Is Your Cat an Extrovert or an Introvert?
We often talk about people being extroverts or introverts. Merriam Webster defines the terms like this:
extrovert – a friendly person who likes being with and talking to other people : an outgoing person
introvert – broadly : a reserved or shy person
I prefer defining the personality traits in terms of how a person recharges his or her batteries. I’m an introvert. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I get back on an even keel by going for a hike in the woods, reading a book, or some other activity that isolates me from other people. My friend Jane is a classic extrovert. When she needs the proverbial shot in the arm, she seeks people out; the bigger and more raucous the group the sooner she’ll be feeling better. This is not to say that Jane doesn’t need moments to herself or that I live my life as a hermit, we simply have different comfort zones that we retreat to when we need a break.
Cats can be extroverts or introverts as well. My current kitty, Vicky, is an introvert. She seeks attention, but only when and where she chooses. And there are long stretches of the day where she can be found curled up on a couch in the basement as far removed from the hubbub of daily life as she can get. Pippin, a previous kitty, was a total extrovert (or attention-whore, as my husband called him). He was always in everybody else’s business. Open a cabinet, he’d jump inside. Open the door, he’d rush outside. Sit down, and you’d be getting chin rubs within a second or two.
Problems arose when Vicky and Pippin were forced to share a house. While human extroverts and introverts get along by respecting and catering to each other’s differing needs, the feline capacity for magnanimous behavior is somewhat limited. Vicky needed her space, and Pippin didn’t understand what space was. Therefore, chaos reigned.
With hindsight and a deeper understanding of feline behavior, I now realize that I did not step up to the challenge that combining these differing feline personalities in a single living space presented. Vicky needed several inviolable spaces where Pippin could never enter and intrude on her Zen. Instead of getting frustrated with her for not standing up for herself, I should have set aside parts of the house that were all hers and included food, water, resting spaces, and litter boxes. Pippin, on the other hand, needed to party more. He went stir crazy when left to his own devices for too long and would seek out his own forms of (often socially inappropriate) entertainment. Instead of getting mad at him, I should have spent more time playing with him.
To put it plainly, given enough space, two feline introverts will get along by ignoring each other for most of the day. Two feline extroverts can become best buds and playmates, though they still need to be able to escape one another when the inevitable disagreements arise. But a household that contains both feline introverts and extroverts requires human intervention if it’s going to be harmonious.
Dr. Jennifer Coates