Cats tend to be less healthy and more anxious when their owners are neurotic

New research in PLOS One has found that a cat owner’s personality is associated with the behaviour and welfare of their cats. The findings indicate that neurotic owners tend to have less healthy cats.

“Typically, both within the scientific and as well as applied welfare communities, when it comes to companion animals and their wellbeing, much more attention is paid to the impact of the animals’ physical environment (e.g. housing, enrichment, nutrition etc) than that of their social environment,” explained study author Lauren Finka, a post-doctoral research associate at Nottingham Trent University.

“However, my experience from working with cats over the last decade has really highlighted to me just how much humans’ can potentially affect the behaviour and welfare of cats, just by how we interact with and manage them. A lot the time this is probably happening without us even being aware of it. I was therefore keen to conduct a study that investigated this phenomenon scientifically.”

Finka and her colleagues surveyed 3,331 cat owners in the United Kingdom regarding their personality as well as the health, and behavior of their cats. The researchers found that the owners’ personality was associated with several aspects of their cats’ wellbeing and behavior.

“Our personalities may be an important factor in relation to how we interact with and manage our cats, and this can have important consequences for their wellbeing. Cats may not always find living as our pets easy, and it’s important that we are aware of how our behaviour may be impacting upon them, in both positive and negative ways,” Finka told PsyPost.

Neurotic owners were more likely to report that their cats had ongoing medical conditions, were overweight or very overweight, displayed more frequent stress-linked sickness behaviours, had behavioural problems, and had aggressive or anxious/fearful behavioural styles.

More agreeable owners were more likely to indicate that their cats had a normal weight and displayed less aggressive and aloof/avoidant behaviours. Owners higher in openness and conscientiousness were also less likely to report aloof/avoidant behaviours in their cats.

In addition, owners higher in extroversion, openness, and conscientiousness were more likely to report their cats as being more sociable.

“This study merely identifies a correlation between owner personality and aspects of cat behaviour, management and wellbeing and cannot assume causation,” Finka added. “Further research is needed in order to understand if, and how, aspects of the owner’s personalities are directly influencing the welfare of their cats.”

“We also relied upon owner’s reports of their cat’s health and behaviour, therefore further studies should also explore how reliable these reports are compared to more objective measures of cat wellbeing.

The study, “Owner personality and the wellbeing of their cats share parallels with the parent-child relationship“, was authored by Lauren R. Finka, Joanna Ward, Mark J. Farnworth, and Daniel S. Mills.