Cat personality explained: understanding the Feline Five

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Cat personality explained: understanding the Feline Five


  Last updated June 7, 2018 at 3:37 pm


Cat personality explained: understanding the Feline Five


As part of the Cat Tracker project we have been studying the personalities of pet cats. Our research findings have been published in PLOS ONE (click here) and a summary is provided in this post. We will soon launch an online version of the Cat Personality Test. If you would like to find out more about your cat’s personality, send us an email. We will then email you to let you know when the cat personality test is available. You can email us at:

Animal personality

Animal personality has been studied for a long time, particularly in relation to captive animals, like zoo animals. It is important to understand the personality of captive animals in order to create an appropriate environment for them. For example, shy animals will benefit from places to hide! Also, an understanding of an animal’s personality might help zoo keepers monitor the animal to ensure that it is happy in its environment. If a keeper notices changes in an animal’s personality, it could be as a result of something in the animal’s environment, like a fellow animal with a non-compatible personality. These things can be managed in zoos where environments can be controlled, and cat owners can also manage their pet’s environment to ensure their pet is happy and healthy.

Researchers in the UK and USA (Marieke Gartner, David Powell and Alexander Weiss) have developed a personality questionnaire for cats and used it with captive wildcats and with domestic cats in shelters. The questionnaire includes 52 personality characteristics and was based on personality research on numerous other animals. As part of the Cat Tracker project, we have utilised the questionnaire on a large number of pet cats in South Australia and New Zealand. The large number of cats has allowed us to analyse pet cat personality like never before!

The Feline Five

Our analyses of 2,802 cat personality tests indicate a set of five personality factors that capture the majority of these cats’ personality characteristics. Each factor reflects numerous related personality characteristics. We have called these factors the Feline Five, listed here with some examples of the characteristics they reflect:

  1. Skittishness

    HIGH SCORES = anxious, fearful of people and cats

    LOW SCORES = calm, trusting

  2. Outgoingness

    HIGH SCORES = curious, active

    LOW SCORES = aimless, quitting

  3. Dominance

    HIGH SCORES = bullying, aggressive to other cats

    LOW SCORES = submissive, friendly to other cats

  4. Spontaneity

    HIGH SCORES = impulsive, erratic

    LOW SCORES = predictable, constrained

  5. Friendliness

    HIGH SCORES = affectionate, friendly to people

    LOW SCORES = solitary, irritable

Understanding the personalities of individual cats

Based on cat owner’s responses to the Cat Personality Test, each cat can be been scored on each Feline Five factor. For each factor, most cats score somewhere in the middle (called ‘typical’), and some cats score higher or lower. You would expect a cat that scores highly on a particular factor to demonstrate related characteristics very frequently. For example, a cat that scores highly on ‘friendliness’ would likely be affectionate to its owners and others.

Below is an example of one cat’s Feline Five results. On the graph, the area shaded in grey is the ‘typical’ zone. Points above the typical zone are high, and points below the typical zone are low. Bagheera is clearly a friendly cat, which is important because he regularly attends an Adelaide school with his owner, a teacher, and is popular with the students (you can read more about Bagheera in this Adelaide Now article).

Similarities to human personality?

One interesting finding in our research is how similar cat personalities are to human personalities. In human personality research, the Big Five personality factors are: extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism. In the table below we have listed the Big Five alongside the Feline Five, so you can see which factors are similar, and which factors are not.


Feline Five

(pet cat personality factors)
Big Five

(human personality factors)
Skittishness Neuroticism Some similarity
Outgoingness Extraversion Some similarity
Dominance No “Big Five” equivalent No similarity
Spontaneity No “Big Five” equivalent No similarity
Friendliness Agreeableness Some similarity
No “Feline Five” equivalent Openness No similarity
No “Feline Five” equivalent Conscientiousness No similarity

Changing personalities?

While animal personalities are typically considered to be stable and not easily changed, there is evidence that personalities may change over a lifetime, depending on experiences and situations (e.g. stressful events). In our analyses of pet cats we found correlations between the age of the cats we studied and the personality scores of cats on the Feline Five factors. These correlations suggest that as cats get older they tend to become slightly more skittish and dominant than younger cats. They also tend to become slightly less outgoing, spontaneous and friendly than younger cats. It is also important to recognise that personalities can change when animals are young. Therefore, we did not include cats under one-year old in our analysis and urge caution in how cat owners view the results of young cats. In our cat personality reports we have noted that the personality of a cat under one-year of age may still be developing.

Further information for cat owners

We are currently creating an online cat personality test that anyone will be able to use to find out more about the personality of their cat. It should be available in the second half of 2017. If you would like to know more about the personality of your cat, send us an email. We will then email you to let you know when the cat personality test is available. You can email us at:

Cat personality reports include some suggestions about how cat management might be guided by an understanding of a cat’s personality. Click here to see and example report: Bagheera’s Cat Personality Test.

You can also find out more about Cat Tracker (click here for more information about the project).

To stay in touch and learn about all of the Discovery Circle’s projects, please register for our eNewsletter.

Our research team on this project:

Further Reading:

  • Read our research article, published in PLOS ONE in August, 2017,

  • If you would like to read more about the previous cat personality research, please see:

    Gartner MC, Powell DM & Weiss A (2014) Personality Structure in the Domestic Cat (Felis silvestris catus), Scottish Wildcat (Felis silvestris grampia), Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia), and African Lion (Panthera leo): A Comparative Study. Journal of Comparative Psychology, volume 128, no. 4, pp. 414-426. This article is available online (click here).

  • If you would like to read more about the Big Five human personality factors, please see:


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