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Genetics & Cat Behavior

Clinician's Brief


|June 2016

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Several studies in human medicine have focused on oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) polymorphisms and their role in social behaviors. This study examined the relationship between OXTR polymorphisms in cats and owner assessment of the cats’ behaviors. Cats were either pets in private homes (n = 56) or belonged to 1 of 6 cat cafés (n = 38) where customers can freely interact with cats. Owners completed a detailed questionnaire that categorized cat behaviors into 4 groups: openness (playful, inquisitive, and curious), friendliness (adaptable, calm, and friendly), roughness (irritable, dominant, forceful, and moody), and neuroticism (vigilant, nervous, and fearful). When genetic data from the cats were analyzed, the investigators found 3 single nucleotide polymorphisms in the OXTR of cats; 1 was significantly associated with roughness. Younger cats showed higher openness scores and older cats demonstrated higher roughness scores. The authors conclude these findings may have implications for animal welfare, as genetic testing could be used to predict compatibility in cat–cat and cat–human relationships.


It is difficult to know how to interpret the results from this study and apply them in practice. The questionnaire used was adapted from one used to identify personality traits in Japanese Akitas. As cats are not dogs and personality traits vary widely among dog breeds, the applicability is potentially questionable. Additionally, the cats in this study came from 2 different groups: pet cats and cats from cat cafés. It is likely the café cat population was biased given a reasonable assumption that an establishment would want its wait staff—including the resident cats—to be friendly. For the pet cats, it might be asked, “Who assessed the cat?” Two people in the same house could have vastly different interpretations of the same animal.—Karen A. Moriello, DVM, DACVD


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