Top 10 cat behavior tips


Top 10 cat behavior tips

Pass these words of wisdom on to cat owners to put to immediate use.
Oct 01, 2005

Jacqueline C. Neilson, DVM, DACVB
Cat owners can have a lot of questions: "Should I get a second cat as a playmate?" "How can I stop my cat from scratching the furniture?" "Why doesn't he use the litter box?" So in the spirit of David Letterman, I compiled this top 10 list of cat behavior tips. I hope that sharing these tips with your clients will help educate them about their feline friends and strengthen the bond between them and their cats.


A persistent misconception about domestic cats is that they are not social. Terms such as independent and self-sufficient have been used to describe cats. This characterization was probably based on observations that most felid species do not form classically recognizable, permanent social groups. However, data collected over the last 20 years indicate that domestic cats are indeed social and are flexible in their sociability.1

Concentrated food sources bring free-ranging cats together. Historically these groupings have been characterized as simple aggregations; however, research has elucidated nonrandom social interactions and structure within these groups. This information is helpful in defining feline social organization as well as in rebuking the myth that domestic cats are asocial.

Perhaps the most striking and influential feline social structure is that between female domestic cats. In free-ranging domestic cats, a matriarchal society exists, with adult females forming lineages of related females and their offspring. A large group of cats (colony) may support several female lineages, with the largest lineages securing the best of the available resources. Within a lineage, there are usually amicable interactions among members, in contrast to the hostile interactions that are often seen toward outsider cats. Female cats within a lineage spend more time in close proximity to each other than to nonlineage members. Communal kitten care is noted within a lineage, and parental care of offspring is rare. Although lineages are fairly stable, they can change in composition. For example, lineages often split after the death of a matriarch.

Kittens automatically become integrated into the female lineage. Kittens and juveniles often prefer affiliations with their littermates as opposed to kittens of a different age group or more distantly related members. Cats may disperse from the natal band as they mature, usually between 1 or 2 years of age. Observational data of a stable neutered cat colony showed that related adult cats exhibited more affiliative behaviors toward each other than toward unrelated cats. In our households, this information may indicate that getting two littermates would increase the chances of social bonding, but this has yet to be objectively analyzed.


Although cats are no longer erroneously labeled as asocial,2 having multiple cats can increase problem behaviors. There is not only a purely mathematical probability that the likelihood of a problem behavior increases with an increased number of cats, but the social dynamics of feline-to-feline relationships can create problem behaviors. For example, social tension or aggression between cats may lead to fighting or elimination or marking problems. How many cats are too many? The answer depends on the cats' temperaments, their relatedness, and the space and resources available.

Intercat sociability is probably a function of both genetics and experience. Related cats within a group show more affiliative behaviors such as allogrooming and allorubbing than do unrelated cats,3 perhaps supporting the idea that related cats can live together more harmoniously than unrelated cats can. And a cat with previous negative experiences with other cats is likely to be less social with cats.