Why Can't You Behave?

Nature shapes your kitten's personality, but it's up to you to provide some nurture.

By Charles Hand

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Kittens can also be made friendlier than when they were born. "You can take a kitten born to a very fearful queen and tom and socialize the heck out of it and have a cat that will be friendly and outgoing toward people," Bain said. Siamese kittens can be trained out of their genetic tendency to meow more than other breeds, for instance, by squirting them with water every time they meow or by rewarding silence with food while ignoring meowing, said Bain.

In the end, though, a kitten's behavior is more or less a matter of its nature.

Nature Over Nurture
Cats like to be high. Many like to hide while others never hide. For the most part, cats like food that cats like, such as fish or red meat). Some start out more aggressive than others. Some are lap cats from day one, while others are more apt to chase catnip mice.

"Most people accept the cat for what it is," said Marjorie Fong, DVM, a California practitioner who has four cats. "Most people like their cats."

There are a couple of practical considerations as well, Fong said. Abyssinians, for instance, are high-maintenance cats and at the upper end of the active scale. Others are more sedate. Some are vocal. Some shed a lot.

Once the choice of a kitten is made, it becomes the human's job to get the kitten started on the right foot, which mostly means preventing behavior that will become destructive if it is not checked early. Even here, the personality of the kitten determines how much of which characteristics will dominate and what methods of behavior modification will work best.

"Normal" Behavior
Clawing furniture, carpet or drapes, for instance, could be a problem, as could spraying, because they represent normal cat behavior.

Benjamin Hart, DVM, of UC Davis, wrote in a treatise on scratching that "scratching a large, upright structure is innate behavior." In other words, it does not matter what kind of personality you pick, from laid-back observer of the passing scene to full-of-the-devil hard charger. Though the degree to which it is manifested may differ, there is a tendency in all cats to scratch.

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