Have you heard the myth that cats are solitary and independent creatures? While cats are, in fact, solitary hunters, they naturally live in groups and need social interaction. Within those groups, a cat might be more friendly and spend more time with certain preferred individuals: essentially, cats can have friends!
We can get a better sense of our house cat’s social behavior by looking at feral cat colonies. A colony might consist of 2 or 50 individuals depending on food availability in the area. The groups mostly consist of related females and their offspring and are loosely associated with mature males. Females will work together to groom, nurse, and guard each other’s kittens to help ensure the young’s survival. Outsiders are not welcome, especially when kittens are around. Unfamiliar cats can be attacked on sight. New cats might join the group, but it is a long, gradual process. Within the group, some cats actively avoid each other while others choose to spend more time together.
These trends in natural colonies can inform how we form feline social groups in our homes. Cats can get along as long as they don’t have to compete for resources. Their home territory needs multiple litter boxes, resting places, and feeding areas. They also don’t want to interact with cats outside of their social group. Introducing a new cat requires many short interactions and may take several weeks or more to integrate the new cat into the home. And sometimes, a pair will never be friends.
How can we tell if cats are friends?
Just like I’m not friends with every person that I meet, cats won’t necessarily get along with every cat they meet. We can look for friendly body language to determine if a pair of cats have a positive relationship. Cats will hold their tail up vertically when approaching another cat to begin a friendly interaction. They will groom each other and rub their cheeks, body, and tail. This mutual rubbing is thought to be important for creating a group scent so they can be recognized as members of the colony. Friendly cats also spend time resting near each other and will play with each other. If you see these signs with your cats, it is likely they consider themselves friends.
When these behaviors are absent with your cats, there may be subtle signs of tension between them. Simply one cat staring at the other can be a sign of animosity. That cat may be sitting still, blocking the other cat from accessing a litter box or passing through a hallway. One cat might leave the room when the other enters, actively avoiding the other. These easily missed signs of conflict should be addressed to make sure it doesn’t escalate to physical fights.
Not sure if your cats are playing or fighting? Play bouts usually include: cats taking turns on who starts the “attack;” claws remain sheathed; tail up and loose body posture; and minimal or no vocalizations. A fight will look like: one cat consistently on the offensive; the targeted cat will growl, swat, or try to get away from the other; loud hissing or yowling; ears pinned back; and claws out.
Should I get a friend for my cat?
It is not possible to predict if one cat will get along with another. Some cats actually prefer being a single cat with just their human family as companions. If you are thinking about adding another feline to your home, remember that your cat doesn’t get to choose their roommates. Keep in mind that the introduction process may be slow and can be stressful for both you and your current cat.
Luckily there are some clues that can help us determine if our current cat would like a friend. Their experiences as a kitten are important for developing proper social skills. If your cat was hand-raised alone, they will likely show signs of fear or aggression towards other cats because they were not properly socialized at a young age. When you don’t know how they were raised, you might get information from the shelter or their previous home on whether they got along with other cats.
Choosing which cat to bring home is equally as important. You will generally want to choose a cat with a similar energy level and personality. Your 15-year-old arthritic beauty does not want a rambunctious kitten bouncing around the house. She might prefer a calm adult friend instead. When introducing a new pair, keep introductions short and positive.
If you want help introducing a new friend to your cat, contact us at Pawsitive Vibes Cat Behavior and Training for personalized recommendations.