Personality Traits: Which are Heritable?

lutece

TCS Member
Top Cat
Joined
Mar 8, 2018
Messages
3,450
Reaction score
4,437
If (just hypothetically) there was a gene that gave a cat double body length but halved its lifespan, Nature wouldn't make a serval that way [...]
You are giving "Nature" too much credit here. "Nature" doesn't care about whether a creature has a long and happy life. "Nature" just cares about how many babies that creature can produce before it dies, as long as those babies manage to make it to reproductive age themselves. Maybe that long bodied Serval can produce a few more kittens on average, despite its shortened lifespan... "Nature" would be perfectly happy with that trade-off. In fact, you could even imagine that a shorter life span might improve its descendants' survival to reproductive age, if it meant Mom or Dad wasn't competing with offspring for food supply. As far as "Nature" is concerned, that's great!
 

Willowy

TCS Member
Top Cat
Joined
Mar 1, 2009
Messages
26,843
Reaction score
19,240
Location
South Dakota
That's true, living past prime reproductive age is useless, evolutionarily speaking. Well, in cooperative social species there may be a benefit, so that childless females may care for babies while their mothers have more babies, but for solitary species a long lifespan wouldn't have any benefit.
If we wanted a huge moggie the size of a Florida Panther, we might be able to do that,
It's been tried. There seems to be a limit on domestic cat sizes. I read an article once about why but I don't think I'd be able to find it again. Anyway, something about cats not being as genetically elastic as dogs.
 
Last edited:
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #23

The Goodbye Bird

TCS Member
Thread starter
Adult Cat
Joined
May 15, 2020
Messages
146
Reaction score
73
"Nature" doesn't care about whether a creature has a long and happy life. "Nature" just cares about how many babies that creature can produce before it dies,
With a few exceptions this will mean general good health and decent longevity, because that brings more litters.

One of the exceptions is mice. They're so intelligent, learn so easily, and reproduce so quickly that high longevity would have them outcompeting their own offspring. Therefore, to make room, they (gene-wise)intentionally die off.

I remember reading a study a while back where scientists found a gene in mice, turned it off, and the mice lived longer without it. I can't find it now, unfortunately.

It's been tried. There seems to be a limit on domestic cat sizes. I read an article once about why but I don't think I'd be able to find it again. Anyway, something about cats not being as genetically elastic as dogs.
That's unfortunate. I'd like it if they were a little bigger. Their smallness gives me frights, especially because I am planning an open cattery with the basement for males and the upstairs for females. I'm going to have to be super careful that one isn't caught in the lazy susan or a cabinet or the fridge. I seriously have a cat that jumps in the fridge just as I'm closing it. If there are many and they look similar, one could slip away and I might not notice instantly.

I believe it about lack of genetic elasticity though. All kinds of cats may be extremely close, perhaps even similar enough to produce a hybrid (or maybe there are just two large groups, roughly encompassing big and small cats). It always surprises me just how easily people are able to produce hybrid cats. This could be simply because they haven't diversified enough... or it could be because they have a hard time doing so.

Makes sense. They're already perfect. Why would they need to evolve further?
 

Dacatchair

TCS Member
Adult Cat
Joined
Aug 13, 2017
Messages
209
Reaction score
235
I think there is a lot we don't know and continue to learn about heritability, how nature and nurture combine, and how constellations of genes work together and get turned on or off through environmental cues. In nature genetic selection happens slowly in the species as a whole, and there is probably subtle traits that may be carried recessively or pressures and preferences we don't even notice.

There was a large veterinary study done in the UK which found human bred cats that are a specific breed on average live a year and a 1/2 less than their random bred cousins, and that is even though these purebred cats are more likely to be kept indoors, and get good quality vet care than their randoms bred cousins. So even in a few decades, there is a cost to our preferences. https://researchonline.rvc.ac.uk/id/eprint/8438/1/8438.pdf
 
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #26

The Goodbye Bird

TCS Member
Thread starter
Adult Cat
Joined
May 15, 2020
Messages
146
Reaction score
73
So even in a few decades, there is a cost to our preferences.
I know this, and I'm still not dissuaded. Every time even 1HP is lost, I want to know why. I want to know exactly where it went.

I believe cats can be bred to live to 40, and be of the quality and conformity show judges want.

We've sequenced the Human genome. This is within reach. It's just a matter of insisting on no sacrifices, or rather, understanding every sacrifice that has been made, and do what we want without that.

I believe in making fantasy into reality. I once saw a documentary about how many modern inventions only exist because someone saw it on Star Trek and thought how cool it would be, then actually invented one.

We have the tools. We know we can understand these harmful mutations because we understand some. This is a puzzle, a massive 100,000 piece puzzle, but no matter how large the puzzle, there's a magic moment when someone makes a fit, and people have already made fits.

We're blessed to live in a world where there are some fits left to make.
 
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #28

The Goodbye Bird

TCS Member
Thread starter
Adult Cat
Joined
May 15, 2020
Messages
146
Reaction score
73
This is some interesting research on selecting for personality traits that has been done on foxes. Not cats but probably some similar principles.
I know of this experiment! My friend actually had a sibfox. They are totally tame. Within 50 years they made a wild animal that is in no way a pet into a completely tame one that in most cases was classified as ultratame, domesticated elite, meaning they would naturally approach humans and desire attention.

Unfortunately they shut down the programme and as far as I know, there are few or no intact sibfoxes left to breed from.

It was a sad, sad thing that happened. The sibfoxes were worth so much that to preserve that, every sibfox that went out had to be spayed and neutered. So when they shut down the programme, as I understand it massively downsizing it, many of their animals went to the fur industry (which was the original goal so I guess I can't complain) and now the sibfox breed is basically dead. There may be a few intact individuals out there but I don't have hope that they will gain popularity again. Even if they do the whole fiasco equals a massive bottleneck and then they'll be in serious trouble genetically.

One thing about the sibfox is that they are difficult to housebreak.
 

lutece

TCS Member
Top Cat
Joined
Mar 8, 2018
Messages
3,450
Reaction score
4,437
There was a large veterinary study done in the UK which found human bred cats that are a specific breed on average live a year and a 1/2 less than their random bred cousins, and that is even though these purebred cats are more likely to be kept indoors, and get good quality vet care than their randoms bred cousins. So even in a few decades, there is a cost to our preferences. https://researchonline.rvc.ac.uk/id/eprint/8438/1/8438.pdf
The extremely low life spans shown for many of those breeds in the paper you linked are definitely concerning. But I also notice that the number of cats representing most of the breeds is quite low. I wonder what the results would look like in a larger study, and I also wonder about the type of breeding programs those cats came from.
Screen Shot 2020-07-03 at 8.36.51 PM.png
Average life span in my breed appears to be about 15 years, and if we hear of cats dying as early as 10, we try to understand what went wrong. I've had a lot of pet buyers getting back to me after their cat has lived 17-19 years looking for another kitten.
 

Willowy

TCS Member
Top Cat
Joined
Mar 1, 2009
Messages
26,843
Reaction score
19,240
Location
South Dakota
I've heard that the low lifespan for Bengals is because a lot are killed due to behavioral problems :/. Breeders could probably do a better job of preparing potential owners for the realities of the breed, plus better screening to exclude those who just want a pretty cat.
 

lutece

TCS Member
Top Cat
Joined
Mar 8, 2018
Messages
3,450
Reaction score
4,437
I've heard that the low lifespan for Bengals is because a lot are killed due to behavioral problems :/.
I can imagine that might be an issue in Bengals... behavioral issues are a huge factor in life span and quality of life for all cats. But it's hard to tell whether that was a significant factor for the 15 Bengals included in this study. "Behavioral disorder" is listed as a potential cause of death in the study (presumably those are cats whose owners had them killed) but this is not broken down by breed anywhere.
Breeders could probably do a better job of preparing potential owners for the realities of the breed, plus better screening to exclude those who just want a pretty cat.
There are definitely Bengal breeders that care about screening and preparing potential owners... but these also tend to be breeders who care about producing cats with good temperament and good socialization in the first place. Unfortunately the breeders who don't care about screening buyers are also likely to be the ones who don't care as much about temperament and socialization. :(
 
Last edited:
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #32

The Goodbye Bird

TCS Member
Thread starter
Adult Cat
Joined
May 15, 2020
Messages
146
Reaction score
73
I've heard that the low lifespan for Bengals is because a lot are killed due to behavioral problems :/. Breeders could probably do a better job of preparing potential owners for the realities of the breed, plus better screening to exclude those who just want a pretty cat.
Geez. What on earth do they do, eat their owners' babies?

I've been around big cats and the main issue I've seen when trying to bring them into the house is peeing. The biggest cats (lions and tigers) don't always seem to know that they shouldn't just pee everywhere, and it seems that the bigger the cat, the bigger the smell, even accounting for size.

I imagine with small wild or part-wild cats, spraying is a big issue, perhaps in addition to being generally destructive beyond the fact that all my chairs and my sofa are full of holes.

What I have never seen, however, is a tameness issue with any kind of cat that was properly raised from a baby. I'm not saying big cats aren't dangerous (I know they are, as would your puss be if you enlarged him to a couple hundred pounds) I'm just saying it's weird that cats are sort of tameable one generation out of the wild. They rub and they purr and they lie on you. You couldn't do this with just any animal. The only comparable thing I know of is imprinting in birds, and that's definitely not what cats are doing, at least not in that way.
 

Dacatchair

TCS Member
Adult Cat
Joined
Aug 13, 2017
Messages
209
Reaction score
235
One factor in the short lifespan of bengals may be that active cats tend to get exposed to more potential accidents, and the UK has a culture where 90% of cats are allowed to free roam at least part of the day ( or this was the case at the time of this study) The more roads a cat crosses the more chances it will encounter a car... The 2 people I know who have had Bengals ended up letting them out, as they found it impossible to keep them in and happy. ( Both lived/ are living long lives)

Thinking about this, and the idea that natural selection has favoured cats with better human orientated social skills , I really don't think retaining this over the long run will be possible the way breeding programs are set up. It seems very few breeders would pay thousands of dollars for breeding rights and a beautiful breed standard kitten, with physical traits they wanted, and then decide the kitten was physically perfect, but not of the best temperament to pass on their genes... Personality is not always immediately apparent, and while the most obvious problems might discourage breeding, the more subtle things would not.
 

Dacatchair

TCS Member
Adult Cat
Joined
Aug 13, 2017
Messages
209
Reaction score
235
The Goodbye Bird The Goodbye Bird ... I suspect a large part of how cats became OK with hanging out in intimate ways with humans isn't so much the food or the rodents our agriculture attracts, ( though that was the undoubtedly the initial perk) but that they love sharing our heat sources, and are hard wired to keep each other warm, when they are not being solitary hunters...

Asian Leopard Cats, which are the wild cats used to create Bengals, are by nature very shy and elusive. I think cats that have these shy and self protective tendencies may be more anxious finding themselves confined, which in the wild would mean they are vunerable to being cornered and trapped. So they may be more challenging to keep happy indoors? Big cats would probably be more confident?

One of my Savannahs is an F7 SBT meaning the vast majority of his heritage is domestic indoor bred lines, but he has Serval up many branches of his family tree. He also has some distant Bengal ancestry. He was going to be a part of a breeding program, but instead I was able to adopt and neuter him, before he ever made any kittens. Part of the reason was he is extremely sensitive, and shy to the point of being totally paranoid. And I said I prefer shy cats... Other kittens produced by the same breeder seem to be well socialized, and as far as I know, he has never had anything bad happen. I think it must be genetic. Anyways, I did not expect a cat with 10 generations of documented indoor only ancestors, who only went out on a leash or through enclosures, would become totally obsessed with wanting out, but he did, and even close to 1000 square feet of enclosures did nothing to help with this, Just gave him more room to pace. He now has about 1/3 of an acre of fenced yard that has a small orchard, a pond, and a lot of wild over grown areas. At last he is happy... like really really happy. I suspect that is partly because it is so large he can never see he is surrounded by a fence. So he doesn't feel trapped and vulnerable. Which has got to be genetic... What has surprised me is that now he has free daytime access to our yard, he spends hours a day in the house, hanging out with me, and he is a lot more social and affectionate. Now he doesn't feel trapped...
 
Last edited:

lutece

TCS Member
Top Cat
Joined
Mar 8, 2018
Messages
3,450
Reaction score
4,437
Thinking about this, and the idea that natural selection has favoured cats with better human orientated social skills , I really don't think retaining this over the long run will be possible the way breeding programs are set up. It seems very few breeders would pay thousands of dollars for breeding rights and a beautiful breed standard kitten, with physical traits they wanted, and then decide the kitten was physically perfect, but not of the best temperament to pass on their genes... Personality is not always immediately apparent, and while the most obvious problems might discourage breeding, the more subtle things would not.
Temperament is a major factor in all breeding programs that I personally know. No one wants to deal with cats that have poor temperament, either at home or at the shows. Poor temperament makes a cat difficult to live with, and is very stressful for anyone showing the cat. Cats that exhibit poor temperament as adults definitely may be retired from breeding even before they are bred once; I have eliminated some absolutely gorgeous cats from my own breeding program because I was not happy with their adult temperament.

Think of it in practical terms. Even if you invested a lot of money or effort in getting a kitten or cat, if that cat has problems that you don't want in your breeding program, you could be dealing with problems for decades... it makes a lot more practical sense not to perpetuate the problems and not to use that cat in your breeding program.
 
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #36

The Goodbye Bird

TCS Member
Thread starter
Adult Cat
Joined
May 15, 2020
Messages
146
Reaction score
73
Even if you invested a lot of money or effort in getting a kitten or cat, if that cat has problems that you don't want in your breeding program, you could be dealing with problems for decades.
I'm not sure what factors are at work here but it seems that bad personality is always dominant over good, so I would lean toward this same choice. It can't possibly be a single gene and it lasts for generations exactly as you describe. I once read about a breeding programme to make wolfdogs that had the temperment of dogs but the looks of wolves and they couldn't do it. No matter how much dog they poured in, they still had aggressive individuals unsuitable for pets.

One way my experience is lacking is with unneutered toms. As far as I know they're very friendly, maybe even more so than other cats, but I haven't owned one personally so I don't know exactly what's normal and what's probably unacceptable.
 

Dacatchair

TCS Member
Adult Cat
Joined
Aug 13, 2017
Messages
209
Reaction score
235
lutece lutece You sound like a very caring and responsible breeder... ! I have no desire to breed cats, but if I did, being human, I would be very tempted to breed a physically beautiful cat I had purchased, even if it did not have the best temperament... I really do not know much about they way cat breeders do things, but if all cats used in breeding programs get taken to cat shows, it seems that would help weed out the shy, paranoid, defensive, and aggressive cats, but there is other important personality factors, like intelligence, and sensitive social skills cats have besides being non aggressive and stoic in a new environment. None of the cats I have loved would do well at a cat show, ( like not at all - ever !!! ) but my super shy cats have all had an amazing ability to tune into how I feel, and show they care. I do not want to see shy cats bred out of existence! Over time, sensitive traits like this have earned cats loyalty from humans, and a cat that is deeply loved probably gets more protection than cats that are just part of the environment.
 

lutece

TCS Member
Top Cat
Joined
Mar 8, 2018
Messages
3,450
Reaction score
4,437
I would be very tempted to breed a physically beautiful cat I had purchased, even if it did not have the best temperament...
It's tempting if you are a brand new breeder with no experience. Not nearly as tempting if you are an old experienced breeder :)
I really do not know much about they way cat breeders do things, but if all cats used in breeding programs get taken to cat shows, it seems that would help weed out the shy, paranoid, defensive, and aggressive cats, but there is other important personality factors, like intelligence, and sensitive social skills cats have besides being non aggressive and stoic in a new environment. None of the cats I have loved would do well at a cat show, ( like not at all - ever !!! ) but my super shy cats have all had an amazing ability to tune into how I feel, and show they care. I do not want to see shy cats bred out of existence! Over time, sensitive traits like this have earned cats loyalty from humans, and a cat that is deeply loved probably gets more protection than cats that are just part of the environment.
Breeders are just like anyone else, most of us live with our cats in our homes. When looking at a breeding program for the long term (decades), you are living with an ongoing family of cats, and the choices you make shape what kind of family of cats you live with. We tend to keep the cats that have strong positive relationships with us. Not all cats have the outgoing temperament to make the best show cats (although you might be surprised what a shy cat is capable of tolerating, given the right encouragement), and that's ok. I wouldn't eliminate a cat from a breeding program simply because they are more shy / less outgoing, as long as they are still sweet. Some cats have a sweet and gentle temperament that is very endearing.

What I do stay away from is any cat that is aggressive, unpredictable, excessively dominant, has trouble getting along with other cats, difficult to handle, or is just not friendly with people. Shyness can be an issue if it causes a cat to be fearful and unpredictable or makes it difficult for them to have good relationships with others. Also, some cats are very friendly, but don't have very good "bite inhibition" or self control with their teeth or claws (for example a cat that gives love bites that break the skin), I would not use a cat like that in my breeding program either... cats need self control to live with humans and other cats.
 

Silver Crazy

TCS Member
Super Cat
Joined
Jul 8, 2019
Messages
973
Reaction score
3,095
Location
Melbourne Australia
I have been following you guys thread with great interest..a great discussion.
I can fill in a few details about the Bengal longevity from personal experience as dont know much else about other domestic cats.
I compare Bengals and other cats bred from their wild cousins to working dogs that go all day long and consequently have a short life span in most cases through wear and tear..
Bengals dont spend their lives sleeping away like other cats, always active, alert and aware of whats going on around them so I think they just wear themselves out. (Mine if I am working out in the yard or I am fully active the cat will be with me 12 hours straight running around and getting underfoot.)
Oldest Bengal I have had was 12 years and he was a super chill cat for any breed.
Also Bengal males ( neutered..only have experience with them) get to that 4-5 years old can become a real handful with pushy bullying behavior and you need to get past this with a firm hand and attitude.
I can see a lot of males getting put down as unmanageable by some owners if they cant cope and change/manage this behavior.
I have worked with big cats as well and found their personality's as diverse as domestic cats and all have their little quirks.
 
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #40

The Goodbye Bird

TCS Member
Thread starter
Adult Cat
Joined
May 15, 2020
Messages
146
Reaction score
73
I have worked with big cats as well and found their personality's as diverse as domestic cats and all have their little quirks.
That's another thing all kind of cats seem to have: Each one is such a standout individual with its own absolutely unique personality that I wonder how people breed for any personality at all.

What I always say is that every time you have a cat, it'll be the weirdest one you've ever had.

It's a pity about the bengals. I think when making hybrids, using medium wild cats is probably the way to go. Smalls are the ones that seem to have more problems. Caracal and Serval work well, though Caracats usually aren't made due to they often have this digestive weakness from the mixing and often can't thrive. Good personality though.

What I wish someone would try is the Asian Golden Cat. This might not be viable since it's further away from domestic cats than other species used but I bet you could get some great cats out of that.
 
Top