People think of cats as cuddly.
But research published in a psychology journal calls them neurotic and unstable.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and the Bronx Zoo in New York compared the personalities of domestic house cats to those of four different types of wildcats.
To better understand feline personalities, the researchers rated a number of animals' behaviors on what psychologists call the Big Five human personality traits:
Domestic house cats and have similar personality structures to African lions with high inclinations toward dominance, impulsiveness and neuroticism, the researchers found.
“It’s what cats pretty much do on a daily basis, things like being anxious, being timid, being excitable, being aggressive toward humans, being aggressive toward each other," said Max Wachtel, a Denver psychologist not affiliated with the study. "All of those are characteristics you see in those cute little fuzzy house cats, and you also see them in lions.”
If you ever thought your cat was anxious, insecure, tense, suspicious or aggressive toward you, you aren't making it up, he said. If they were bigger, they probably would consider killing you.
But the news isn't all bad: Just like lions, house cats are also playful, excitable and impulsively hilarious.
They just aren't very predictable. One moment cats will be enjoying belly scratches and purring, and the next they will be biting you to make you stop.
"It is good to understand the personality characteristics of our pets," Wachtel said. "Different cats have different personalities, but as a species, there are a lot of commonalities."
The researchers also studied personality traits of clouded leopards, snow leopards and Scottish wildcats.
"Across the five felid species we assessed, personality structure was strikingly similar and also seemed to be related to other studies’ findings, such as in cheetahs and tigers," the researchers wrote in their study in the November 2014 issue of the Journal of Comparative Psychology. But house cats were most like lions, potentially because they live in semi-social surroundings and lions are the most social of cats.
"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," Wachtel said. "Cats can be fantastic, sweet companions — until they turn on you."