Fearful Cats Express Other Problematic Behaviors, Too

Cats are popular pets. Sometimes their aggression towards humans and other problematic behaviors pose challenges to our coexistence with them and can even lead to the abandonment of the animal. The causes underlying problematic behaviors can be varied and they are poorly understood. Even internationally, very little research has been done on the subject.

“We wanted to know what factors are associated with problematic cat behavior, such as fearfulness, aggression towards humans, and excessive grooming. We used a previously collected survey data set in our research, which we have already used to investigate the construction of the feline personality,” explains the doctoral researcher. Sala Mikkola from the University of Helsinki and the Folkhälsan Research Center

Significant socialization already at kitten age

The survey included over 120 statements used to score feline traits.

The fear factor included statements about the cat’s reaction to strangers, sudden noises, and changes occurring in the home. Aggression towards humans included scratching or biting attempts in conjunction with grooming, such as when brushing. Excessive grooming included extensive and intensive grooming as well as self-harm by plucking hair with the teeth, or biting or licking.

“We studied the link between these problematic behavioral and personality traits and nearly 30 behavioral, environmental and biological factors. For example, the socialization of cats with humans was associated with fear. Cats that had contact only a few times or not at all with unfamiliar adults and children under 12 weeks of age were more fearful than cats that encountered strangers on a weekly or daily basis. Fearful cats also received, on average, higher scores for litter problems, aggression, and excessive grooming,” says Mikkola.

Previous studies have also shown that fear can lead to aggressive behavior, such as hissing and biting, if the cat sees no other way out of a frightening situation. No direct causality can be established based on the data.

“There was less aggression and fearfulness in households with more than one cat, but we cannot say for certain why. It may be that the company of other cats is an important stimulant for cats, or alternatively, people don’t want to take a companion for their aggressive cat due to its nature. Research with a different design is needed to explain the causalities,” says the professor. Hannes Lohi.