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Does Your Cat's Order of Arrival in the Family Affect its Personality?

By: Cal Orey

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Did you know that a cat's behavior and personality might be affected by his chronological spot within a family of felines, thanks, in part, to the humans who love him? Well, it can!

When Sierra Bingham introduced new kitten Stevey to her "first born," a sweet 5-year-old Siamese, the fur flew. "Roger would hiss and swat at little Stevey and me because he was used to being the center of my attention," Bingham explains.

Recognizing birth-order "cat"egories can help you recognize – and deal with – pet problems and your own behavior toward your cats.

First Cats (Typical Traits: leadership, dominance, fussy)

We give our first cat applause for every purr and snuggle. Seniority rules. "When we adopt a second kitten for the household, we should somehow let our first cat know 'We'll always love you best,'" says John C. Wright, pet psychologist and co-author of Ain't Misbehavin'.

With your help, your first cat will often fall into a routine and become completely reliable. "You're more likely to expose your first cat to novelty," says Wright. "Thus, he'll get used to new sounds and sights and be well adjusted."

Pet Problems: But the seemingly laid-back first cat may become a spitfire when a newcomer – human or feline – enters the family. In his eyes, he's No. 1, and when his position is threatened, he may behave jealously.

Middle Cats (Typical Traits: social, independent, different)

Middle cats become family members because we want a second cat either for ourselves or a feline friend for our first cat. Yet daily playtime with the middle cat is often significantly less than the time you spent with your original cat. Yet many owners have a "been there, done that" attitude and pay much less attention to a second-comer.

Pet Problems: Middle cats "form attachments to other cats, rather than to people," says Wright. As a result, the middle cat becomes a cat-cat not a people-cat. This may be a problem for you but is not one for the cat.
        
Some middles and first cats become beloved pet pals for life. Consider the case of Alex, a 7-week-old kitten adopted by his owner to fill the void when an older, much-loved dog passed away. Instead of bonding with his very busy owner, this furry tyke took to Gandolf, a nurturing adult feline living under the same roof. The two cats became best buddies in a friendship that lasted 12 years.

However, if the middle cat is ignored, he's inclined to be "more self-reliant and go sit on the windowsill and watch the birds" explains Sharon Crowell Davis, PhD, professor of veterinary animal behavior at the University of Georgia.

Baby Of The Family (Typical Traits: charming, people-oriented, attention-seeking)

The baby of the family is often predictably spoiled. We lavish attention on a new kitten (or cat) just because its new. And let's face it, last-arrivals are fun to pamper, coddle and coo over.

Pet Problems: Resident cats can form loving friendships with the newcomers over time –or turn into green-eyed monsters forever. "The more cats you have, the less exposure the new kitten may have to novelty, and this can affect its level of adjustment," explains Wright.

Only Cat (Typical Traits: confident, assertive, smart)

Only cats are like first comers – before adoption of a second cat. Without competition for your love, the only cat is comfortable around people (although not necessarily around other cats). Also, only-cat owners, like parents of only children, can become overly involved.

Pet Problems: Excessive cat catering "can cause problems, especially if you want to bring in another cat," says Dr. Crowell Davis. Worse, an only cat may act like a demanding child.

Persian owner Karen Black should know. "If Tommy doesn't get his way, he nips at my foot. Or if I don't have his blanket where he wants it, he gets mad." But this cat was his owner's pride and joy. "Tommy gets albacore tuna, sleeps with his stuffed bunny (every night), and runs errands with me," Black notes. "It's as though he's my substitute baby."

Keeping Order

If you and your felines are coexisting peacefully, despite different arrival-order demographics, don't worry, be happy! However, the more you play into arrival-order stereotypes, the greater the chance for problems in your single-or multi-cat household. Follow these tips to avoid cat chaos:

  • Provide multiple food and water dishes, litter boxes, and favorite cat spots. That way, you'll cut down competition.

  • Do you play with your first cat more than your second cat? If so, your middle cat may need more attention.

  • Schedule play periods for your cats and try to initiate play that meets each cat's needs.

  • "If you have an eldest cat who requires extra care, make sure those requirements are met first," says Wright, "then give your other cats plenty of attention."

  • Provide plenty of interesting toys for your cat's individual interests.

  • If your cat seems bored and lonely indoors, consider adopting a feline companion for him. Discuss compatibility with your vet or animal behaviorist first.

    Sweet Siblings

    Another way to avoid sibling rivalry is to adopt cats from the same litter. After all, kittens learn many socialization skills from their moms and littermates.

    Siblings who were pals as kittens often grow up to become great adult friends, because they've stayed together. "In the same litter, smells don't change. The cats become used to all the members at the same time," notes Wright. "Littermates are developmentally similar. They have motivations to do things along the same time lines."

    Not only are sibs in sync, they're likely to be a happier family in the long run. Why? Evidence shows that compared to non-sibling cats, they're better able to weather relationship problems at different ages. Of course, siblings have their advantages, but non-related cats can live together harmoniously, too – if you nip pet peeves in the bud.

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