When it comes to facts about cats, very few are more misunderstood than those about the social life of cats. Social misunderstandings have lead to some rifts between cats and their owners. These facts about cats are very important when it comes to resolving behavior problems like spraying and scratching. If you want to have a better relationship with your cat, these 5 facts about cats are a good place to start.
Facts about cats #1: Cats are not actually asocial creatures.
Surely you’ve heard people say that cats are loners or that they are aloof. This mistaken belief comes to us from people who have tried to fit feline behavior into a dog-like social structure. It is true that cats can live on their own, but that isn’t what they choose to do. Cats do not socialize in the same way the humans and dogs do. However, they do form bonds with one another, have long term relationships with one another, live in family-like groupings, and even experience separation anxiety. Within their groups, cooperative behaviors such as social grooming exist.
Facts about cats #2: The feline social structure tends to be female-centered.
Historically, the human social structure has been male-dominated. In many cultures men traditionally are the head of the household, leaders of government and business structures, property is passed through them, etc. Women traditionally take a more passive role.
Cats are not humans. Studies of feral cats have shown that the feline social structure is based on the relationships formed by the females, not the males. Related females form groups that work cooperatively to rear young. Occasionally a female cat will be seen acting as a midwife to another female cat as she is giving birth. Kittens birthed within the group will be fed indiscriminately by any lactating queen. Cats do seem to hunt individually, but females do team up to ward off outsiders. Males can wander between a few groups of females, being accepted or rejected by the females as they please. In situations where the cats have been spayed/neutered, the cats don’t discriminate by sex in forming bonds.
Facts about cats #3: The feline social hierarchy is fairly loose.
Dogs have a social hierarchy that isn’t easily budged. Cats on the other hand do not hold onto their social positions with a death grip. An Alpha Cat may be the Alpha Cat of only one particular area ( a particular food dish, litter box, napping place, etc). Also, rankings within the social structure can change as their environment changes. The death of an Alpha Cat may cause another cat in the group to take on the territory and persona of the Alpha Cat. The introduction of a new cat to the group can also shift the balance of power.
In house cat situations, humans and other pets are also added into the cats’ social structure. Petting your cat is to them just like mutual grooming with other cats. Behaviors like burying the feces show that a cat is submissive to someone higher in the hierarchy. If your cat does this, congratulations – you are an Alpha Cat!
Facts about cats #4: The abundance of resources (or lack thereof) affects territorial behavior.
How many cats is too many for one home? That depends on the size of the home, number of resources available to the cats, and the temperaments of the cats. While cats are social creatures, they also like their alone time. Each cat needs to have it’s own space. Male cats tend to require more room than female cats do. One study showed that in a house with 10 rooms, male cats required a range of 4-5 rooms while females required a range of 3 – 3.6 rooms.
When cats feel that they need to let other cats know something is off limits, they will mark their territory using scent glands in their cheeks, hips, and paws, as well with urine, feces, and scratching. One way to curb these behaviors is to increase the number of food dishes, litter boxes, perches, toys, etc. Homes with more resources are able to house more cats with fewer territory issues.
Facts about cats #5: It is important to socialize young kittens
Young kittens can be socialized far more easily than older cats can. Being socialized makes a cat learn to be comfortable interacting with others. Well socialized kittens do well with being around humans (familiar and not familiar), being held and petted, and with being around other animals. To sum it up, proper socialization makes cats more friendly.
Kittens are most open to being socialized between 2 and 7 weeks of age. Cats that are petted and held for even a few minutes per day during this time frame play sooner, open their eyes sooner, and are less afraid of strangers and new environments. It is especially important to be socializing feral-born kittens by this age so that they will be ready to live in a home with humans.