To earn your cat nerd cred, you've gotta know the three types of cats

October 20 | Guest post by Pamela

Here's a post from my favorite cat blog, Way of Cats. You will love it.

Images courtesy I am Maru.

I have organized general cat tendencies into three main "types" called Alpha, Beta, and Gamma. This was inspired by the classic science fiction novel Brave New World, wherein humans are assigned societal categories at birth.

Of course, I'm working with what Nature has laid down in these cats' genetic pattern. It has nothing to do with Alpha dogs or other hierarchical ranking schemas. It is a way of expressing how each cat interacts with their environment. Knowing a cat's type will inform us of our best strategies for choosing, raising, and training them, because we need very different approaches for the different types.

Except when cats are very young, or exhibiting uncharacteristic behaviors because of stress, we can figure out what kind of cat we are looking at — and what they will need. It's important to understand how each cat regards their environment:

Alpha
These are cats who feel confident about changing their own environment. Training them consists mainly of outwitting them. These are the cats who have to have everything be "their own idea."

With their boundless reservoirs of brains and energy, we need to keep an Alpha cat busy and amused.

Beta
These are cats who feel confident about getting us to change the environment. Training them consists of fostering communication and negotiation. Beta cats are glad to cooperate, once they know what it is we want.

With their strong social skills and eagerness for companionship, we need to make sure our Betas are never lonely.

Gamma
These are cats who don't know the environment can be changed. Training them consists of anticipating their needs and letting them know how much we care. These cats hate to be a bother.

The Gamma's retiring nature will bloom under dedicated fussing, and they must never be neglected.

Knowing the cat types are crucial for choosing and blending cats. We can explore the characteristics, observe our own cats for clues, and soon we can start building our own Cat Civilization, one defined block at a time.

Do you see your cat in any of these? My cat, Nelly, is totally an Alpha. The other cat in our house, India, is a total Beta. Cat people: ESPOUSE in the comments!

  1. Squeeeel!!! I shortly began obsessing over this blog after Offbeat Home's suggestion. Soooo in love with it! My cats are already wonderful (natch). Eat their food, poop in their box, and social/affectionate with both us and strangers. But!! I feel like now I have this potential for greater understanding and to bring out even more of their awesomeness.

    Spunky (B/W tuxedo, maybe part Main Coon)- 3 y/o alpha male. Smart, wiley, athletic, paws the size of small potatos. He is survivor kitteh. Extremely playful, always wants to wrestle, which leads me to….

    Porkchop (rolly-polly brown tabby)- 6 y/o gamma female. Less fond of wrestling. A little dopey and clumsy, very very domesticated. But oooh so sweet and snuggly. Like a teddy bear.

    They get along okay. There is a genuine care for one another, but Porkchop is sort of always on the lookout for one of Spunky's friendly attacks. After reading Way of Cats, I can definitely see where I went a little astray in pairing them. But, hey! They're happy cats for the most part. Maybe I can try to tweek their relationship.

    3 agree
  2. I definitely have two Betas. I didn't have a hand in putting them together, they came to me that way. Constant companions with each other and with us.

    2 agree
  3. My wee kitty (Holly, a lovely tiny black fluffball) is a Beta … affectionate to the extreme, cuddles with the dogs, and loves anyone. And she just had her babies early this morning! Squee! We did have an absolute alpha (Cosmo, a big boy tabby) as well, but he just stopped turning up one day. I suspect one of the neighbours took him under their wing … he went whereever food was.

    2 agree
  4. We have a Beta and a Gamma. Our Gamma, who we got first, is real sneaky and mostly likes to be talked to, not petted. She does swish her tail when you say her name, which I think is her thanking us for conversing with her. Our Beta was a shelter cat, and she is very affectionate to us. She plops next to us in bed, paces back and forth in our laps, and snuggles up so close it's hard to move. She doesn't get along with our Gamma, but they have a respect for each other in that they try not to cross paths. We love our fur babies!

    2 agree
  5. I have a total Beta, with Alpha tendencies….though that may be because she is going through her teen to adult phase. Her name is Luna (a black/white tuxedo kitty). She thinks she's a dog, since we have two of them as well…she comes when called, is very vocal, does what she wants when she wants and at night loves nothing more than to curl up on my chest and purrrrr.
    Hooray for cat lovers!

    2 agree
    • This is my cat also. Smokey, 2 years old, was raised with our dog from 5 weeks old (gray, with green/yellow eyes). He has the softest fur EVER and loves on everything. He greets people, "talks" a ton, comes when called, wrestles with the dog, and will even chomp and steal food. He counts on us providing entertainment for him in our numerous forgetful ways, lol. He gets offended easily if not given the attention he is used to, so we have to make up for it whenever we leave on overnight trips. This usually involves Tuna and a new catnip ball.

      1 agrees
  6. I have one Beta, for sure. But I'm not sure about the other one. Barley (the beta) spends every morning cuddling with the baby and letting her pull his ears. He seems to enjoy it.

    Hops is more active, and doesn't cuddle nearly as much (except when I was pregnant and then he pretended to be a baby). He's also really social, but it takes him a bit longer than Barley. And he's always exploring and getting into things. So maybe an alpha?

    1 agrees
  7. My youngest and newest addition to the house hold is Solomon and he is definitively already an alpha.He is only about six months old and fearless. He loves new things-even shoes- and thinks he is a dog. He loves to investigate new people and is very entertaining. My older cat Secret is a beta, he and my boyfriend just lay in bed together for ages, its awful and adorable.

    1 agrees
  8. I definitely have an ALPHA in my house… little bastard still hasn't adjusted to my Mister being home from deployment and poos everywhere at night to express his displeasure with the lack of bed space. My other is a Beta, for sure.

    1 agrees
  9. I have an Alpha. He's in charge, he makes the changes, I'm just along for the ride. Also: Maru is king.

    2 agree
  10. the Dread Pirate Tonks LaFitte is ubergamma. she is afraid of everything. i have to hide her in the walk-in closet when i vacuum, and when i'm done, go get her and reassure her the evil is over…and cover her scratcher in catnip. she's lived with me in this house for almost 4 years now, and the trash truck and the street sweeper still send her running for cover. she loves to snuggle us, which means she sleeps on us, but we can't really manhandle her and pick her up (oh how she hates the picking up!), but she does love her some laptime when i first wake up. she HATES the snorture! we LOVE the snorture! snorture:catching the kitteh and snuggling her against her will as she struggles for freedom and we just keep loving on her. yes, we are fully aware she could kill us during this. what can i say, we're daredevils…

    3 agree
    • Is your cat by chance a Tonkinese? I only ask because of the Tonks in her name. I love that breed of cat; they seem really sturdy and snugglable

      1 agrees
  11. We have three cats, and I have no idea where they stand!

    Stella is a lover, but hates being picked up. However, when she's on her "spots" (subwoofer, specific stair, back of a chair) it is time for love NOW! And otherwise wants to be left alone. Totally uninterested in toys or going outside, she has recently started stepping out and exploring the patio if we leave the door open, but a passing car or a call of her name will have her scooting back inside. Lately she started being FASCINATED by our bedroom, which is kept closed off at (almost) all times due to my cat allergy and a need for some kitty-free space for sleeping. I guess maybe she's a beta? or a gamma? Not really alpha is all I know!

    Spade–AKA Ace of Spades–is pretty Alpha. He wants what he wants, and he wants it RIGHT NOW and he's not afraid to bug you until you give it to him. Whether that's playing fetch with his stick or drinking tuna water he's positive you're hoarding if only he can find it, he's a yowler and unashamed of it. Also hates being picked up, but loves anything that is a "game."

    Porter is our homeless parasite. He was saved at about 5 weeks old from a gutter in the cold Seattle rain, and never left. Our roommate at the time decided she was keeping him, but recently moved out and left him. He has definitely earned the nicknames "Stupid," "Dumby" and "Peanut Head," as he's not really quick to learn anything and you can just sort of tell that there's not a lot going on inside his head. He's also very aggressive and cuddly in turns, which lead to us letting him outside (or, more accurately, not running after him when he escapes). We then discovered that when he's properly exercised, he's a LOVER. He LOVES cuddles. Doesn't mind being picked up, gives actual hugs with his paws around your neck or waist, the issue is that when he's done he doesn't give any signals to that effect before you're getting a hunk bitten out of you. Personally, I don't have the patience for him, and the other cats hate him–there are lots of fights between him and the other two. We're hoping to find him a home soon.

    1 agrees
  12. I have three overlords. Boo is 7.2kgs of muscle, long and lean and tall and proud and dear god is he ever a shouty cat. He just talks and talks and if you don't get what he wants when he wants it, waark waaark waaakr mrrr meerwwwrrrrr mwaaaooorkk!!! He is smart, VERY smart, knows a fair chunk of words, is affectionate, lovely, and Boss of the Neighbourhood. Probably an Alpha.

    We have a Beta, Candy. She's pretty smart, affectionate, lovey, wants to be on or ideally IN the bed, and as we're her fourth home in five years, a bit skeered of being abandoned. She's also rather violent when playing, so we're gradually teaching her "leave it!" and "ok!"

    And a Gamma, who is a wee skitterbug, but loving. Tigra's my girl, will sit with me and cuddle and purrrrrrr. She has a special sort of chirrupnoise that means "am I welcome beside you on the couch?" and when I pat the couch, she hops up, snuggles into my thigh and purrs at me. Then she rolls upside down and lets me pat the soft soft bellyfur.

    1 agrees
  13. My Saphira is definitely an Alpha cat – she's sometimes obedient, but that's mostly just to butter us up, and she's definitely working on training us in her ways, which are mostly 'I can go wherever I like whenever I like and you get no say in the matter'.

    1 agrees
  14. Well, Zaphod's definitely an alpha. Serves us right for naming him after the Galactic President.

    Buster… well, I'm not too sure, but my gut says gamma. He's dumb as a stump, but isn't too fond of being patted unless he's on my lap.

    1 agrees
  15. I have a 12 year old beta boy and a 1 year old alpha girl. 99.999% of the time they get along famously, but last night at 2am we discovered the ONE thing they fight about – insulated grocery bags. There was a knock-down, drag-out fight over one, so we had to take it away from them. I have it down right now, and the girl is laying in it, and the boy is directly in front of it with his paws inside. Maybe they learned how to share!

    1 agrees
  16. We have THREE Alphas (thanks, knocked-up stray who begged to be taken in). They rearrange our furniture by dragging it across the room with their teeth. That counts as being "confident about changing their own environment," right? I am so tired, you guys. You don't even know.

    8 agree
  17. Funny thing. If I'm going to go along with "All cats fit into these boxes!" I'd say I have an alpha (she loves knocking things over, closing doors, jumping on shoulders for a better view) and a beta she asks for everything, needs a lot of her time, and likes a good fussing over. But she's very shy around new people, which doesn't sound like it fits, and the "alpha" is very open to new people and displays some beta tendencies like how needily she wakes us up in the morning. But the funny things is, all of the alpha's confidence leaves her the moment she is separated from her sister. She just freaks out and is no longer confident in her environment.

    1 agrees
  18. Rafiki is an alpha for sure. I change the type of litter she likes? Time to pee on Daddy's good work shirts. She pokes me in the face in the morning to wake me up (Breakfast!) and then meows, and walks at my ankles until her food is in her dish. That second part isn't good if you're generally clumsy and sleepy on top of it like I am! She loves to cuddle and be petted, but only when SHE wants it. She likes to be picked up sometimes, and there's no telling when that is, though it's easy to tell when it's not time (bitey, scratchy). And she's an attention whore. If you're kissing, or hugging, or… ya know… she's on top of you in 3 seconds flat. She also loves YouTube and Animal Planet, hunting NYC pigeons from our windowsill, and always comes when we call her name. She's my junkyard adoption kitteh, and she won't take shit from anybody. I like to think she gets that from me. ๐Ÿ™‚

    2 agree
  19. My Sifu is probably an Alpha with some Beta traits. If he's bored, he makes trouble, but mostly he'll tell you he's bored first. He is a talker. It took us a good long while to train him out of meowing incessantly at night.

    He's also the least neurotic animal I've ever known. We got him, and within a day he was totally fine. I moved away from my partner and our dog (Sifu's bestest friends) and within three hours he was totally adjusted and trying to get into all the cupboards ever. He is so chill, at least when I'm around. Apparently he freaks out a little when I leave him with my room mate for the weekend.

    1 agrees
  20. Littles is my demon Alpha and Grandpa is a very snaggletoothed Beta…though your pictures are making me wish I had a Gamma ๐Ÿ™‚

    love this post!

    1 agrees
  21. I think I've got a Beta and a Gamma. My Gamma is a huge lover with me, but is pretty scared of everyone else, and very cautious of new places, seeking my guidance that yes, you may explore this space without dying. My beta I took out for his first walk today. He's a real people-pleaser, but can be stubborn and persistent about what he wants.

    1 agrees
  22. Spook shared my life and home for years. She was a pound kitty. (I went in looking for a sheltie for my S-I-L) The animal control guy said that he had found her on the stoop, in a grocery sack that had been stapled shut. She crouched in her cage and looked ready to tear up anyone who reached for her, but was totally docile when he picked her up. The vet estimated her age around 8 months. She was a Russian Blue type with a very delicate bone structure.
    She spent the first 4 days crouched behind the washing machine and only came out to eat and use the box. Then she would come out for petting, but retreat when I went far from the washer. I think she may have explored the house after we went to bed. After a week, she began to appear during the day, but showed extreme fear when my husband was in the room. Later this faded to only when he was wearing a gimmie cap. A big trigger for her, we suspected some guy had been very rough with her at some point. Finally, this faded completely. She became a very active member of our family, surviving several companions and firmly establishing herself as an indoor/outdoor cat against my objections. (she became an expert at removing window screens and opening the hook on our screen door.) She grew comfortable enough to tolerate strangers visiting without hiding, mostly due to the robust personalities of her companions I think. She would break things if they displeased her or felt they were in the wrong spot. She would clear the coffee table to lie on it. Demanding affection nnnNOWwwwwowowow. Had cat fits late at night, and was certain that our feet were possessed by demons only she could defeat when we were under the covers. For years she ruled our house and has remained the only cat my husband ever bonded with. She finally grew slower and slower, less inclined to play or venture outside except in the heat of the summer. She laid down and died under my car on the warm pavement 18 years after I adopted her.
    Perfect gamma kitty, and I still miss her.

    2 agree
  23. My little Missy is a blend of all three!

    Her Alpha side is her love of chasing yarn, flushing the toilet, and using my shoulders as a means to get to those darn birdies outside. She also has an entire twin sized bed to herself and an arm chair- the latter of which has her very own blanket. She is extremely determined to expand her territory to include my roommate's room as well.

    As a Beta, she doesn't cuddle much, but she does love it when I pick her up and give her kisses. She will also come into the bedroom to sleep with my fiance and I if she decides her bed in the living room is still too chilly. She loves the company of my parents and grandparents' dogs.

    Finally, her Gamma side comes out full tilt when we're either moving or I'm not home. As soon as I come home, she's rubbing against my legs, begging to be picked up, but if I bring a friend with me, she runs and hides under her bed or her chair. She is absolutely terrified of leaving the apartment for any reason, and she won't go anywhere near the front door after realizing it was the way to "the outside."

    She also has a crippling distrust of other cats. If she sees one, even kittens, she will hunker down and growl. And growl. And growl some more. It's almost impossible to get her to stop until they're out of her sight!

    1 agrees
  24. Oh I so have one of each!! Simba is my alpha and cery much the trouble maker and attention whore. Joey is a Beta and Dimitri is the Gamma. Oh I love this site!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  25. Haha, the cat people come out in the comments.
    Our teeny orange stray kitten has turned into a monster alpha named OJ – he's recently figured out how to jump on counters, and training him mostly involves chasing him down. Oddly, he's been most cuddly during the process – I think he likes the boundaries. Weird.
    And his 'big sister' Mia has turned out to be this teeny little blue cat with a huge fluffy tail (she's so proud of it, vain thing that she is) – she's definitely a beta and pretty much hasn't bothered jumping on counters counters since she realized she wasn't welcome there.

  26. Loving all the descriptions! Have had various mixtures over the years; often alphas with gammas, now down to a big beta male–Gallagher–and a gamma female. Gallagher is an 18-lb red tabby. Walks on a leash, is perfectly content to be manhandled by my 4-year old, loves to watch the animals from the screened in porch and occasional sneak outside, yet is afraid to get far from the house. He shows some alpha tendencies when he wants his morning treats, but totally settled into his betahood when I became a mom. I call him my Irish bachelor.

    Skittles is a grey tabby, 9.5 lbs, born into a cat colony down by the docks and domesticated through a trap-neuter-release program. Hates being touched, but loves being in a house. Never wants to go outside, tolerates my daughter touching her without trying to rip her hand off (unlike some of my scars from vet trips), and is perfectly happy laying on the elmo pillow she confiscated from said kid and turned into her cat pillow. Loves watching birds from inside but knows how tough the outside life is and will let Gallagher have it. Has some beta tendencies in that she knows there are worse things than the life she has, and will totally rip Gallagher if he doesn't treat her like the lady she is. Will not tolerate other animals or people, but likes to let us know she is around. She just has a 12-18" zone that you can't get through or she'll bolt.

  27. i'm on cat number four and can't wait to have a persian again. i think my limit makes me a borderline cat lady. in the meantime i'm a big fan of AdvoCat! at AdvoCatTV.com – she puts the borderline in borderline cat lady!

  28. I would think that Loki is an uber alpha. We refer to her as the murderous, soul-sucking overlord. She is literally untrainable- and my degree is in animal behaviour. She is insanely territorial, and hates any sort of stranger; especially strangers that like her. If anyone goes near anything she considers hers, she attacks; luckily she doesn't have front claws, or any stranger in our house would have a lot more the the shit scared out of them when she pounces on them for going near her table. The only person she likes is my husband (her original owner), and she tolerates me, but I get at least one hiss daily. She loves to destroy anything she can reach; especially wires. And no, she doesn't care if she gets electrocuted (obviously we try to hide every wire from her, but she can get into the most ridiculous spaces and fish them out). Oh, and if she is in the way of a door or cabinet you are trying to get into, instead of moving away, she flops down right in front of it and yowls. I have gotten her behavior slightly better, as she's not allowed in the bedroom anymore (before that, it was like having an infant- she would wake us about about every 2-4 hours by destroying something to get our attention), and we feed her just before we go to bed, which has calmed her a little. However, you can't keep her off or away from anything- she loves walking on the sticky side of tape, she cuddles on aluminum, she really doesn't seem to care about sour apple taste, and spraying water doesn't deter her at all. However, when she wants to be cute, she has the most deceptively tiny, high mew.

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.