniture. The second, Baby is very verbal, stubborn and rebellious. The third was picked up when he was barely 2 months old, is very dependent on me (not my husband) - would greet me in the morning by sniffing at my face ad sometime bit softly at my feet - only to wake me up for food. This one weighs 4.5 kilos at 7 months old! The youngest, Gambit really represent its name - cute looking, playful but definitely a bully. How do we live with them? We managed!

Posted on December 1, 2007

Rene' Rogers says: My female white/blued cat has suddenly started excessive grooming since I started keeping her in. I am extremely clean and she has been defleed any suggestions why? Vet checked her we can not figure out why? She is siamese I believe.

Posted on December 1, 2007

kelley says: can anyone please advise me what plants are safe for cats.. i need more plants in my condo & am concerned the felines might nibble them. what are the best plants to have? thanks!

Posted on December 1, 2007

Jennifer says: I have a one-year-old cat that I rescued PetsMart's Last Chance Adoption when he was only 9 weeks old. The problem is, he is still skitish after one year. He will barely come near anyone for attention, food, treats, or anything else. And on the odd occasion that he does come near you, you can only pet him for about a minute before he runs away. I have two other cats who are both loving, come when called, enjoy being petted, etc. What can I do to help this cat not be so skitish around me?

Posted on November 8, 2007

Cindy says: Regal, my 4 year old persian has started peeing on my bed. Don't know why or how to correct it. I clean his box twice a day so it is always fresh. He doesn't pee anywhere else in the house. Just in the middle of my bed.

Posted on November 11, 2007

Brenda Allen says: I had a siamese that started peeing in my bed and went on the computer and looked it up and it said it was a sigh of a uniary tract infection so i took her to the doctor and that was exactly what it had and after giving her medicine she did not do it anymore.

Posted on November 13, 2007

Wendi says: I agree with Brenda. My cat Marbles started peeing on our sofa. We took her to the vet and were given some medication. Now we feed her cat food for urinary tract infection. It has very little grain in it and she doesn't develop the crystals in her bladder that were causing the problems.

Posted on November 15, 2007

AOK says: Our siamese cat has been with us 12 years. She is an indoor cat. She was the only cat until two years ago when I brought home a 12 wk old kitten. She was not happy. Now that our calico is old enough to defend herself our Siamese feels she needs to mark her turf and is spraying on everything. I've caught her doing it a number of times - she only does it on vertical surfaces and she runs when I catch her. I isolate her for a few hours and tell her no! It has done no good. Now she has ruined a piece of valuable art and I am at the point of desperation. Please advise! I've purchased "marking" solution that is supposed to calm the cats and wash down everything I find that has been marked with vinegar. Nothing has helped remedy the situation.

Posted on November 2, 2007

Tom says: The upper respiratory infection of your cat should not cause a problem for you or your unborn baby, but I would suggest getting some anti-biotics or taking your cat to the vet so that you may help him recover. You may want to look this up, as I'm not 100% Sure.

Posted on November 7, 2007

Matt says: Why does my cat smell my breath when I'm in bed sleeping?

Posted on November 7, 2007

karen says: I have 3 cats 2 sisters and 1 male I brought in from outside. They all got along fine, I've had them together for 3 years now. Now all of a sudden 1 of the sisters out of the blue attachs the male and chases him. Now he cowers when he sees her. What can I do. I will not get rid of any of them.

Posted on November 7, 2007

Mary says: My 6 year old male cat is just recently starting to swat at and chase my 2 yr. old male cat. They have gotten along very well , even sleep together, until the last two weeks. Don't understand why or what to do about it.

Posted on November 8, 2007

Robbi says: How do you work a mat or two out of their coat??

Posted on October 19, 2007

Dee Pisciotta says: Our cat, Midnite, bonded with me and Charlie, who lived downstairs. She spent 4 hrs each evening with him; he died this summer and she just sleeps all day... I'm wondering if she is depressed. Thanks ahead for your reply.

Posted on November 2, 2007

Suzanne says: I am 5 months pregnant and my cat lestat has just developed some kind of upper respiratory infection and sneezes a lot. he is an indoor cat, is this a danger to me or the unborn baby?

Posted on October 17, 2007

Carolyn Bartz says: The kitten that attacks and bites may need more interactive, supervised playtime from you. As this sounds like natural tendancies that all kittens have, I suggest to get this kitten a playmate. This usually stops the aggression (natural) of your moving parts. I have had this same experience. With my 3 cats, the focus was off me and the cats played amoung themselves. When tired out, it is nap time. I wrote a book that you may be interested in. Title in the subject line. Hope this helps.

Posted on October 17, 2007

Carolyn says: I adopted my Oreo when he was 4 weeks old, abandonded and almost dead. He constantly had his mouth open to "bite". As he got older, he still "bites", but never, never, hard and will actualy run up behind me and bite(nip) me on the leg.He is 1 1/2 years old now. I think the biting is his way of "loving" you-at least it is mine. I have grown to accept it, and miss it when he doesn't do it often.

Posted on October 18, 2007

Lisa says: I have a 4 month old male that's very affectionate. But at night, he'll start licking my face or neck then nibbles (bites). How can I break him of this habit?

Posted on October 18, 2007

Yolonda says: when my kitten comes up to me he wants to nurse only on me not on anyone else. this gets very annoying what can i do ? please give me some insight i've given him stuffed animals but he don't want them he wants his human mom, he has a sister from the same litter that doesn't do this why just him?

Posted on October 18, 2007

Janice says: My 13 year old Abyssinian, Baldrick, likes to get up on my chest, really close to my face. Then he rubs the side of his face/mouth on my nose. What does this mean? I call them "Baldrick Kisses", but I don't really know.

Posted on October 16, 2007

kelli says: he is 3 months old , he bites , attacks us etc. what can we do to change this?

Posted on October 17, 2007

kyle says: My kitten (10 mo) licks my face constantly. It is very irritating as she does it in the middle of the night, in the morning, afternoon, evening. Also I lost 2 cats this summer. One was run over and one died of old age (I think he disappeared after 14 yrs). Maisy is not eating much. She is small, only weights 6 lbs. Is she mourning? I am thinking about getting another cat. Thanks

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