Personality Traits: Which are Heritable?

Dacatchair

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Most people breeding Savannah cats seem to re-home their female cats when they are still young, like 2 or 3 years old, and many males are also retired young or passed onto another breeding program. Breeders seem to want to make sure the breed has enough genetic diversity, and it is impractical to end up with 20 or more retired queens and kings. It doesn't seem likely kittens born to a mom who was never allowed to live out her life in the home she had been brought into as a kitten, would get any inherited personality tendencies from this. But the unneutered males are usually confined to some sort of seperate living area because they spray. I know this is true for other cat breeds as well. Which doesn't seem as good as Mother Nature's system to give an advantage to cats with amazing human social skills or intelligence, at least for the males.

The idea of imposing the life of a cat in a typical breeding program on one of my beloved kitties is very upsetting... but allowing cats to reproduce on their own often results in serious injuries and disease, so no matter how cats reproduce there is a somewhat nasty side to it... So I am not against humans assisting with the breeding of cats. Just I think our well intentioned interventions may have long range consequences, especially if it is happening along side over zealous spay and neuter programs with no clear end goal that stops short of sterilizing all human friendly random bred cats. As I live in an area where this has almost happened, and there is very very few random bred kittens being born, this is something that is happening in some parts of the world. One local business that sells building materials needed a working cat to guard the bales of insulation, but that was also friendly enough to hang out in the same area as customers. They had to travel a day and over 100 miles to find a kitten to adopt that wasn't too feral. And I ended up getting kittens from breeders. Which led me to wonder what role we have now taken on in cats natural long term evolution.

It seems because cats have become members of our families we tend to think of them like they are our kids. But we didn't really create cats... IMO Cats are a naturally occurring species that attached themselves to humans, in a way that seems similar to house mice and rats that originated in Asia. Except cats have social skills. Amazing social skills which they developed by choices made freely by them with encouragement by us, because intimate relationships with humans benefited them. Cats have also naturally interbred with their wild cousins in areas of Africa, Europe, Asia and the UK, so they are all at least partly hybridized somewhere back there. In these areas they are just as much an indigenous species as coyotes in Eastern and Western North America, even though coyotes have expanded their range in a big way over the past few decades.
(PDF) The palaeogenetics of cat dispersal in the ancient world

And while we have always given more protection to kittens with appealing features, only recently have we begun to select cats to mate with each other to create a modified, human controlled animal. So our control of how cats can reproduce is something of an experiment. And while I get it that cats with obvious behavior problems will probably not be selected for breeding programs, on social media I rarely see breeders mention they selected a cat because of it's intelligence or social skills. Usually it is a combination of physical features they hope to retain or enhance. It would be cool if some breeding programs focused mainly on good health and intelligence, or good health and social sensitivity, making note on which of these traits seems inherited, and maybe switching a few kittens to see what may be learned from a different Mom!
 
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lutece

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The idea of imposing the life of a cat in a typical breeding program on one of my beloved kitties is very upsetting... but allowing cats to reproduce on their own often results in serious injuries and disease, so no matter how cats reproduce there is a somewhat nasty side to it...
What do you find to be nasty and upsetting about cats being in a breeding program? What kind of life do you imagine they have? My cats are all pretty spoiled...
 

Dacatchair

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Sorry if I didn't choose my words carefully enough to make what I was getting at easy to understand! It seems different breeders have different ways they do things, and I am not wanting to be judgemental, because no matter how cats to reproduce, there seems to be a nasty side to it.

As far as I understand, male cats in breeding programs are for the most part housed apart from the general human household, because they spray and the spray really reeks. Often they get a spayed or neutered companion cat, so they are not all alone. Some breeders use stud pants so the males can continue to be part of their day to day family life, but as far as I know, this is not the norm. Cats that have an attachment to humans generally seem to find it stressful being locked out of any activities. Which is probably why so many people report their cats won't let them even go to the bathroom alone. If I try to put one of mine in a room with a closed door, maybe to give one a chance to eat food with supplements before the other grabs it, 15 minutes is about the limit and then they start to freak out. If I was to take either of my neutered males and put them in a closed off room or cat housing for most of the day, every day, I would feel I was being extremely nasty. I guess it is possible an intact male cat that has never known anything different would be OK with this. But they are still being deprived of the choice, the ability to form strong attachments to humans, and most cats would choose to be part of a family. But like most things, context is important, and the alternative is just as nasty, probably more so. Letting male cats reproduce naturally means they free roam, spray outside, and constantly get into serious fights with other cats where they regularly get injured and even killed. So it seems it kinda sucks to be a intact male cat either way... And no intact male cats = no kittens = no cats at all...

Is there something I am not understanding about the life of an intact male cat in a breeding program?

The other way breeding programs seem kind of nasty is the practice of rehoming adult cats once they have produced a few litters. This is usually framed as a nice thing to do for the cats because they will get the full attention of a family and not be just one of many. But most adult cats find being rehomed extremely stressful. Some more than others. I would feel extremely nasty rehoming either of my young cats and would do everything possible to avoid this, as I know how upsetting this would be for them. Especially one of them! This is well known and people who decide to rehome a cat because something in their life changes, are generally encouraged to try harder to keep the cat in the home it has become attached to. So I don't see why cats in breeding programs would find re-homing any less stressful. And if a cat hasn't had as much individual attention as they would have liked before they are rehomed, that is also kind of sad.

But again, context is important, and the alternatives may be worse... It seems life always contains both joy and sorrow, and while we can do our best to enhance the joy and reduce the sorrow and stress, we can't always make life perfect for our pets, much as we might wish we could. But it does seem breeding cats usually has a nasty side to it, that plays down forming life long deeply attached bonds with the cats in a breeding program. And it is possible it is the cats that tolerate this best ( especially males) have inheritable traits that are different than the traits that would make them the best companion animals.
 

lutece

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Ok, I can't discuss both of your concerns in one message so I will start with your concern about rehoming cats.

In my opinion, rehoming cats after they are done breeding is a great thing in a breeding program!! I have been doing this since I first started in the late 1980s, and I have always had great experiences with rehoming retired breeding cats as old as 10 years old. Older cats are often a lot happier in their own homes than they are in a breeding household with lots of young cats around.

Cats can, and do, form strong bonds with their new families later in life as adults. At least in my breed, they seem to adjust quickly with minimal stress. Of course, this is assuming the cat has a good temperament, is friendly and well socialized in the first place, and is moving into an appropriate home for the cat. And retired breeding cats normally already have experience traveling and meeting new people.

I don't rehome every breeding cat. We have kept a few cats if I don't feel they would do well in a new home, or if I just don't find the perfect new home for that particular cat, or if we are just too attached to that cat and never want him or her to leave. However, every time I have rehomed a cat, I have to say that it usually turns out even better than I expected... I always worry that the cat might not adjust easily or that they'll miss me... but every time, it has worked out great! After rehoming, the cats are happy, the owners are happy, and it keeps my house from being too crowded. It is truly a win-win for everyone.

It's a lot of work to be a breeder, and in many breeds, the number of serious active breeders is pitifully few at this time. You need a certain number of active breeders just to keep the gene pool healthy. If each of those breeders can keep their breeding programs going at "full capacity" by rehoming older cats when possible, it helps us to keep our breed healthy and genetically diverse.
 

lutece

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As far as the life of intact male cats, a lot of this is going to depend on the breed, how likely it is for males in that breed to spray, and whether males can get along with each other without getting in fights. This seems to vary a lot by breed. I do not personally have experience with breeds where the males do a lot of spraying and fighting, so I can't really speak to that...

All intact male cats that I have known have been really affectionate and crave physical contact more than other cats... It's important to manage a stud male's life so that he gets the affection he craves and he is not lonely.

In my breed, spraying is not as much of a problem. I have been fortunate to have males that didn't spray for the entire time I had them whole. They were able to participate in family life and did not lack affection or entertainment at all. However, I usually do not have more than one male at a time, and I have just a few females.

I have also had other males that I simply couldn't keep properly. I know my limits, and I don't have the capacity to properly house and manage a male that sprays, fights with other cats, or can't be easily handled by everyone in my family... when I have had males that spray or fight, they either get neutered, or they go to another breeder who can manage them better than I can.

Breeders with more cats, multiple males that don't get along with each other, or spraying males, need to have special housing where the males have plenty of space and get adequate attention. Access to outdoor space can help. Some people have amazing, large enclosures for their breeding cats. Many males also do better with companionship (another male or a spayed/neutered cat). Some people keep all their males together in a big space, and that can work well if they get along...

I have also known some breeders to place a whole male in a pet home where he can have run of the house and be part of the family, and then they work with that pet owner for breeding... this can work really well and I have known a number of males that lived happily like this for their entire lives. When the stud cat is the only cat in the household, I think he's less likely to spray.

But however you manage your male, you really need to make sure he gets the attention he needs... if a breeder can't provide a male with a happy living situation, he should be neutered and retired as soon as possible.

You said, "I guess it is possible an intact male cat that has never known anything different would be OK with this." No... I don't think any intact male cat is OK with being isolated and lonely. I have visited some breeders that had males that were raised from kittenhood in stud cages by themselves far away from the family life, and never knew anything different... those cats were not happy. That is not a good life and a male shouldn't have to live out his life like that.
 

Dacatchair

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lutece lutece Thanks for sharing your experience...You sound like you really care for your cats! But just to be clear, I joined this discussion of heritable personality traits because I have wondered about the long term effects of wide spread spay and neuter programs that tend to leave a larger percentage of the less trusting, more feral cats intact, and breeders who often select cats to reproduce on the basis of looks. (Maybe this is more an issue in breeds that are still developing and improving?) I know breeding cats is difficult and any ideas on how to do this "better" are often totally impractical. It is like one of those rubrix cubes where you get a couple sides lined up perfectly and then from another angle, it is still not quite right... Except this rubrix cube probably doesn't have a way it all lines just perfect.

On the topic of how cat breeders manage cats, I like the idea of kittens that will be parents being able to go to their forever homes while still intact, and being able to have litters while living in a forever home, but still be part of a breeding program. However, I also believe that would probably result in more accidental escapes, accidental pregnancies and possibly disease transmission, and I know female cats often go out of heat if they are transported while in heat, so the boys need to visit the girls.... So still not perfect. But it could be planned ahead, and would probably be kinder to the cats.
 

lutece

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On the topic of how cat breeders manage cats, I like the idea of kittens that will be parents being able to go to their forever homes while still intact, and being able to have litters while living in a forever home, but still be part of a breeding program. However, I also believe that would probably result in more accidental escapes, accidental pregnancies and possibly disease transmission, and I know female cats often go out of heat if they are transported while in heat, so the boys need to visit the girls.... So still not perfect. But it could be planned ahead, and would probably be kinder to the cats.
Some breeders are able to arrange something like this with pet homes. But honestly it can be challenging for a pet owner to manage a whole female cat, some are more troublesome than a whole male cat... Females in heat can be noisy, sometimes aggressive, and very often pee on things, too... and yes, either the male must visit the female (in which case you have a pet family trying to manage two whole breeding cats), or the female must visit the male (in which case she typically must stay at the male's home for some time, to give her time to come into heat and then time to confirm pregnancy). Then the pet family must be prepared to take care of the female cat, deal with any medical issues, manage the delivery, raise the kittens... I have had only a couple of pet buyers in the past that were able to deal with any of this, and I encouraged those people to be breeders in their own right and put their own cattery name on the kittens.

I'll just make one more comment which is sort of on a tangent... I simply don't think it's necessary for all cats to go into their permanent homes as kittens and stay there forever. I think it's easy for people to romanticize the idea of "life long bonds" for both cats AND people. I caution against doing so.

Personally I'm on my second marriage. My second marriage (will be our 20 year anniversary this year) is so much better than my first (which lasted 7 years). The divorce really wasn't fun, I thought it was the end of the world, but at this point I'm very glad to have been "rehomed" into a better living situation that fits!

I think that we overly romanticize the idea of kittens and puppies needing to bond with their families when young, just as we overly romanticize the idea of true love for humans being forever. Cats, dogs, and people can all form new bonds as adults that are just as deep and meaningful and satisfying.
 
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The Goodbye Bird

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If an intact male cat is a sprayer, his genetic want is still to reproduce, so unless you castrate him and turn him into basically a doll (which may not even stop the spraying!), there are two options: He can be in a cage in a breeding programme or he can be outside and 1) full of worms 2) filthy 3) missing some of the tail and/or ears 4) lose territory and die 5) starve and die 6) mortal wound in fight and slowly die 7) preyed upon and die 8) all of the above.

I know I would not want to be castrated. I understand it's the best option but I wouldn't want it done to me, and it's important to understand that this is where empathy comes from. This is where that feeling comes from that tells us cages are cruel: We wouldn't want it done to us.

So it's between column A and column B.

And yes, I would hate to live in a cage, but it's simply the better option.

If your next life is a male cat, and you don't want to be castrated, you're going to be praying for breeding programme. There's simply no better hand to be dealt. You can get even luckier than that and end up in an open cattery where you might not have full access to females all the time but you'll still roam in the house some.

I take myself deep into that empathy scenario, picture myself as that cat fetus and when I find out I'm not going to get castrated, and not going to die on the street filthy and starving, I'm ecstatic. I'm like, "Yes! I'm a stud male! Woohoo! Best possible outcome!"
 

lutece

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And yes, I would hate to live in a cage, but it's simply the better option.
Yes, if you live in a nice big spacious cage or purpose built room, with people to come in and scratch your cheeks and submit to your friendly head bumps, and perches to jump on, and things to scratch, and a buddy to hang out with, and a window to look out of, hopefully with some fresh air and interesting smells coming in on the breeze through the screen.

No, if you live in a cage in the basement all by yourself with nothing but a litter box and food and water. :(
 

Willowy

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I know I would not want to be castrated. I understand it's the best option but I wouldn't want it done to me, and it's important to understand that this is where empathy comes from.
But, that kind of empathy isn't focusing on what cats want. You're imposing your preferences on the cat. Cats don't have an emotional attachment to their manbits (or ladybits, but I'm not sure how many human women have an attachment to those nasty troublesome things! I'd be "spayed" in a second if I could afford it).

From seeing what cats want, I think most male cats would prefer to be castrated housepets, with free roam of the house and lots of loving, than caged or living outdoors. Now, granted, most cats would probably prefer to be well-cared-for indoor/outdoor pets. . .but this isn't always safe. And, yeah, if a male has his own room, maybe with a neutered male or spayed female for companionship, and the owners are careful to give him lots of attention, that's not quite the same as being "caged".

I have a young male who isn't castrated yet, and is just about a year old (COVID, other circumstances, etc.). I don't think he's happier than the castrated males, and likely unhappier as he's starting to get restless being indoors.
 

Dacatchair

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I totally agree that all else being equal, castrated male cats are probably happier than intact males. But neutered males can't make kittens, so then it is a question of how we protect male cats from the worst consequences of raging sex hormones, while retaining the things cats need, like robust health, and an ability to form strong sensitive social bonds with humans. And if humans are going to be managing the selection, maybe look for ways to enhance and improve personality, as well as looks and health or just decreasing an over population of cats.
 
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The Goodbye Bird

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But, that kind of empathy isn't focusing on what cats want. You're imposing your preferences on the cat.
That's fine but in that fell swoop you toss out all the arguments against cages too.

I don't think it's a worse stretch to say that cats want to mate than that they want to have a lot of space to roam. They do either when allowed. They get used to it when not. We can't know for sure what makes them depressed and what doesn't because we aren't Betazoids.
 

lutece

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We can't know for sure what makes them depressed and what doesn't [...]
We can't know for sure about the subjective experience of any other living creature (including other humans), but we can look at behavior to give us clues. Cats kept in small isolated cages are more likely to exhibit behaviors associated with stress and depression. Cats are less likely to exhibit these negative behaviors and more likely to exhibit behaviors associated with happiness and contentment when they are able to participate in family life, and/or if they are kept in better enclosures with more space, human attention, animal companionship, access to outdoor runs, etc.
 

lutece

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This young male cat (the upper one in the image) is pictured enjoying a post-mating nap with his girlfriend in our living room. Although we can't know exactly what kind of subjective experience these cats have, the behavioral evidence suggests that these individuals are happy and contented. (Of course, I'm including cumulative behavioral evidence in this judgement call, not just this moment in time.)

45675781_10156976882878413_6225896184674779136_o.jpg

Neutered cats that receive proper care also exhibit similar evidence of happiness and contentment. They also appear to have fully functioning intellect and personalities, and do not appear to be "turned into basically dolls." So personally, I don't feel there are ethical problems with whole males properly cared for, and kept in a responsible breeding program, nor do I feel there is an ethical problem with neutered males that are properly cared for. Both exhibit behaviors that we associate with happy and fulfilled individuals.
 
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Willowy

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That's fine but in that fell swoop you toss out all the arguments against cages too.
No.

With animals, since we can't ask them, we look at their behavior. Zoos know if their enclosures are inadequate by looking at what kind of behaviors the animals display. If the animals show "sterotypies", they know they need to add more enrichment or change the enclosure. The same is true with pets.
 
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The Goodbye Bird

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With animals, since we can't ask them, we look at their behavior. Zoos know if their enclosures are inadequate by looking at what kind of behaviors the animals display. If the animals show "sterotypies", they know they need to add more enrichment or change the enclosure. The same is true with pets.
That's a one-way-only inference. If these behaviours, then the animal is upset.

That doesn't mean that an upset animal always engages in those behaviours.

The way my cats look out the window suggests to me that they want to be out there, even though they have no behaviours associated with stress and confinement, but I know they'd end up crushed by a car, so I can't let them.

Do we know castrated cats don't miss their male bits, and the chance to mate? I don't think signs of that sort of sadness are going to be that obvious. Even if they do that doesn't mean they should never be neutered.

I also think my rescue may be traumatised because the shelter ripped her babies away from her then immediately stole her uterus. She was found with five kittens, and was a kitten herself. She compulsively mothers things, even me. Don't take this to mean I think she shouldn't have been spayed, but all these options are balancing acts trying to give the cat the best life it can have. There are positives and negatives to every option.
 
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The Goodbye Bird

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This young male cat (the upper one in the image) is pictured enjoying a post-mating nap with his girlfriend in our living room. Although we can't know exactly what kind of subjective experience these cats have, the behavioral evidence suggests that these individuals are happy and contented.
It's pretty obvious that they are contented. I'm the one who thinks stud male is the best possible life for a cat. They can't all have that life though, or there would be a lot of other cats that had much, much, much worse lives. So it's a balancing act, as with everything.

The act of mating looks a lot better in human hands than in the wild. It seems like they can be taught to (dare I use the word?) love each other in very safe conditions they know are so. In the wild, there's usually a lot of screaming and one cat usually flees immediately after the act. There is no snuggling. (Though I have heard reports of males helping to raise kittens, I've never seen it.)

My one question is why the obviously contented male has a fat tail. A sort of... half... fat tail? I'm not questioning that they're contented. It's just odd. I have heard some cats get a fat tail when merely stimulated, not necessarily agitated.

Neutered cats that receive proper care also exhibit similar evidence of happiness and contentment. They also appear to have fully functioning intellect and personalities, and do not appear to be "turned into basically dolls." So personally, I don't feel there are ethical problems with whole males properly cared for, and kept in a responsible breeding program, nor do I feel there is an ethical problem with neutered males that are properly cared for. Both exhibit behaviors that we associate with happy and fulfilled individuals.
Don't take any of this to mean that I don't understand what will happen if most male cats aren't neutered, but I can't be sure.

I look at the behaviour of unsuccessful human males and I see the same contented behaviours from incels (or, go back in time, eunuchs) that I see from neutered male cats. They may rage on the internet, but what behaviours do they have? Calmness, a healthy appetite, and obesity. The only thing that lets us know they're hurting or depressed is language.

Again, one cat being sad is clearly better than a hundred cats dying. But I can't say they're not sad. From the available evidence I would think they are sad.
 

lutece

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My one question is why the obviously contented male has a fat tail. A sort of... half... fat tail? I'm not questioning that they're contented. It's just odd. I have heard some cats get a fat tail when merely stimulated, not necessarily agitated.
These cats have slightly longer and shaggier coats than the average shorthaired cat, and that's just the way his tail is. The cats are asleep in the picture.
 

Willowy

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Incels aren't castrated though. They have all the appropriate hormones, and lack of testosterone is what causes lower caloric requirements and reduced aggression. Though I wouldn't describe incels as calm; I have 2 male cousins who self-identify as incels/MGTOW and one is prone to fits of rage and the other will rail on for hours about his favorite conspiracy theory. They just don't have the social skills to find a mate (although conspiracy theory guy has been married/in longish-term relationships several times, so I guess "finding" isn't his problem but "keeping". Rage guy can find them for a little while but once they see him rage that's the end of that). Neither suffers from low testosterone if body hair is any indication ;).

From historical writings, eunuchs seemed to do all right for themselves, and were known as being real ladies' men. Without getting too graphic, they knew how to please a woman but since they couldn't cause pregnancy, they weren't considered a threat to husbands. Win/win! They also had generally longer lifespans, maybe because they were usually given cushy government jobs and not sent to war, but maybe because testosterone causes heart problems, evidence is mixed. But they weren't generally sad sacks if that's what you were getting at.
From the available evidence I would think they are sad.
What available evidence?
 

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20200711_144502.jpg

^^ That's Cheddar, he was neutered at 6 months. I don't think he's sad! Or fat, although he's not skinny either.

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^^ That's Zeke, who is 13 months old now and not neutered yet due to circumstances. His body shape is similar to Cheddar's, although he is starting to get the boofy cheeks (he has a jaw deformity which is why his lower jaw looks wonky). I don't think he's any happier or more active than Cheddar, considering the 2 of them just got done rampaging through the house like wildcats.
 
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