Written by Barbara George – Cat Behaviourist and Tellington TTouch® Practitioner
By nature, cats are solitary, living alone, hunting alone, eating alone; this is slowly changing as the number of cats is increasing while the available space is limited. Cats are opportunistic; they don’t waste time and energy unnecessarily. When people offer shelter, food, and comfort, most cats are ready to take up the offer, even if it means sharing space with others.
Is sharing caring?
There are many factors that govern how readily cats share with others, including genetics, early socialisation, life experiences, age, health and the number, value, and variety of resources available. Certain breeds of cats are more likely to be friendly.
Another very important issue is that people choose the cats and expect them to be happy together without ever asking the cat(s) if they’d like a friend, or any other cat at all.
Cats that are confined in a space with no option of moving out make decisions on how they’re going to cope with the situation. Confidence, based on the factors mentioned above, plays a part in their behaviour; the more confident and happier life the cat has had, the more likely he is to settle in and be friendly.
However, no matter how friendly or confident, few cats want to be surrounded by other cats all the time. Just like with humans, there are bound to be spats, disagreements about resources, and other incidents at times. But does that mean they aren’t friends?
Looking at interactive behaviours can give an idea of the degree of friendship, always bearing in mind that there are other environmental factors involved in any interaction.
- Eating is a necessary activity, and even cats that don’t get along will eat together.
- Sleeping together. This can depend on the place where they’re sleeping; if it’s near a valued resource (or person), they’re agreeing to share the resource – neither one has total ownership at that time. Cats have warm bodies; sleeping together can be for warmth or comfort where one is allowing the other to be close.
- Playing together. When a cat needs to play, another cat is often the best toy, regardless of their relationship.
- Allogrooming. Mutual grooming by and of cats in the same home is used to create a family-recognisable scent. Not all cats will return the favour, in which case this may be an appeasement gesture on the part of the grooming cat who’s wanting to be included in the family. This has no bearing on friendship status.
- Sniffing on greeting. This is a fact-finding mission to identify cats in the family, check health status, and pick up information on where the cats have been and possibly what they’ve eaten. This has no bearing on friendship status.
- Time-share. This is when one cat leaves a resource or room when another arrives, or cats have their own distinct areas they stay in, and rarely cross into the other’s territory. These cats aren’t friends but have made a plan to live in the same environment. They may both be confident and friendly to other cats in the home but not to each other.
- Bonded cats. Either litter mates that have grown up together or one less-confident cat being supported by a more-confident cat. Litter mates, and some other pairings, are often friends while dependent cats are needing leadership from the confident cat.
- Aggression around a person or resource. This is more an indication of the value of the resource or the lack of good alternatives than a lack of friendship.
- Chasing and fighting. This can be caused by any incident or trigger and is usually an indication that the antagonist is letting off steam, using excess energy, or is bored; it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not friends at other times.
So, are our cats really friends? The answer, as so often with cats, is: it depends! Cat friendships are flexible – sometimes yes, other times no, even with the same cats in the same environment. There are so many variables in their lives that the friendship status changes all the time. In this way, they’re not that different to us, after all.
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