Cats are social animals, but they don’t always seem like it because their social structures are different from dogs and humans. Many of us think cats and dogs have similarities because they are the two most common pets in America. And we tend to apply our own understanding of our human tendencies and nature to cats. The truth is, cats are different. Read on to better understand the social structure of cats and how to help promote health cat families within our households. We’ll talk about bonded cats, territories, and hierarchical systems. By the end of this article, we will have a much deeper knowledge of our feline friends, and we’ll be able to create a better home for them, and ourselves.
The Hierarchical Structure of Cats
We all know that most animals operate with social hierarchies or pack structures, be it dogs, birds, or cats. We can spot the hierarchical structure in a cat if we have a multi-cat household because we can better observe their individual personalities and how they interact. Cat hierarchy plays an integral role in how the cats in a multicat family get along with each other. However, if we don’t know what to look for, we may miss nuances. Something that looks like a personal preference to a cat, such as wanting to be the only one to play with a new toy or explore a new box, may actually be indicative of a higher ranking cat asserting his or her status. This can also manifest at mealtime. A higher ranking cat may want to be the first cat to be fed and will check all the bowls, even if only by glancing, to make sure they like their food and bowl. Ever have a cat who wants to switch bowls with another cat, even though the food and quantity are exactly the same? Many mistake this for a finicky cat, when in fact, this is the sign of a cat who is higher on the cat hierarchy asserting their position.
It’s important to note here, that hierarchy is a normal part of everyday life for cats. Even though many humans see hierarchy as something to rebel against, it’s actually healthy for cats and helps cats create a safe environment for themselves and their cat families. As long as the top cat isn’t keeping the other cats away from food, water, or litter boxes, and as long and our feline friends aren’t hurting each other, understanding and making a safe space for cat hierarchies and social structures is actually a way to help Sergeant Fuzzy Boots and the gang create a sense of safety, predictability, and reliability. We can also see hierarchies at play when we introduce a new cat. Miss Kitty Fantastico may have to find her own rank in the pecking order, though she may not have to start from the bottom.
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Cats and Territories
Unlike dogs, cats are territorial animals, most of the time we see creature territories radiate from a home base. Cats will often create colonies based on food resources, which would be the home base. They establish semi-permanent routines around hunting, sleeping, and mating. We can typically see their network of paths created by a fairly fixed schedule of roaming our neighborhoods and surrounding areas. Generally, cats mark their territory by rubbing, scratching or by spraying their urine. On a basic level, we understand this to be a way they leave information for other cats about their range and when they were last there. Anyone who has been a guardian to an intact male knows that this also applies to our homes. They hold territories just like their wild counterpart, like choosing their resting spots with specific individuals of the same gender.
Do You Have a Bonded Cat Family
The term “bonded cats” is pretty much what it sounds like. It means the cats in a household or colony have decided to stay together. They rely heavily on each other for resource sharing. They sleep and play together. Sometimes they will hunt together. When a cat returns home from a long hunt, bonded cats will often greet each other with a head bunt and will greet each other affectionately, nose to nose.
Bonded cat families can also be defined by what is absent in their relationship. Bonded cats will not hiss or argue with each other when they both want to be in the same bed or share the same space. Cats that are not bonded may periodically share space, such as napping on the same cushion, but if they often hiss at each other when trying to share space, or if they aren’t patient with each other when playing, they probably aren’t bonded. Cats who are not bonded don’t want to share territory.
In a household, all cats may be bonded, or only a pair might bond. This can be especially true of a mother cat who remains in the same household with her kittens. Or when two cats have shared a home and bonded, but a new third cat is introduced, the third cat may find its place on the pecking order, but may never bond with the other two cats. He or she will simply be a cat who lives with an established, bonded cat family.
And for those who were wondering, yes a cat can bond with their humans. Cohabitation alone is a not a sign of bonding. However, for those of us with a cat who has bonded to us, we can see it in their behavior. Basically, a cat who has bonded to another, whether another cat, a dog, or a human, has made the decision to be dependent on that special other, and has made a commitment to accept them as a familial member.
Bonds are so strong that cats will often experience anxiety when left alone or separated from the other members of their bonded family. Death, or the extended absence of a member of a bonded family, will often cause depression and many other symptoms we understand as grief.
Find out more about what cats do to show they are bonded, and learn some surefire ways to encourage bonding with your cat in Part Two of this series, coming soon.
- “Pet Talk: Bonded Pairs Bring Twice The Love Into Your Home,” Oregon Live
- “Five Reasons To Adopt A Bonded Pair,” Team Cat Rescue
- “Five Ways To Tell If Your Cats Are Friends,” Doc & Phoebe’s Cat Co.