Does my cat need a friend?

A while ago I got a lovely message on Facebook from Tine:

“After reading your last mail (Challenge #6, nvdr) I thought you might want to read a story that ends with a smile. A few years ago we adopted Bear from the shelter. Now my story begins in the first few weeks we adopted him. At 8 p.m. he sat down in the corridor and started to complain with the loudest meows.

All my life I have had cats so my alarm bells went going immediately and we went straight to the vet.

He has had literally every test that is possible, every x-ray, every examination, a specialised orthopaedic vet has come to examine him. They found nothing, nothing. (Nice side effect: Bear still thinks it’s so cool to go to the vet, literally crawls into anyone’s arms there to have a cuddle)

Anyway, I called in a behavioural therapist. After 4 weeks someone suddenly said ‘Have you actually been back to the shelter where you adopted him? Ha… Good idea. As it turned out, the gentleman had a ‘girlfriend’ in the adjoining cage and they would meow at each other each day. But at home he was alone, so we suspect he considered the echo sound to be company.

So we hopped in the car with the carrier, went to get his girlfriend. And since then, there’s no live orchestra at 8 PM and they each other’s company every single moment of the day.”

What a wonderful story! You can never know, but in this email I would like to give you more information about the social character of your cat.

Introduction

Your cat is neither solitary by nature nor social. Why is that? Our house tigers may have evolved to be solitary, but that was mainly because they did not have much choice. Mice aren’t big enough to share, and if there aren’t groups of mice walking around, it becomes especially difficult to share. However, if the environment is optimized, they can be tolerant of each other or, in many cases, even build strong social bonds. The latter is even what we start from, that is why we always advise to adopt kittens in pairs.

Domestic cats are therefore solitary when necessary and social when the occasion arises.

What influences my cat’s ‘social’ behaviour?

1. Character

Cats can be genetically born as very social or not social at all, and all gradations in between. Just like people.

2. Socialisation

When kittens in their first 16 weeks come into contact with one or more cats, even the not so friendly ones, they learn several social skills. They learn which signals have a certain outcome and they learn on how to deal with other cats.

3. Presence of resources = solitary hunter can become friends

However, we know from research (and experience) that cats can build strong bonds with other cats under certain conditions. These conditions are: sufficient places to eat and sufficient places to hide. So it is extremely important to support cats in this so that they can be tolerant towards each other. Despite the fact that cats can get along well, they still want to eat alone, drink alone, sleep alone on the litter tray, etc. Only then can they like other cats.

4. Presence of hiding spots

This is in line with the previous point. If your cats have enough opportunities to ‘cope’ with tense moments, then your cat can be more tolerant towards other cats. She knows that even if something bad or threatening happens, she can go there, there, over there and there. This makes the environment predictable and safe. Items you can foresee to make the surroundings safer are low, horizontal scratching locations, heights (from 20 cm) and hiding spots with either 2 entrances (in a corner, not tunnel-wise) or open at the top.

5. Character and social nature of the other cats

If you put a cat together with another super-social cat, her behaviour will of course be different, than if you were to put her together with a despot cat (this is a cat that interacts very asocial and aggressive with other cats at every situation).

6. The introduction

Cats who see each other for the first time are automatically enemies by nature. Why? “It’s every ‘cat’ for herself, and the other one can hurt me.” That’s why you should never put 2 cats together just like that. That is about the worst thing you can do. And yes, maybe you got lucky once and it worked out fine, but I’ve been coaching people for +10 years who have done the same and who have seen their cats trying to kill each other, and all the possible stages in between. And believe me, if they do not kill each other, the chances of them ending up in the same group are ridiculously rare. And that is what you want, for them to be good friends and enjoy each other’s company. Your cats need to get to know each other gradually and through positive associations.

For more info this, I dedicated a whole chapter on this subject ‘Introduction between cats’ in the ‘I love Happy Cats Guide’ that takes you through the whole process.

7. Individual ‘click’ with another cats

In their book ‘Behaviour Problems in Small Animals’ (2005) Bowen & Heath make a nice overview of 5 types of relationships that cats can have with each other.

A. Couple: 2 cats who are in the same social group.

B. Clique: More than 2 cats in the same social group

C. Social Facilitator: This is a cat that shows friendly behaviour towards all cats, including cats that are not in the same social group.

D. Satellite Individual: A cat that shows no hostile but at the same time little to no social behaviour towards other cats, prefers to be on her own.

E. Despot: does not want to live with other cats under any circumstances, will actively defend its territory. Is usually very confident and is a blissful cat to live with people (or in some cases dogs).

Love, Anneleen ♡

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