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.
Jacqueline C. Neilson, DVM, DACVB
10. MYTH BUSTED: CATS HAVE SOCIAL LIVES
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
9. MORE ISN'T NECESSARILY BETTER
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.