Comparative cat copaceticity
December 3, 2012 4:12 AM   Subscribe

Researchers at the National Veterinary School of Alfort in Paris recently carried out a study of the friendliness of different cat breeds, surveying the owners of 129 cats about the cats' interactions with people. The survey determined that pedigree cats are significantly friendlier than crossbreeds, a difference which the researchers put down to pedigree kittens being left with their mothers for longer at a crucial developmental period and/or breeders selecting for friendliness as a genetic trait. The friendliest breed of cat is reportedly the sphynx, an exotic hairless breed, possibly due to its reliance on proximity to humans to keep warm.
posted by acb (55 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The study also suggested that the greater affability of pedigrees came about because breeders tended to leave the kittens with their mothers for longer, during a crucial period in their development, when they are becoming used to humans.

The testing of this hypothesis will be so cuddly.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:26 AM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Of course the sphynx is so friendly, he wants you to knit him a sweater.
posted by arcticseal at 4:29 AM on December 3, 2012 [11 favorites]

Some neighbors actually have a Sphynx cat (the first I've seen in person!), and while I haven't had a chance to test its comparative friendliness, I can say that it is certainly fond of sitting in windows and taking in the view (and no doubt scaring the pants off the uninitiated passerby).

I'm unfortunately being courted by a very persistently friendly moggy (who is apparently unaware of this study) these days. This guy really, really wants to be a cat in the house of taz, but even merrily skipping over the fact that my husband is all "aaargh, no, no, no!" and other problems, I petted him yesterday because he's So Very Insistent MIAOU MIAOU, then went directly inside and washed my hands thoroughly, and still spent the whole evening sneezing, with swollen, itchy eyes, and a runny nose. Kitteh allergeez, I haz dem. Sorry, insanely friendly moggypuss.
posted by taz at 4:41 AM on December 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

This article is shockingly lacking in friendly kitten photos. Metafilter, I expect you to make up for this lapse.
posted by Mizu at 4:46 AM on December 3, 2012 [9 favorites]

Pedigrees were generally “clingy” or “friendly”, and non-pedigrees tended to be “friendly” or “independent”. None was described as “wild”.

We have a combination Russian Blue and Polish stray that we tend to describe as "Don't ever touch that cat. He will bite your fucking hand off." In another home, he would have been "retired to your aunt's farm in the country" long ago.
posted by pracowity at 4:57 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sounds from the article that they had a relatively small sample size. I'm not impressed with people quoting figures to two decimal places when they had only 129 data points in total, distributed over 15 breeds (including cross-breeds). Some sort of confidence value for the numbers would be nice too, of course.
Shocking lack of cute and friendly kitten photos too.

Bah - popular science article could stand to be more scientific and more popular. Humbug, humbug humbug...
posted by YAMWAK at 5:00 AM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sphynx kitties are cuddly and verrrry soft.

And they look like little crabby old men.
posted by louche mustachio at 5:01 AM on December 3, 2012 [7 favorites]

I have a friend who is into Sphynxes. She had trained them to sleep by the feet of people who aren't her, which is where my cat sleeps. And my Matilda and her Moe hated each other. (Her Sophie was fine with both of them.) So Moe slept at my feet under the covers, and Matilda slept right next to him but over the covers, and all was well and for one week in winter, my feet were always warm.

That's really the most charming thing about those weird alien cats. You can put your cold feet on their backs as living footwarmers.
posted by jeather at 5:06 AM on December 3, 2012

The two friendliest cats I've ever had were a mixed-breed and, currently, a seal-point Siamese. FWIW, the mixed-breed was born in a house with a resident small girl and he and his littermates were fussed over, cuddled and kissed from babyhood.

OTOH, the most timid cat I've ever had was (I am pretty sure) born to a feral or semi-feral mother and not handled much as a kitten. She is also a mixed-breed.

Anecdotes are not data, but I have the feeling that pedigree cats might be more likely to be born to well-socialized mothers and have lots of human contact even as young unweaned kittens. I think that was what made Aleister Monster (my very friendly mixed-breed) so sociable.

I can also believe that genetics has something to do with it, and that pedigrees are selected to be more friendly. I'm sure there was that selection effect for my Daenerys (the Siamese) as well as lots of human contact from kittenhood. (She even tolerates the vacuum cleaner.)

Sphynx cats are awesome and I'd absolutely love to have one someday.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:10 AM on December 3, 2012

Yeah, I'm going to guess that people who care about what breed their cat is--or even know what breed it is--are going to be more into their cat than your average cat owner, hence more likely to attribute cuddly properties to it. Do you have pay for pure-bred cats? 'cause that's another thing that might point in that direction. So, I'm guessing that there's too much observer bias here to take this too seriously.

So mark me down with YAMWAK with the bah and the humbug an' stuff.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 5:16 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

And they look like little crabby old men.

Ironically, I look like a Sphynx......
posted by HuronBob at 5:22 AM on December 3, 2012

But if they were bigger than you, they'd probably still eat you anyway.
posted by emjaybee at 5:22 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you have pay for pure-bred cats?

I know a few people who were offered the pick of the litter, so to say.

I petted him yesterday because he's So Very Insistent MIAOU MIAOU

I love that you transliterated his catspeak in greeklish.
posted by ersatz at 5:25 AM on December 3, 2012

This article is shockingly lacking in friendly kitten photos. Metafilter, I expect you to make up for this lapse.

I have a furry-cat-mutt who was abandoned when he was 2.5 months old. Go on researcher-type-people, tell me he ain't friendly.

That said, he is rather frightened of non-fraula humans. It takes him a while to learn to trust people, and I'm sure it has something to do with how he was raised; whatever happened to him surrounding the abandonment. (He was left in an apartment entryway with his whiskers cut off :-/ no one claimed him.) On that point the researchers are onto something. He also looks and behaves an awful lot like a Maine Coon, who have something of a reputation for being lovebugs.

I also have a less-furry-cat-mutt who was raised by a friendly non-breeder, and her (the kitten's) mother was a complete sweetheart. She is, predictably, also a complete sweetheart. Who is constantly in motion and mewing and jumping and dunking her stuffed mouse into her water bowl and then into her dry food bowl and then she runs around bouncing off the furniture and walls some more. (She actually bounces off furniture and walls.) She glommed onto big-furrier-mutt as her adopted parent almost instantaneously, and the two are still adorable together a year later. Here was Furry Cat grooming with Miss Kitten imitating last year. She is much friendlier with non-fraula humans than the big guy.
posted by fraula at 5:34 AM on December 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

As I read this, my Jones - yer basic domestic shorthair shelter tabby - is curled up on my chest, purring. She insisted on it.

Last night, Mrs. Shen made one of her occasional attempts to shut Jones out of the bedroom. You remember that scene in Solaris when Rheya forces her way through the wall to get to Kelvin? Like that. After some loud meowing and door scratching, she was where she belonged - nostrils half an inch from mine.

Science! will never be able to account for this.
posted by Egg Shen at 5:40 AM on December 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Put me in the skeptical camp. In addition to yamway and fists o'fury's arguments. I will note a couple other things.

1) We don't know how many of the "moggies" were taken in as strays, their exposure to non-domestic life could make a big difference
2) We don't know how many of the pedigreed cats are show cats, which are socialized very differently, show cats have to be handled by strangers and be good-natured about it

I'm not discounting genetics, we know that domestication happens quite quickly due to the silver fox experiment, and probably the reporting doesn't mention all the variables they tried to control for. But as presented...not sure.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:41 AM on December 3, 2012

I'm a cat person, but a "friendliest cat" competition is sort of like a "softest thorn bush". Part of the appeal of cats is that they tend to be patient and judicious about friendly behavior.
posted by dgran at 5:43 AM on December 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm just shocked that iPhones didn't even make the list.
posted by srboisvert at 5:51 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

CheeseDigestsAll: that silver fox experiment contributes to my theory that white fur = friendlier kitty. Apparently adrenalin and white fur share similar pathways, so white patches = less fearful foxes = friendlier foxes. This is why my tortie is a grump and my tuxie is a cuddle bunny.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:01 AM on December 3, 2012

This isn't very scientific, but yeah, I'll weigh in. I had two ridiculously lovable Devon Rexes (closely related to Sphynx) back in the States. They were half bald, water-loving little freaks. People initially recoiled at the pictures, but then once met I had many cat-sitting offers. When I left the country several of my friends and family offered to adopt them.

They slept under the covers, usually under the crook of each arm, heads rested on shoulders. Loved to fetch and were toilet trained (human toilet) too. Best cats ever.

I have owned many types of cats and all my future lovebugs will be Rexes. Or Sphynx.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:05 AM on December 3, 2012

This article is shockingly lacking in friendly kitten photos. Metafilter, I expect you to make up for this lapse.

Here you go. Eddy, a cat found abandoned in farm country on a bike ride, two months before "his" girl was born.
posted by MrGuilt at 6:09 AM on December 3, 2012 [7 favorites]

Here was Furry Cat grooming with Miss Kitten imitating last year.

That doesn't look so much like grooming as the large cat telling a filthy joke. Probably just getting to "Well call it the Aristocats."
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:10 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

The results of this study are so opposite my personal experience that my brain hurts. Are "puppy mills" and irresponsible home breeders a problem in Britain? How did they determine whether or not a certain cat was a purebreed or not? It sounds like they just asked the owner?

It's a given in my little (US, local to Chicago) rescue circle that the litters of purebred* kittens we see are going to be scared, ill-tempered little beasties, while the mutts will be a lot more sociable and less frightened. And this is mainly due to the circumstances of the purebred litters coming to us. We don't see many litters from responsible breeders who care about the genetics of the breed, but we do see plenty from places where the mamas and litters are stacked in cages with no human contact except to remove their babies for sale. (Or to send the rejects to rescue, or ... the alternative.)

*"Purebred" usually means "Possessing some physical characteristic that reminds the observer of a particular breed", which often means all the "purebred" cats we see are of common, easily identifiable breeds like Persian, Siamese or Maine Coon. Anything else is a DSH.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:11 AM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

My last cat (who sadly died recently) was a Burmese, whom I was given as a Christmas present. He was amazingly affectionate, and fairly bright as well. Early on he figured out how to open doors by swinging on the handles, and used this knowledge to exercise his right to sleep in my bed. Later he lived with my sister, though remembered me when I visited and was all over me.

This is a data point of one, though I don't recall meeting a moggie who was quite as ardently, ecstatically affectionate.
posted by acb at 6:13 AM on December 3, 2012

On Chairman Mao's first visit to the vet after he chose me to save him from starvation, I was informed I was very lucky. My vet is of the opinion that neutered male black short hairs are the best you can have if you get a good one. Apparently I was lucky indeed. The Chairman follows me around like a dog and never lets me out of his sight for long. He is a "talker" and converses earnestly with me throughout the day. He tolerates the attention of others but is strictly a one-man cat. His abandonment obviously left scars but, after a year's worth of getting to know each other, he finally rewarded me with a purr...
posted by jim in austin at 6:30 AM on December 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

"The kitten was mated with its mother (backcrossing), which produced one more naked kitten".

I'm sorry - what?
posted by Major Tom at 6:37 AM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Incest is pretty well par for the course in animal husbandry when trying to reinforce a mutation.
posted by Mitheral at 6:44 AM on December 3, 2012

Does this research have a control group of people who are allergic to cats? All cats on earth, regardless of previous human interactions, are the most aggressively friendly to people with terrible allergies. I have 30+ years of data prepared for peer review.
posted by elizardbits at 6:47 AM on December 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

Clearly the researchers have not taken into account cat of the moment, Colonel Meow. Colonel Meow would have skewed the whole curve.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:48 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Incest is pretty well par for the course in animal husbandry

And that's just the cat breeders.
posted by pracowity at 7:00 AM on December 3, 2012

I don't know how it is with cats but for dogs a pedigree must be registered with the AKC. For horses, it is even more complex. There are often requirements other than a simple pedigree. For bloodlines such as the Oldenburg, descendants of farm and carriage horses now used for show jumping, the horses must be examined by a horse breeding association as well. I doubt you could just say any random cat was a purebred anything without documentation. Well, I guess you can say anything you want but Couldn't show it.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:01 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

course, I woke up on Sunday because my very much moggie littlest kitten was snoring slightly too loud in the crook of my arm.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:17 AM on December 3, 2012

I read the article with my "hello my friend's moggy had a litter" little old lady cat sitting in my lap. The plural of anecdote is not data, but my experience is that cat personality and life experience is more important than genetics in most cases. On the other hand, at my age, I've got almost as much cat anecdata as the people who ran that study.
posted by immlass at 7:33 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Baxter, my Maine Coon/???????? mix, is sitting on the arm rest next to me, purring loudly and leaning over every now and then to lick me. So, there's a piece of anecdata.

Baxter is awesome.
posted by brundlefly at 8:45 AM on December 3, 2012

Bottle-raised kittens grow up to be amazingly human-focused. Obviously that's not a great reason to steal kittens from their mothers, but if it happens by accident they make awesome pets.
posted by miyabo at 8:45 AM on December 3, 2012

I think the rationalizations are stretching a bit. But depending on genetics and kittenhood, rescue strays can be all over the map until you win their trust. Then they're all over your lap, clothing, and bed at every opportunity. Two of our rescue cats are shy around strangers, the third seems to love everyone. Feral cats lacking in the friend/foe recognition area probably don't live long. It wouldn't surprise me if pedigree cats were socialized better if you're paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for that litter.

Similarly, living in an urban environment biased towards recognizable purebred dogs socialized to exercise in public spaces reduced my mild suburban/rural phobia of them. I suspect that if you have a high social and financial investment in your pet, you do a better job socializing it with strangers.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:47 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm genuinely surprised that this study is so off-base. It's like a clumsy grade school science fair project.

It's been pretty conclusively shown that handling time during kittenhood is the #1 predictor of a cat's future friendliness. The more a kitten is handled between birth and the point when it leaves its mother (usually 7-10 weeks) the friendlier it is as an adult.

For pity's sake, the cat book I had when I was a kid explained this in great detail, with scientific references and everything. (This would have been a book published in the late 70s.)

Obviously purebred cats have their kittens handled quite a bit. Presuming it is a good breeder and not a kitten mill, the breeder loves kittens and will be in there cooing over them frequently. At the very least, the kittens will be weighed and inspected once a day. In many cases, visitors will come over to see the kittens. The neighbor's kid will be impossible to keep away. And so forth.

The same is true for many mixed-breed cats. I think most of the people in this thread (not the allergic ones) would be spending a lot of time handling kittens, if one of their cats had a litter. I mean, come on! Kittens!

But then you have mixed-breed cats from uncaring homes. They may have a litter out in the yard under the shed, and their humans barely notice or care. These kittens, although not technically feral, without much human contact during their early weeks will practically be wild.

The problem (from the study's standpoint) is that most owners of mixed breeds have no way of knowing the situation of their cat's earliest weeks. The same is true of purebred owners who bought their kittens from a pet store versus a breeder.

Approaching this question ("what makes a cat friendly") from the perspective of genetics is so wrong-headed as to be genuinely baffling. Did a purebred registry fund this study?
posted by ErikaB at 8:54 AM on December 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

By the way, if there are any cat researchers reading this, what I would really like to see is a broad statistical study that attempts to group cat personality traits by coat color.

You would have to gather data about a LOT of cats in order to make a valid conclusion, but I don't think it would be so hard. Work up a list of cat traits, then ask people to indicate their cat's coat color, and the one trait that defines them best. Put the survey up online, I bet you would get thousands of entries in very short order.

I have heard so many claims that personality traits are related to coat color. And so many conflicting claims! It would be great to get some data, even if it's just "No correlation was found."

It wouldn't address the issue of cause and effect, of course. For example, if people believe that orange cats are the friendliest, they might treat those cats better, thus inadvertently raising a friendlier cat.

There was a study making the rounds recently about people's perception of cats based on their coat color. (White cats are aloof, and so forth.) But that's not quite the same thing, it was "how do you feel about this random cat picture." I'm curious about people's experience with their own actual pets, not their feelings about cats in general.
posted by ErikaB at 9:11 AM on December 3, 2012

Data point: my girlfriend's cat Greg is a rescue (at six weeks old, found after hiding in the engine compartment of a car that had been driven around for a couple days!). Pretty spastic, and she's a rare female ginger to boot. It's likely her mother was feral.

My cat Battlecat is a purebred lilac-point siamese.

They have very different personalities. Greg is definitely more aloof. Battlecat is friendly to the point of being clingy, no fear of strangers, totally comfortable at a party. Both cats fetch, but Greg has retained the habit much more strongly in adulthood. Here's the interesting part: Greg is pretty short tempered, and while she's very cuddly when she's in the mood, she'll also turn on the dime and bring the claws out without a moment's hesitation. Battlecat, on the other hand, will not bring the claws out under any circumstances (toward humans). She just won't do it, no matter how much she's pestered or provoked; she's aggressively gentle. She will, however, fight absolutely vicious and dirty when she's in a heated play-fight with Greg. It's actually kinda shocking seeing her cuddling up and purring next to me, then a few seconds later she's trying to bite Greg in the junk.

Battlecat insists on being in the bathroom with me every time I shower, and sits attentively on a shelf next to the tub the entire time with a look of deep calm. Greg won't abide being in the same room with running water. Battlecat will sleep on me whenever possible, and if I turn over in my sleep she leaps away to safety, then returns a couple minutes later and goes right back to cuddling. Greg doesn't come in the room when we're asleep.

I'm not sure if it's nature or nurture that explains the difference between them. Greg, being literally a rescue, probably came from a mother who had a stressful pregnancy, while Battlecat's mom lived in comfortable circumstances through the pregnancy. I'd believe it's purely genes though--I grew up around my mom's siamese cats, and Battlecat's behavior is pretty standard for the breed.
posted by mullingitover at 9:43 AM on December 3, 2012

Trading the Torygraph paywall for a journal paywall, here is the journal article in question.

And when the Telegraph says
... published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior ...
they really mean a one-paragraph abstract of a poster presentation (Est-ce que les chats d’élevage se comportent différemment à l’égard des humains par rapport aux chats « de gouttière » ?) at a conference. Not even a talk at said conference.

I can't see any evidence that this has been peer reviewed and there are no references or endnotes to further work.

So I guess this thread is where we post cute cat pictures.
posted by Talkie Toaster at 10:33 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't listen to studies like this, honestly, because cats I have known in my life so completely break with any conclusions the researchers have come to.

Magnum, the male jellicle who lived at the farm where I picked berries as a kid, was manhandled to within an inch of his life, and he was pretty mellow.

Megan, our female rum-tum-tigger, is a feline version of a cantankerous old lunch lady. All she's missing is a great big ladle and a cigarette hanging out of her mouth.

Signy, our white jellicle/siamese mix, was a complete doofus who was at once the most skittish and most prone to getting into fights of any cat I've ever met.

Elmo, Megan's sometime gentleman caller, is a moocher of a grey tabby. He will suck up to anyone who looks like they might give him food. He sits in perfect calm while Megan freaks out behind the window.

Each and every one is or was a domestic shorthair mixed breed.
posted by LN at 10:39 AM on December 3, 2012

What, no love for the use of copaceticity? Oh, mefites, always so distracted by the allure of cute kitties.
posted by blurker at 10:52 AM on December 3, 2012

I kind of like my cats unfriendly. The more wild and beast-like, the better.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:41 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

oh my, Battlecat is GORGEOUS!
posted by iamkimiam at 11:49 AM on December 3, 2012

"oh my, Battlecat is GORGEOUS!

She was even cuter as a kitten.
posted by mullingitover at 11:53 AM on December 3, 2012

Zuzu is the friendliest cat. She kisses. She'll crane her neck upward with a pleading look on her face, and then happily receives a kiss on the nose. She'll do this five times in a row, multiple times a day.

Of course, every 75th time or so, instead of going ❣❣kiss❣❣ she goes ¡¡CHOMP!! I have a scab on my lip right now to prove it.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:57 AM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Incest is pretty well par for the course in animal husbandry when trying to reinforce a mutation.

Of course, it's pretty common in strays, too. I'm pretty sure the father and grandfather of my cat Quentin -- whose mother was a stray my parents took in -- were the same wandering yellow tom.
posted by aught at 12:28 PM on December 3, 2012

I would characterize the Siamese cats I've known less as "friendly" and more as needy little stalkering narcissists who have problems with boundaries and never shut up.
posted by fshgrl at 1:00 PM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think you've misspelled "Burmese".

(Had them both. Loved them both. Am happily catless for the time being.)
posted by maudlin at 1:05 PM on December 3, 2012

I'm making this up. Not for scientific use. Many exceptions.

Colour Chart for Generic Domestic Short-Hair Behavior:
(House-cats only, not feral):

Grey Striped Tabby: sort-of average cat behavior.
Pearl Grey: laid-back.
Orange: curious and goofy.
White: nice but dumb.
White; (male w/blue eyes): nice but deaf and dumb.
Black: regal and vain.
Tuxedo: like a penguin.
Tortoiseshell: evil. (mostly to other cats).
posted by ovvl at 1:24 PM on December 3, 2012

Orange: curious and goofy.

I have two orange cats, and this totally applies; however, you should include a 120 decibel purr as well as a near pathological need for tummy rubs. Photographs by my roommate: Nigel and Lexie.
posted by jokeefe at 3:35 PM on December 3, 2012

My cats are both strays (one of them with an AskMe assist) and they're cuddly and friendly as can be. If you have a lap, they will sit in it immediately, like they own the place (they do). Here's their favorite position (that's taken with them on my chest). The grey one (Ottö) was estimated at 6 weeks old when I got him; not sure about Baz (he was about 2 when I adopted him) - not sure if that's enough time with mommy or not really.
posted by marylynn at 3:49 PM on December 3, 2012

I also had a goofy orange!
posted by ramix at 5:37 PM on December 3, 2012

Another goofy orange!

(a rare female Rex who looks more like a chicken than anything)
posted by iamkimiam at 5:42 AM on December 4, 2012

Midnight, my former stray, is the most cuddly & affectionate cat I've ever known. He follows me around and always wants to be held. Cody, from a litter of kittens a friend found in her back yard, loves people, always wants to be the center of attention, and runs over to greet everyone.
posted by mike3k at 11:24 PM on December 5, 2012

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