Many people think that cats are asocial. Quite the opposite is true. Cats are very social animals but their way of showing it is quite different from dogs. Because people are used to dogs, they do not recognize the social behavior in cats. Also, many cat owners have just one cat, therefore they do not see cat to cat social interaction.
From studying feral domestic cat populations, we have learned quite a bit about the cat’s social structure. Female cats, known as queens, will help each other raise their young. They even act as midwives to a queen giving birth. For example, they will help clean the newborn kitten and nurse them if they are lactating. They will groom and guard the kittens as well. Males, or tom’s will also help defend kittens in their colony.
Cats will sleep together, touching, even if it is hot, which rules out some assumptions that they only sleep close to each other for warmth. Cats will form special friendships with each other, having preferences in the colony. Cats are very family oriented and are closer to relatives than a stranger. Although the colony will accept a strange cat after a period of time. This takes weeks to months, depending on the situation.
When cats groom each other, it is almost always in areas that are hard to reach, such as the head, face and neck. It is considered bad cat manners to groom below the shoulders.
Another way cats communicate to each other is by rubbing. Anyone who has owned or seen cats would have seen head bumping, body and tail rubbing. Sometimes cats will wrap their tails together, which is a form of rubbing.
Adult cats will also monitor the play between kittens. If the kittens get too rough, the adult will break it up. The kittens always listen and will stop their play.
Cats do not hunt in groups. This is because each cat needs the equivalent of three mice a day to survive. Their hunting technique is to sit quietly, slowly stalk and then pounce. This does not lend itself to sharing the food. It is very rare for more than one cat to hunt together but it has happened, for example when trying to catch a squirrel. Cats will spray to mark their territory so that other cats, even those in the colony do not hunt in another cat’s area.
Kittens need to stay with their litter until they are at least 12 weeks old. They go through developmental stages similar to other animals. They learn how to behave and how to interact with other cats while they are young. If they are taken away from the litter too soon, they do not know how to act like a cat. If the cat owner decides later to get another cat, the resident cat will not know how to accept or interact with the new cat. This is one of the reasons why people have trouble introducing a new cat to the home. It is always better to have two kittens instead of one, and if possible, adopt litter mates. Family is very important to cats.
Like dogs, there are many breeds of cats and there are breed traits. Despite the breed of mix of a cat, each individual will have its own personality. Some cats act more like dogs and some are very aloof. Some cats are bold and some are timid. All cats are different due to breeding, family involvement, early training and experiences. It is important to keep this in mind and not label all cats as having the same personality and temperament. By understanding your cat’s natural social behavior, you can make the quality of life for your cat much better.