September 29, 2023

It may be hard to believe, but cats pay more attention to their owners than we think. Felines are notoriously independent and often full of character, yet their personality traits could be a reflection of their owners, according to animal behaviorists.

Newsweek reached out to two experts who said certain traits can be inherited from owners, while other characteristics may indicate that further training is needed.

Los Angeles–based Sylvie Sterling told Newsweek: “Cats reflect our own emotional states back at us, hoping we’ll recognize ourselves in them.” The cat whisperer and owner of an academy for cat communication explained how certain characteristics can coincide with those of their keepers.

Cat hiding
A stock image shows a cat hiding in a pet cave basket. Shy cats may belong to an introverted person.
Nils Jacobi/iStock/Getty Images Plus

“A cat that keeps hiding under the bed when visitors come over most likely reflects a person who doesn’t feel comfortable around other people,” Sterling said. “An aggressive cat might reflect a person who is angry at the world and frequently chews people’s heads off. Whereas a timid cat reflects a person who lets other people walk all over them.”

 Sylvie Sterling
Cat whisperer Sylvie Sterling holds a feline.
Sylvie Sterling

Sterling, the founder of Feline Soul Academy, said a cat that overgrooms may indicate its owner is “overly concerned about their looks.”

“In any case, it’s important that the person recognizes the pattern so that they can change their behavior or start healing their unresolved life topics. Once the human changes their behavior, so will the cat. So the key to a happy cat is to be happy ourselves first,” she said.

Sterling’s statements have been backed by a study published in the online journal PLOS One. Researchers explored the relationship between owner personality and the lifestyles to which cats are exposed.

Over 3,000 cat owners took part in the survey, which focused on the link between language and vocabulary and the evidence of five broad traits: extroversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism.

The results showed that cats with high “gregariousness” scores were associated with significantly higher owner extroversion. Cats reported to be aloof or avoidant were associated with owners who scored low scores for openness, conscientiousness and agreeableness.

Owners of overweight cats had significantly lower scores for agreeableness but higher scores for neuroticism. Owners of underweight cats also had low scores for agreeableness but higher scores for extroversion.

Animal trainer Tommy Wylde owns Wylde Floof Mania, a wildlife and animal website.
Tommy Wylde

Newsweek also reached out to Tommy Wylde, the owner of Floof Mania, a wildlife and animal website.

Wylde, an animal trainer, said: “While there are some general correlations between a cat owner’s personality and the cat’s behavior, it’s also important to remember that cats are highly intendant and unique creatures.

“They’re often somewhat influenced by their owner’s personality type. A lot of times, they’ll have their own unique personality that’s almost completely separate from their owners. Cats’ personalities are much more likely to be influenced by genetics and the environment the cat grew up in,” he told Newsweek.

Wylde provided some that traits may indicate behavioral mimicry. “A shy cat might indicate that the owner is either very quiet and introverted themselves, creating a calm environment that suits a shy cat, or that the cat may have had limited socialization during kittenhood. The owner may need to work on building the cat’s confidence through gentle socialization techniques.”

He went on: “A cuddly cat usually suggests that the owner has built a strong bond based on trust and affection. The owner likely provides plenty of attention and positive interactions. However, it’s essential for the owner to ensure the cat’s needs for play and mental stimulation are also met, as overly clingy behavior can sometimes be a sign of boredom or anxiety.”

Destructive cat
A stock image shows a cat lying next to a severely scratched sofa, a clear sign of aggressiveness.
bombermoon/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Wylde said traits like fierceness and destructiveness aren’t always due to the owner’s personality. In fact, both behaviors suggest there isn’t enough mental stimulation for the pet.

“A feisty cat may suggest an owner who enjoys playful interactions and encourages active engagement with their pet,” he said. “It could also mean the owner provides plenty of stimulation and play opportunities. However, if the cat’s feistiness leads to aggression or overly rough play, it may indicate that the owner needs to focus on proper boundaries and training.”

He continued: “A cat with destructive tendencies might imply that the owner needs to provide more environmental enrichment and mental stimulation. It could also indicate a lack of training or proper outlets for the cat’s natural instincts. The owner might need to invest in appropriate toys, scratching posts or training to redirect destructive behaviors.”

However Sterling said she believes a feisty cat that mobs other cats might be mirroring a bossy person.

“A destructive cat most likely reflects a person who is angry at the world and lashes out,” she said.

Wylde explained that a cat’s upbringing, day-to-day life and even genes can significantly affect the way it acts. The owner’s personality is not likely to influence destructive or feisty behavior in a cat, he said.

“There are a number of behaviors in the owner that could indirectly lead to the cat being destructive, however. Destructive behavior can be a result of boredom in cats, for example, which might be the case if the owner is indifferent to the cat and leaves it to its own devices,” he said.

“A feisty cat or one with a higher level of aggression…could also mean that the cat has gotten used to having to struggle in its everyday life, which could point towards the owner being a bit carefree with regards to the needs of the cat,” Wylde said.

“But all in all, I don’t think that the personality of the owner plays a significant role in a cat’s personality.”

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