I bet that most readers here think their cats have plenty of personality. And I agree. I think each of my cats has a unique, wonderful personality. But I was baffled years ago when someone remarked to me that my cats had “so much personality” compared to other cats. This person claimed that the cats in their own life had no personality, and were also standoffish, ignored them, and hid under the bed. I’d bet that some of you have heard similar remarks about cats.
After I heard this, I began to think about what I did that possibly let my cats’ personalities shine through. Here’s what I came up with:
We all thrive on interaction and attention. So do cats. I like to spend a lot of time with them. Time spent with them increases our bond.
Playing with cats is healthy for them, makes them happy, makes me happy, and lets me observe how they like to play. Sometimes, this gives me clues into their inherent personalities. For example, Norton will play at the drop of a hat. He is easily stimulated, young, and curious about anything. Playing is really good for Norton, and it brings out his easy, happy-go-lucky personality.
On the other hand, Kieran has a shyer, quieter personality. He will play, but it takes some effort. (He also has arthritis in his low spine, so he’s not as likely to jump around.) I know it makes Kieran happy to have attention, whether directed through play or otherwise, so I play with him in a quieter way, and I don’t expect him to be as boisterous.
For example, I could get wild with a feather toy right away, if playing with Norton. With Kieran, I need to be more patient and slower with the toy to get his attention. I might gently drag it across his paw to get him interested. Soon, he’ll be laying on his back, happily swatting at the toy. This is what I mean by trying to work with each cat in their own way to draw out their own unique personalities.
I alluded to this a little already. At the risk of anthropomorphizing (it’s difficult not to when you are trying to describe your cat’s personality), my Rama seems to be a one-person cat. So I give him lots of opportunities to be with me, alone. Rama has a certain body language and movement that tells me that he’s suddenly in the mood to snuggle. He’ll leap on to a bed or couch and wait for me to follow so that he can snuggle with me. He does not like to share this experience. If another cat enters the bedroom, Rama lets his displeasure be known. Rama is a cat who likes his alone time with his people, and we do the best to accommodate.
Without going overboard (for example, I make mealtimes pretty regular, regardless of what the cats might lobby for), I try to be observant enough to notice if my cats want to interact. They often do. The living room of our house, for example, seems a favorite gathering place for our cats. If we make a point of spending time just sitting, reading, doing music, or being in the living room, the cats pick up on this and congregate with us in a very contented way. The very fact that I am consciously interacting with them rather than ignoring them for much of the day is something that I believe facilitates “personality.”
I’ve found this real beneficial with older cats. It seems that the stimulation of intentional positive interaction, or play, helps keep a cat interested in life and engaged.
I love to observe my cats. That’s how I’m able to discern their personalities. Jamie Bluebell has a fun-loving, humorous streak, for example. (My vet calls it “being a calico.”) When Jamie gets worked up or happy for no reason, she’ll start dashing around the house, eyes wide. She’ll roll on the floor happily, repeatedly exposing her belly. And she’ll amp up the talking. Jamie’s talking sounds something like, “Woo! Woo!” When I respond in a similar fashion — yes, I am crazy — she seems to like it and responds more. Am I encouraging the emergence of a fun-loving personality, or am I simply reinforcing a behavior? I am not sure, but we both seem to be having fun.
I’ll keep an eye on shifts in cat dynamics and personalities. Sometimes, this can happen in a multi-cat household. Jamie was more fearful, at first, with the introduction of Zorro. She stayed in my office — her safe place. So I made sure that I interacted with her in the office and that she didn’t get ignored. Now, I’m happy to say that Jamie is a spunky girl, and she often flirts with Zorro. She will also take the opportunity to run up behind him and gently smack him in the butt. Things are always changing! I’m just grateful that everyone gets along and that serious cat fights don’t occur.
Just because a cat hides under the bed does not mean she has no personality. There are many things we can do to help a cat’s unique personality blossom.
Do you intentionally try to encourage your cat’s personality to emerge? Tell me about it in the comments!
More by Catherine Holm:
About Catherine Holm: Told that she is funny but doesn’t know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet, with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of The Great Purr, the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of two short story collections. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city.