Personality Traits: Which are Heritable?

Dacatchair

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As far as cats preferring not to be neutered... I really don't think they are attached to their sexual identity in their minds, the way humans are, and once the hormones that compel them are removed they are more settled, less restless. In other words they seem a lot more content. If they had a psychological sexual identity, it seems it would be common to see more depression and aggression after they were neutered and had the rug pulled out from under them. And as an older woman who is past the hormone stuff... once the hormones are gone, the reasons to miss them disappear too...

But when we humans take over how cat daddy's get picked, the aforementioned UK study seemed to show we miss important stuff and the kittens on average live a year and a 1/2 less than kittens from Dad's where only the toughest gets to reproduce. Unless we get better at making these choices for cats, both types of reproduction seem to have a high cost.

And it isn't always that high of a cost for free roaming unneutered males. In areas with few other cats, I have seen unneutered males go several years with no serious injuries- though unneutered males that free roam are at higher risk than neutered. The same study out of the UK I posted a link to, that found purebred cats had a decreased life span also found that intact cats live on average one year less than spayed and neutered. And I would guess intact males probably loose more potential longevity than females. Interestingly that same study found that in a population where 90% of the cats were free roaming at least part of each day, the average life span was 15 years, which is the same for indoor only cats in the US. So based on those stats, depending on the situation, I am not sure that human managed breeding is always an improvement over nature.

Also, I have seen a couple of cats that belonged to 2 neighbours in a remote community have a couple litters of kittens together, and the male was actively involved in caring for the kittens, or at least helping keep them warm while Mom was out hunting.

And love the word "sterotypies" I enjoyed Googling it! One of my cats had the pacing problem, even with close to 1000 sq. feet of outdoor walkways, and linked enclosures going all around the house. And I work out of my home and give them both a lot of attention. He was obsessed with wanting out, and would not have been happy if he had ended up in a breeding program, as was the original plan. I solved his desperation to be free with a very large cat proof fenced yard. My other cat seemed happy enough, but slept a lot and did this odd stationary hunting thing where he would sit motionless and just stare at a patch of grass in the enclosure for hours. He was getting very chubby, even though I did not free feed. Now he has access to the whole yard he stays awake most of the day and has trimmed down considerably. So, just based on my own very limited experience, I have wondered how cats well being may be affected by the strict management planned breeding requires. I know that my cat that wanted out comes from at least 6 generations of indoor only ancestors, and 1/2 of them were bred in hospital like breeding facilities and socialized by employees. I have wondered how that may have affected his personality, or if it has at all.

Anyways, he got born, and is greatly loved. And is enjoying his life. Which would not have happened without humans arranging things.
 
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vyger

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Zebra's are a member of the horse family and can interbreed with no trouble. Why don't you see people riding zebra's? Because their temperament is terrible. They are essentially not possible to domesticate. Horses have been breed for centuries for personality traits. Draft horses are usually very calm, don't startle easily and love to work. Can you imagine trying to work with a 2,000 lb animal that had a mean streak? Personality is very important with horses. Racing horses are not just breed for speed. They need to love to race and compete. They are a little bit crazy, high strung and can be hard to handle. Dogs are the same way, different breeds are known for personality traits.
I think the reason you don't see it so much with cats is that it was never that important to breeders. The trait that has been most important for cats is their desire to hunt since that has been their primary purpose for most people. This is not so true today but for centuries previous to this, a cats place in a household was primarily to serve as an exterminator. The fact that some had better personalities than others might have made a difference in how much more they were tolerated inside a house but it is not likely a main trait that was breed for. At least that is how I think things went. Cats were not so much pets on purpose as they were domestics with a purpose. I could see things changing today as the purpose of cats has changed to being companions more than anything else but breeders honing specific traits will be selling those cats for high prices and that is not what most people are going to end up with as most can't afford thousands for a special breed cat. The real crazy ones will get breed out simply for the difficulty of dealing with them and the undesirableness of that trait. Most people don't tolerate a "cat from hell". So those will be dropped out of the gene pool and gradually all the breeds will become more domestic but I don't think it will be done on purpose. That actually is part of the process of being domesticated as all animals are breed for their having better relationships with people. It just makes sense to go with the ones that are safer and easier to work with.
 

Dacatchair

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vyger vyger Interesting about horses! The thing is, humans selectively breeding cats is a new thing. Up until very recently the vast majority of cats were free roaming and random bred. There was a few recognized breeds that had resulted from natural mutations in isolated geographic locations, often in combination with the unique genes contributed from local wild cats interbreeding with human friendly cats. But I think the first sustained practice of selectively breeding cats only started to happen a couple hundred years ago. Humans have exerted an influence on which cats survived after they were born, by choosing those with the most appealing traits to protect and nurture, and then being willing to continue this relationship with well behaved cats. But cats as captive animals only began being practical, with the invention of kitty litter in the 1950s. And in order for selective breeding to happen cats have to be kept contained!

I actually don't think it is wanting cats to hunt mice that led to the cosy relationships we have with them. It makes sense that it was mice that initially drew wild cats closer to human settlements, but it was probably the lingering warmth of hearths and fire pits, and then maybe while we slept nearby, of our bodies, that gradually drew them closer to us. The rodents they hunted, which also depend on us for food, and inhabit our homes and farms have never developed social skills or become cuddly. Something cats and humans have in common is we like to be warm and we like to cuddle!

Currently, when it comes to random bred cats, it seems like it is probably a disproportionate number of the "cats from hell" that end up unloved and reproducing as ferals, with the friendliest being easiest to catch and spay and neuter. Which depending on how inheritable their personalities are, seems like it might eventually drive their evolution as human friendly animals backwards?
 
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lutece

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But when we humans take over how cat daddy's get picked, the aforementioned UK study seemed to show we miss important stuff and the kittens on average live a year and a 1/2 less than kittens from Dad's where only the toughest gets to reproduce. Unless we get better at making these choices for cats, both types of reproduction seem to have a high cost.
Did you look at the small numbers of cats identified as specific breeds in that study? And did the study say anything about the types of breeding programs those cats came from? I think it's a big stretch from looking at a study like that, to say that pedigreed breeding in general has a "high cost." Not all breeders pay attention to health, and it's possible that higher volume breeders may pay the least attention, thus skewing the numbers and making all breeding programs look bad. However, it is definitely possible to breed healthy and relatively long-lived cats, when the responsible breeder community works together properly.
 

Dacatchair

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Lutece studies just show averages, not the best or the worst, and it is entirely possible that the most conscientious breeders usually produce kittens that have better longevity than random bred cats.

One the topic of personality and heritability in cats, this is interesting and suggests human bred cats may have better socialization on average!!

Breed differences of heritable behaviour traits in cats

"House cats were, compared to the average purebred cat, moderately active, quite aggressive towards both people and other cats, and shy towards novel objects and strangers. "
 

lutece

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Hmm... I can't tell if they verified the breed assignments of the cats in any way, or just used owners' self reported breed assignments (in which case, a lot of the "Russian Blues" and "Korats" may be actually blue domestics). There are some other odd things about the paper, for example they got the breed name wrong for the Birman ("Saint Birman"?), they implied that the British Shorthair is a longhaired breed, they grouped together some breeds that have different temperament such as Abyssinian and Ocicat... But it's possible to download the spreadsheet and look at the data yourself, which is nice. Thanks!
 
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GoldyCat

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Hmm... I can't tell if they verified the breed assignments of the cats in any way, or just used owners' self reported breed assignments (in which case, a lot of the "Russian Blues" and "Korats" may be actually blue domestics). There are some other odd things about the paper, for example they got the breed name wrong for the Birman ("Saint Birman"?), they implied that the British Shorthair is a longhaired breed, they grouped together some breeds that have different temperament such as Abyssinian and Ocicat... But it's possible to download the spreadsheet and look at the data yourself, which is nice. Thanks!
I agree there are some odd groupings. Abyssinian and Somali make sense together because Somali is basically a longhair version of Aby. Ocicat could just as easily been grouped with Siamese or American Shorthair since all of those breeds were used in developing the Ocicat. Oh, except American Shorthair doesn't even show up in the breeds cited. I would have kept Ocicat as a separate breed if I were doing the study.

I can't see that the study is useful for determining breed personalities. I shows some tendencies, with a fairly wide variation within breeds or groups.

I find it odd that they included "owner-evaluated behavior problems". That is so totally subjective. I am owned by two abyssinians (and a bunch of rescue cats), and I know quite a few other aby owners. There are any number of personality traits that some see as just normal aby behavior and others see as problems to be corrected.
 

lutece

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I have never lived with an Aby, although my daughter really wanted one for a while, so we looked into it pretty seriously and talked to a number of breeders... We also have done a lot of agility, and it was interesting talking to the Aby and Ocicat handlers about their cats. Abys are really fast and smart, and often had the highest scores in any given competition... but the Aby owners told us they also quickly get bored with the course, so it's not easy to run them in agility for a season, unlike the Ocicats which dominate this competition over time.
 

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I tried my first Aby in agility. He did ok with the practice run, but by the time we got to the timed run he was done. Halfway through he decided it would be more fun to just chase his tail in the middle of the ring. It got a good laugh anyway.
 

lutece

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I tried my first Aby in agility. He did ok with the practice run, but by the time we got to the timed run he was done. Halfway through he decided it would be more fun to just chase his tail in the middle of the ring. It got a good laugh anyway.
Yes, that sounds like the Abys we've seen! The owners told us they did best if they skipped the practice run, because the Abys would already get bored the second time through. Totally different from the Ocicats who seem to be fine with doing the same thing over and over!
 
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The Goodbye Bird

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What available evidence?
I saw a neutered cat try to mate with a female in heat. He didn't show any signs of being any of the things humans would be in that situation (frustrated, angry, etc.) but I tend to think cats just don't show those emotions, but that they do have them.

I still pick slightly sad over put to sleep or dying in a fight, however.

I do notice the slightly different looks of neutered and unneutered cats, however. Some of them will balloon upon neutering, some won't. But I have never seen an intact obese cat. I'm not saying they don't exist, I'm just saying I think it's incredibly rare. I do acknowledge though, that many "neutering" issues are probably just "neutering-too-early" issues.

One thing I have heard, but can't confirm because I haven't had a huge deal of experience with intact male cats, is that if you don't neuter too early, you will get a sprayer, and once you have a sprayer, even neutering won't fix the issue and at that point he will just have to be put down or be an outside kitty.

What I want to try to avoid spraying is having a couple rescues and any retirees I really love and can't part with, live in the "males" area of the house. I have read that some people who more reputable breeders consider "backyard" breeders have fewer issues with spraying because they keep them all together or in colonies with a male and some females. Well, why is this cat not spraying?, I ask myself. Maybe it's because spraying is an advertisement ("Oh females, where are you? I got what you want; come to me, come to my territory," he says) and if he sees females all around him, he doesn't feel the need to advertise. So I think, would spayed females still work? Will he "think" they are going to come into heat? Worth a try, I say. Anything to avoid cages. I will cage, but only as a last resort. I can't stand seeing them like that.

But when we humans take over how cat daddy's get picked, the aforementioned UK study seemed to show we miss important stuff and the kittens on average live a year and a 1/2 less than kittens from Dad's where only the toughest gets to reproduce. Unless we get better at making these choices for cats, both types of reproduction seem to have a high cost.
The absolute best case scenario would be if humans could manage breeding without that loss of lifespan, and I'm going to try to do that. I'm going to use every resource and watch every cat like a hawk. Why did this one die 1/2 a year before that one? I'm even starting with a breed that has a few issues (Oriental Shorthair) because out of a few breeds that pique my interest, this one needs help, and I want to help.

"House cats were, compared to the average purebred cat, moderately active, quite aggressive towards both people and other cats, and shy towards novel objects and strangers. "
The cat-cat aggression is something that in the wild, unfortunately keeps them fed. They're predators, and predators need territory. It takes a comparatively vast amount of resources and thus land to sustain one predator. If they get too chummy, without a balancing advantage (like pack hunting), they're losing resources over those who act to keep their own kind away.

I've worked with big cats who are only a single generation out of the wild or essentially so, and it's surprising how affectionate some of them are and even downright needy. It makes me a little sad that wild cats are out there, by themselves, and perpetually lonely, at least slightly needing the social stimulation they can't have except when mating or raising kittens.

It's one more good reason I really want to breed. I want to select for affectionate, cat-loving cats. I want to give them that love I have good reason to believe they're lonely for.
 

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It makes me a little sad that wild cats are out there, by themselves, and perpetually lonely, at least slightly needing the social stimulation they can't have except when mating or raising kittens.
I don't know if you're talking about feral domestics or actual wildcats, but feral domestics aren't solitary at all. They seek out other cats and hang around with them. They don't have a solid social structure like a pack of canines or a herd of horses, but they definitely have a friend group.
I saw a neutered cat try to mate with a female in heat. He didn't show any signs of being any of the things humans would be in that situation (frustrated, angry, etc.) but I tend to think cats just don't show those emotions, but that they do have them.
Why would he be frustrated? Neutered males can still penetrate a female, she just won't get pregnant. (Remember I said human eunuchs were popular with the ladies? They CAN still function sexually.) Most cats neutered young won't know how to do it, but if neutered late he'll remember. Cats don't have sex for pleasure though. Only dolphins and apes do that.
that if you don't neuter too early, you will get a sprayer, and once you have a sprayer, even neutering won't fix the issue and at that point he will just have to be put down or be an outside kitty.
Not always. I've known several crusty old ex-feral toms who behaved themselves indoors quite well after being neutered, after spending their entire lives whizzing up the neighborhood. It's just not worth the risk for the average pet owner, that's why we advocate early spay/neuter.
 

lutece

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One thing I have heard, but can't confirm because I haven't had a huge deal of experience with intact male cats, is that if you don't neuter too early, you will get a sprayer, and once you have a sprayer, even neutering won't fix the issue and at that point he will just have to be put down or be an outside kitty.
All the spraying whole males I have personally known have stopped spraying after being neutered. I am sure that there are some exceptions that continue to do some spraying after being neutered... but most stop... and in any case, neutered male pee isn't nearly as stinky :)

Females also usually stop after being spayed (note that whole females can be just as bad as males in terms of inappropriate peeing).
 
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The Goodbye Bird

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I don't know if you're talking about feral domestics or actual wildcats, but feral domestics aren't solitary at all. They seek out other cats and hang around with them. They don't have a solid social structure like a pack of canines or a herd of horses, but they definitely have a friend group.
This is more true in some breed groups than others. Thai cats are known for it which is where Oriental Shorthairs get their great cat-loving personality, but not all feral cats will form into colonies. Some will form looser ones and some not at all.

Why would he be frustrated? Neutered males can still penetrate a female, she just won't get pregnant. (Remember I said human eunuchs were popular with the ladies? They CAN still function sexually.) Most cats neutered young won't know how to do it, but if neutered late he'll remember. Cats don't have sex for pleasure though. Only dolphins and apes do that.
What I saw when watching was that he mounted, and there was a great deal of biting of the neck, but the little red bit never came out, much less penetrated. It may be that only dolphins and apes have the mental forethought to think, mating is pleasurable, and I want pleasure therefore I will go and seek mating... but I don't buy that other animals don't also get pleasure from mating, they just don't do it for that exclusively or use it as a sort of pleasure button they can press at will because they don't think to. I also understand that cat sex is also painful, but if it was only painful, I would think they'd learn not to do it.

Females also usually stop after being spayed (note that whole females can be just as bad as males in terms of inappropriate peeing).
I've tended to keep my females intact and just not let them outside or own any males. To me they seem more affectionate. But I acknowledge it's risky and you need to observe airlock protocol every time. I have yet to see one spray, though I've heard they can.

I have seen one piss on a friend's jacket, though I don't think she was spraying. I still have not the faintest idea why she did that, and she never did anything like it again. He set his jacket on a chair, and she went right up there and just let. We thought he might have owned an intact male, but he didn't own any cats at all, though he confessed he never washed that jacket.
 

lutece

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I've tended to keep my females intact and just not let them outside or own any males. To me they seem more affectionate. But I acknowledge it's risky and you need to observe airlock protocol every time. I have yet to see one spray, though I've heard they can.

I have seen one piss on a friend's jacket, though I don't think she was spraying. I still have not the faintest idea why she did that, and she never did anything like it again. He set his jacket on a chair, and she went right up there and just let. We thought he might have owned an intact male, but he didn't own any cats at all, though he confessed he never washed that jacket.
Females don't normally spray on vertical surfaces like males do, but they will pee on things. Some will do it, and some won't. Most have specific targets that they like to pee on, such as soft rugs, pillows, laundry, paper or plastic, or heat vents (it's really annoying when they pee down the heat vent!). If you keep your house very tidy without any interesting objects lying around, you might not see that behavior very often, but your friend's jacket is a good example of a pee target (a soft object, set down on a chair, that probably smelled different from other things in your house). Whole males also often have favored pee targets, such as soft things.
 

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note that whole females can be just as bad as males in terms of inappropriate peeing
Gah, worse than the boys, I think!
I also understand that cat sex is also painful, but if it was only painful, I would think they'd learn not to do it.
Not necessarily. Some species die after mating, and they still do it. The biological imperative is to reproduce at all costs, after all.
but not all feral cats will form into colonies. Some will form looser ones and some not at all.
It doesn't have to be a colony, just friends. I've never seen a feral cat who was completely solitary. Even if he's a tom that travels between farms on his own, he'll have some buddies at each farm. And no matter how much a cat doesn't like other cats, he'll still join the pile-o'-cats in the hay on a cold night ;).
 
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The Goodbye Bird

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Females don't normally spray on vertical surfaces like males do, but they will pee on things. Some will do it, and some won't. Most have specific targets that they like to pee on, such as soft rugs, pillows, laundry, paper or plastic, or heat vents (it's really annoying when they pee down the heat vent!).
My current rescue, who is spayed, is obsessed with the heat vent. She ignores it in summer when it's off, but when she knows it might come on, she stares at it for hours on end waiting for it, then runs away from it. She's never peed in it, but there is definitely some weirdness between cats and anything that moves the air, like fans.

I've only had the inappropriate peeing happen once (...that I know of... oh god now you've got me wondering...) and I know what to expect from intact females and feel comfortable owning a bunch. I have to be honest I don't know much from experience about kings and how they are, and what's normal or abnormal, or if they'll kill each other (though with Oriental Shorthairs this is probably a flat no). Any I've known have been super affectionate, with very deep voices, but they haven't been mine.

I'm particularly worrisome about aggression. Sometimes females play rough, and even get fat tails, but I have a good handle on when it's crossed over into a fight. I'm going to have to learn that for males as well... if it's even different. I know it's ambitious to start, but I kind of want three foundation males for genetic diversity. It gives me more room to declare more kittens keepers, with two possible males each to choose from for future matings. And even then I can still keep one of those and breed it to the last male.

Not necessarily. Some species die after mating, and they still do it. The biological imperative is to reproduce at all costs, after all.
To be fair, I don't think they know they'll die. All the species that I know of that do that, are the dumb ones like invertebrates, or at best, fish. I only know of one that's a higher animal. It's this little rodent whose males go into a mating frenzy, stop eating, mate as much as they can, then they all die.

It doesn't have to be a colony, just friends. I've never seen a feral cat who was completely solitary. Even if he's a tom that travels between farms on his own, he'll have some buddies at each farm. And no matter how much a cat doesn't like other cats, he'll still join the pile-o'-cats in the hay on a cold night ;).
I have seen totally solitary males that would pitch a fit if anybody came into their territory, even a female. The last one I knew, I was sort of friends with. He was the only cat allowed to be around my block. One day, I just didn't see him again.
 

lutece

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I know it's ambitious to start, but I kind of want three foundation males for genetic diversity. It gives me more room to declare more kittens keepers, with two possible males each to choose from for future matings. And even then I can still keep one of those and breed it to the last male.
You don't need three males for genetic diversity. What you need is to have good relationships with several breeding partners you can work with, and exchange cats. Breed preservation is not something we do alone. It takes a whole community of breeders.
 
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