Study Finds Early Socialization Is Crucial To Prevent Problematic Behavior In Cats

Published on 2023-01-10
Study Finds Early Socialization Is Crucial To Prevent Problematic Behavior In Cats

A study carried out at the University of Helsinki revealed that fearfulness is associated with problematic behaviors and poor socialization in cats. 

Cats are popular pet animals, but they can be challenging at times. Sometimes their aggression toward humans and other problematic behavior complicates our coexistence with them. The causes of problematic behavior can vary and are poorly understood. Even on a global scale, very little research has been conducted on the subject.

"We wanted to find out what factors are associated with the problematic behavior of cats, such as fearfulness, aggression towards humans and excessive grooming. We utilized a survey dataset previously collected in our research, which we have already used to investigate the construction of the feline personality," said Salla Mikkola, Doctoral Researcher from the University of Helsinki.

The survey included more than 120 statements to score feline traits. Fearful factors included statements about the cat's reaction to strangers, sudden noises, and changes at home. Aggression towards humans included scratching or attempting to bite while being cared for, such as when being brushed. Excessive grooming included extensive and intensive grooming as well as self-mutilation through biting, licking, or pulling hair off with teeth.

"We investigated the link between these problematic behavioral and personality traits, and almost 30 behavioral, environmental and biological factors," said Mikkola.

They discovered that fearfulness was associated with socialization in cats, particularly kittens. Kittens who socialized at a young age had fewer behavioral issues.

"The socialization of cats with humans was associated with fearfulness. Cats who had come into contact with unfamiliar adults and children under 12 weeks of age only a few times or not at all were more fearful than cats who met strangers on a weekly or daily basis. Fearful cats also received, on average, higher scores for litterbox issues, aggression and excessive grooming," continued Mikkola.

Previous research has also shown that fear can lead to aggressive behavior in cats, such as hissing and biting. However, no direct causalities can be established based on the data.

"There were less aggression and fearfulness in households with more than one cat, but we cannot say for certain why this is. It may be that the companionship of other cats is an important stimulus for cats, or alternatively, people don't want to take a mate for their aggressive cat due to its nature. Research carried out through a different design is needed to explain causalities," said Professor Hannes Lohi.