Understanding cat behavior by breed. Cats can be one of the most misunderstood pets...we would like to share some of our cat behavior information with you.

Cat behavior and quirks based on breed
by B. Iris Tanner

While the average American can identify 10 or more different dog breeds without thinking twice about it, very few can name more than three breeds of purebred cat. How many do YOU know of? If you come up with anything more than "Persian, Siamese, and Tabby," give yourself a pat on the back for being much more knowledgeable than the average person . . . but if you DID say "Persian, Siamese, and Tabby," you will greatly benefit from the information in this article.

First of all, "Tabby" is a pattern, not a breed. It is found in more than half of the breeds recognized by the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA), the world's oldest and largest registry of purebred cats, and it has nothing to do with personality/cat behavior type. In addition, CFA currently recognizes over 40 different breeds, and some of the other, smaller registries recognize even more. While there are many books and web sites designed to help people select the cat breed that is right for them, most organize the breeds by characteristics such as breed type (natural, hybrid or mutation), body type (from cobby Manx to long-bodied, elegant Siamese) or coat type (from the mostly naked Sphynx to the long, opulent fur of the majestic Persian). Few provide information on cat behavior or behavior in cats.

These are all valid approaches that provide useful cat behavior information for prospective owners. However, you usually need to dig a bit deeper in order to get a sense of what actually LIVING with one of these breeds might be like. In my experience, the best matches of cat and owner occur when the breed's personality and cat behavior type is given the same level of consideration as its physical appearance. Consequently, I find it easiest to organize the breeds into three different personality and cat behavior groups. Although all cats are individuals, and some breeds will exemplify the group traits to a greater extent than others, knowledge of these three groups can give you a very useful starting point for further research on a breed by cat behavior that sounds compatible with your lifestyle.

Cat behavior demystified. Behavior in cats explained according to breed type:

Cat Behavior - the "BUSY" BREEDS

While most people think of short-haired cats as more active than long-haired cats, one of the busiest breeds in cat-dom is actually a long-haired cat - the Turkish Angora. Breeders who work with this easy-care longhair often refer to it as "the dog in cat's clothing" because it does many of the things you'd expect from a dog. Turks can be expected to greet their owners (and guests) at the door, to make polite conversation about their day and yours, to play eagerly with any toy you offer them(and create their own toys if you don't - so guard your toilet paper like a hawk!), and to take an intense interest in anything you might do around the house. It's not just an interest, though. Turks, as well as the other breeds in this group, will usually try to become actively involved in your household activities and their attempts to "help" can be extremely entertaining. If you aren't prepared for a high level of interaction, you might find it irritating to constantly have to extract your "busy" kitty from the bed so you can finish making it, or to remove it from the dinner table where it is helpfully attempting to serve as a centerpiece while playing with your knife, fork or napkin.

Not surprisingly, cats from this group tend to be very intelligent, playful, and affectionate. Some are so happy to have the privilege of a cuddle or lap time that they will knead their paws in pleasure as soon as you pick them up. Other breeds in this group include the short-haired Abyssinian, best known for its colorful, resilient coat and the ticked tabby pattern that gives it a slightly wild appearance. Abys have most of the same quirks as the Turkish Angora but are usually considered slightly more intelligent. The Somali is a long-haired version of the Abyssinian; while it definitely belongs in this group, it is properly placed toward the "less busy" end of the spectrum, with a bit more mellow personality than its short-haired cousin. Somewhere in between these two is the Singapura, a rare breed with a coat texture and pattern similar to the Aby but a very different body structure. They are the smallest breed of cat, with a very round head and large eyes that produce a strikingly sweet expression.

All the Oriental breeds are usually considered "busy" as well. This group of related breeds includes the classic Siamese (in the traditional seal, chocolate, blue and lilac points) and the Colorpoint Shorthair (similar to the Siamese but with a greater variety of point colors that includes red and cream as well as "lynx" points, which are actually tabby markings). Siamese and Colorpoints are the most talkative breeds of this group, and as any Siamese owner knows, they are extremely assertive about expressing their needs and desires. You always know exactly what they want - or DON'T want - from you. The Oriental breed group also includes the Balinese, a long-haired version of the Siamese, the Javanese, a long-haired version of the Colorpoint Shorthair, and the Oriental itself, a cat with the same elegant boning and body structure of a Siamese but without the pointed pattern. Many years ago, the Orientals were created by crossing Siamese with American Shorthairs to produce full body color. Because of that long-ago infusion of American Shorthair, they are somewhat less busy than their Siamese cousins, come in an incredible variety of colors and patterns, and occur in both short- and long-haired versions.

Another fine-boned "busy" breed is the Cornish Rex, known for its soft, tightly waved coat, erect ears and Roman nose. Bengals, which are not recognized by CFA because of their wild ancestry, nevertheless must be considered part of this group. And we must not forget the Japanese Bobtail, best known for its flashy markings and short corkscrew of a tail. J-Bobs, Turks, and Abys are "sisters under the skin" and all three consistently excel in the Feline Agility Competitions sponsored by CFA.

Cat Behavior - the "CALMER" BREEDS

This group encompasses the largest number of breeds and has more variation from one end of its range to the other. Nevertheless, all have certain things in common. They are moderately active but not busy, hence the term "calmer" - although anyone who has ever seen a litter of Russian Blue kittens stampeding down the stairs might well question my word choice here. These breeds are affectionate, but not "in-your-face" kitties; they make it clear that they value your companionship but they don't crave it or revel in it with the same intensity as our first group. Similarly, they take a strong interest in what you are doing, but are less likely to try to lend a helping paw than the busy group. They take readily to interactive play with their owners but may be more selective about their choice of toy. Your toilet paper rolls may not be at risk from them, but I make no guarantees!

The breeds that best exemplify this personality type of cat behavior are probably the three all-blue breeds: the Russian Blue, the Chartreux, and the Korat. However, all three have different appearances and body types, as well as distinct individual personality types of their own. Korats can be more assertive and willful than Chartreux, who are truly gentle and calm rather than calmer in comparative terms, while Russian Blues fall in between.

There are talkative breeds in this group as well. The cobby, surprisingly heavy Burmese, with its luxurious sable coat and golden eyes, is one of the more vocal. While Burmese have a great deal to say for themselves, their moderate activity level places them here rather than among the busy cats. Other breeds related to the Burmese belong here too. They include the Bombay, an American Shorthair/Burmese hybrid that is patent-leather black with glowing copper eyes; the European Burmese, a more moderate version of the Burmese that comes in a greater variety of colors; and the Tonkinese, considered the classic midpoint between the Burmese and the Siamese. First recognized in a distinctive pattern known as "mink", with unique aqua eyes, Tonkinese can now also be shown in pointed and solid patterns.

The Ocicat is a 100% domestic cat that has the appearance of a wild cat. A hybrid breed, it has a striking spotted pattern, lithe yet substantial, well-muscled body, and a personality that reflects the innate calm of its American Shorthair ancestor, tempered with the busier nature of the Abyssinian and Siamese that are also part of its genetic makeup. Another spotted cat that fits in here is the Egyptian Mau, the only natural spotted breed. Although the Mau's facial markings give it a characteristic "worried" look, these cats are generally friendly, playful, and very intelligent. They properly fit in close to the border between "busy" and "calmer."

Longhair breeds in the calmer group include the Birman, best known by its combination of the pointed (i.e. Siamese) pattern with white paw markings, known as gloves and laces. The Turkish Van, which comes from the same long-ago ancestral stock as the Turkish Angora but has a very different coat and body structure, fits here too, as do two newer longhair breeds, the American Curl and the American Bobtail. Both resulted from mutations that have been selectively breed to produce distinctive looks, and both are increasing in popularity across the U.S., as the Norwegian Forest Cat, a natural breed with a coat designed to withstand the worst of a Scandinavian winter. And of course, the shaggy Maine Coon, our largest breed of cat, belongs in this group, especially in light of its nickname, the "gentle giant."

Cat Behavior - "PLACID" BREEDS

Now we move to the most relaxed part of the feline personality cat behavior type spectrum. The "placid" group encompasses those breeds that are more likely to be found relaxing in a chair than chasing invisible mice around your house. Please don't think of them as total couch potatoes, though. When properly motivated, they are as capable of frantic play as an Aby or Japanese Bobtail.

Placid breeds are not likely to express a strong need for human companionship, this is not part of their cat behavior type. That doesn't mean they don't desire it or appreciate it when they get it. They just won't INSIST on having a lot of it, which makes them well suited to owners who want to set their own schedules for quality time with their pets. In general, they are not as intelligent as the first two groups, but that is not true of every breed noted here and even within breeds not noted for intelligence, a feline Einstein can occur!

Persians are the epitome of the placid cat behavior tye, and for any owner who is able to provide the time-consuming grooming that they require, they make a beautiful and loving addition to the home. Because such a large percentage of purebred cats are Persians, they are often broken down into subgroups or divisions by color, and breeders will tell you that different colors have different personalities and cat beheviors. They may well be right! Tortoiseshell Persians are famous for being, to quote former CFA President Don Williams, "like a candy bar, half sweet and half nuts." Himalayan Persians, the result of a long-ago crossbreeding with Siamese, tend to be more active and often more intelligent than solid, tabby, or bicolor Persians, while silver and golden Persians are somewhat more vocal and assertive by comparison.

The Exotic, a short-haired version of the Persian, is another placid breed, as is the Siberian, a long-haired natural breed from Russia. Both have sedate, mellow personalities and cat behavior that are very similar to the Persian, and except for their grooming requirements, they don't make a lot of demands on their owners. The Siberian is one of the more intelligent cats in this group and cat lovers in the U.S. are just beginning to discover its charming qualities. The Ragdoll, a hybrid breed created in California, has taken the country by storm and is fast becoming one of CFA's most popular breeds.

There are a number of short-haired breeds in this group as well. The British Shorthair, which has some Persian in its ancestry, often exhibits the typical British reserve, keeping a respectful distance from owners and guests unless invited into a lap. They are not by any means unfriendly, but their preference is to be NEAR their owners rather than ON them. The American Shorthair falls closer to the borderline between placid and calmer type of behavior in cats. It is traditionally described as a "working cat," capable of catching and killing mice with its powerful jaws. Consequently, Americans usually get very high marks for intelligence and ingenuity, but their relatively sedate nature places them firmly in this group. The American Wirehair, a mutation derived from the American Shorthair, fits here for the same reason.

These three groups cover most, but not all, of the most popular cat breeds. I have made some deliberate omissions; the hairless Sphynx, for example, has been described to me in terms that could place it in each of these three groups of cat behavior and personality, however I prefer to leave its classification to the breeders who know it best. Similarly, the wavy-coated Devon Rex is on the border between "calmer" and "placid," of cat behavior while the Havana Brown falls midway between "busy" and "calmer," personality. Anyone with an interest in these breeds should speak directly with a breeder for a more detailed description. Still, this overview should be extremely useful in enabling you to determine the personality type and cat behavior type that is best suited to your lifestyle.

Animal Planet has an online quiz that can provide you with a list of compatible breeds at http://animal.discovery.com/breedselector/catselecto r.do, and I recommend it for further research. However, your best next step in selecting a breed should be to attend a local cat show, so you'll have an opportunity to actually meet and greet the different breeds. An up-to-date version of the CFA show schedule is always available online at show schedule. Cat Fancy magazine provides schedules for other associations in each issue. If you take the time to do your homework, I'm sure you will find a purebred cat that will suit your tastes to purrfection.

Sources for information on cat behavior and behavior in cats:The Cat Fanciers' Association Complete Cat Book and The Cornell Book of Cats, both edited by Mordecai Siegel
5 years of personal experience as a licensed cat show judge for the Cat Fanciers' Association