As I sit in my office writing this, my 2-year-old tabby Spooky is sitting on the edge of my desk eyeing me intently.
He is looking right at me with a stare that probably froze the blood of our ancestors 25,000 years ago. Of course, Spooky’s ancestors were quite a bit larger. Still, I have often wondered what is going through a cat’s mind when it stares at you like that. Fifty million years of mammalian evolution, all packed into that tiny, predator brain. Just what is it Spooky is mulling over in his head?
According to a new study, cats are probably thinking one thing.
A study carried out between the University of Edinburgh and Bronx Zoo compared our beloved domestic cat with its wilder relatives.
Compared with the snow leopard, the Scottish wildcat and the African lion, researchers found these larger predators shared similar characteristics of aggression and neurotic behaviour to domestic cats.
Dominance, impulsiveness and neurotic behaviour are the most common trait shared between the domestic cat and the wild cat.
The researchers used a testing method known as the ‘Big Five’ personality test: Openness to Experience, Extraversion/Introversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Neuroticism.
A total of 100 cats, from two different shelters in Scotland were used in the experiment, whilst the other animals were examined from zoos and animal sanctuaries in the UK and USA.
‘They’re cute and furry and cuddly, but we need to remember when we have cats as pets, we are inviting little predators into our house,’ psychologist Dr. Max Wachtel told 9NEWS.
‘For a lot of people, it is worth it. Cats can be fantastic, sweet companions. Until they turn on you.’
Only their size prevents the cat from being able to unleash its full predatory qualities.
‘It is good to understand the personality characteristics of our pets. Different cats have different personalities. But as a species, there are a lot of commonalities,’ Dr Wachtel said.
Dogs are predators too. But we domesticated our canine friends up to 100,000 years ago while cats are relative newcomers, becoming house broken less than 7,000 years ago. Dogs stay with us and serve us out of a sense of loyalty and a desire to please. This has been bred into them for thousands of generations.
Not so the cat. When cats discovered humans would feed them, and stroke them, and give them a warm place to sleep in return for performing the ridiculously easy task of catching a few mice, they immediately realized they were getting the better end of that deal and set up shop in our hearts. But their wild side is never far beneath the surface. Neurotic or not, we are endlessly fascinated by cat behavior because we literally don’t know what they are going to do next.
As long as its not sizing us up for the cat cooking pot.