Despite ubiquitous depictions of solitary, curmudgeonly felines, cats are social animals whose personalities aren't set in stone. Your cat's mentality is shaped by genetic disposition and socialization -- both nature and nurture. Cats are either calm or skittish, generally, but there are other mitigating mentality factors to consider.
Scientific research shows cat personalities fall into similar camps as dog personalities. According to multiple studies, as conducted and compiled by Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, there are two types of cats: sociable and antisocial. Naturally, cats in the first category seek out human attention and those in the latter avoid it. Social cats associate people with good experiences and unsociable cats associate them with bad experiences. Some research shows a third, active or aggressive type, but these personalities are usually circumscribed within social and antisocial camps.
Kittens inherit genes that affect personality from both their parents. So, if you want to figure out what kind of mentality your new cat has, watch his mom and dad. Because of this hereditary component, certain cat breeds are often associated with certain personalities. Siamese and other Asian short-haired breeds are usually more extroverted, active, vocal and less friendly toward other cats. Persians and other longhairs are usually more quiet, less active and less affectionate, although they're more welcoming or accepting toward other cats.
Kittens are inundated with novel experiences every moment -- experiences that solidify some of their dispositions. While cats may inherit predilections, actual sights, sounds, smells, touches and tastes are broadly categorized as good or bad as a result of their nascent months. Researchers at Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital recommend socializing kittens and young cats are frequently as possible. The first three months appear to be the most critical. Some people who work in animal shelters and share their experiences online say older kittens and younger cats go through the feline equivalent of a toddlers' "terrible twos," after which they show their true colors.
Adult cats may warm up to everyone, including strangers, or shun everyone, including longtime owners. At this point, they're likely set in their ways. The peak period during which human socialization is solidified is probably when a kitten is three- to seven-weeks-old. If you've already got a cat that's the more skittish type, be patient and realize it's going to take more time and work to socialize that cat -- and even then his mentality might not change. If you're choosing a cat from a shelter, ask if they have a feline behavioral assessment form, which can clue you in to a cat's personality.
- cats image by Zbigniew Nowak from Fotolia.com