Your Cat Has the Heart (And Mindset) of a Lion

Researchers found that domestic cats have the same personality traits as African lions. Briana Hunter/Shutterstock

You may have seen the recent headlines declaring that your cat would likely kill you — if only it weren’t for that pesky size difference. But does your feline friend really have such murderous intentions? Not exactly.

The study that prompted these headlines was conducted by the Bronx Zoo and the University of Edinburgh to compare the personalities of domestic cats to varies breeds of wild cats.

Researchers observed four types of wild cats — clouded leopards, snow leopards, Scottish wildcats and African lions — in zoos and wildlife parks, as well as 100 domestic cats in Scottish animal shelters. Through their observations, scientists determined how each species measures on the Big Five human personality traits: extroversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism and openness to experience.

They discovered that each species has three dominant personality traits, and for domestic cats those were dominance, impulsiveness and neuroticism.

According to the study, domestic cats’ neuroticism had “the highest loadings on anxious, insecure, and tense, suspicious and fearful of people.”

This — combined with the fact that cats share these three personality traits with African lions — has prompted some experts to suggest that your pet cat may want to take you out, if only he or she were a little bigger.

"They're cute and furry and cuddly, but we need to remember when we have cats as pets, we are inviting little predators into our house," psychologist Dr. Max Wachtel, who isn’t affiliated with the study, told a local TV station when the study came out.

However, Marieke Gartner, one of the researchers involved in the study, told CNET that it’s "a pretty far stretch" to suggest that your cat actually wants to kill you.

"Cats don't want to bump you off,” she said, “but people often don't know how to treat [cats] and then are surprised by their behavior."

In fact, it’s difficult to draw conclusions about cats’ personalities and intentions when they’ve been studied far less than other animals like dogs.

Of course, as the two most popular pets in the United States, it’s natural for us to compare cats and dogs. But while dogs were bred and domesticated to fit our needs over thousands of years, cats are still genetically similar to their wild ancestors and only moved in with us because the perks were good.

“Cats have different personalities, and they ended up living with us because it was a mutually beneficial situation,” Gartner said. “Some cats are more independent. Some are quite loving. It just depends on the individual. It's not that cats are self-centered. It's that they are a more solitary or semi-solitary species.”

And while a recent study by animal behaviorists at England’s University of Lincoln concluded that cats don’t need humans like dogs do, this finding is actually good news for cat owners: Your cat sticks around because he or she wants to. (And hopefully not simply because you’d make a good meal.)