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Catsey Junior
 
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07-01-2011, 10:46 AM   #1

Domestic Cats ~ Solitary or Social?


I'll stick my head above the parapet & post an article as "food for thought" on human perceptions of the socialibility of domestic cats. Happy to receive any comments ~ I could have added a lot more but it was getting a bit long. I can provide more precise references if required.

Domestic Cats ~ Solitary or Social?

To many humans, cats appear to be solitary, independent creatures, content to walk alone, but “allowing” humans to live alongside them. Many people that work long hours or have busy social lives, will get a cat because a cat doesn’t “need” them, in the sense that a social creature like a dog does. A cat is perceived as being happy with it’s own company, does not need a lot of input from humans; so other than ensuring the cat has food, water & shelter, cats can largely be left to their own devices.

But is this really the case? Or is this the anthropocentric view of humans who can only perceive “sociability” as visual & verbal communication systems? Many owners of “dog-like” oriental breeds would probably dispute this view ~ their cats are chatty, needy & more social in the same way that dogs are. But these are the breeds in which human interference in breeding is more prevalent ~ what about the basic “moggy” or all the feral cats living in & around our towns & cities?

Scientific research in the 1990s is showing that cats are solitary creatures ~ feral cats choose to live in social groups.

Sociability of Felidae

The sociability depends on the behaviour of the females ~ if females congregate in groups they will be social, e.g. female leopards and tigers are solitary but female lions live, hunt and rear young in groups.

Paul Leyhausen (Austrian feline behaviourist) looked at solitary felines, but just because they effectively live solitary lives does not mean that they do not communicate with others of their species. Visual contact is not the only type of contact needed for communication or sociability. Felids also communicate using smell, sound or touch (rolling in smells). Therefore, to label leopards as solitary creatures is anthropocentric. Leopards have different ways of communicating and just because they use ways not normally used by humans, does not mean they are not valid means of communicating.

Dennis Turner and David MacDonald studied domestic cats and found that their hunting ranges overlapped more often than could happen by chance. Adult cat actions are generally tolerant of each other but most behavioural studies have concentrated on hunting behaviours and from this it has been assumed that cats are solitary creatures.

But feral cats congregate and live in social groups in a matrilineal social structure where:

• Daughters belong to the same social group as their mother plus grandmothers, aunts, sisters.

• They are tolerant and amicable towards each other

• They are co-operative with each other on many issues, e.g. rearing young, babysitting, mutual grooming.

• They are a spatially tight knit group.

Studies of Feral Cat Communities.

 In the early 1980s studies at a Japanese University refuse dump and dockyards showed 28 colonies of feral cats averaging groups of 2 to 11 cats per group (+ - 5 females). The studies were later expanded to show there were 23.5 cats per hectare and that cats may belong to more than one social group ~ similar to the feeding behaviour of domestic cats that may feed at more than one home!!

 Studies in Rome by Natoli showed a typical grouping of 24 to 39 cats in a group.

 Studies in Baltimore, USA, showed 7.4 cats per hectare.

 In the UK, studies by Bradshaw at Southampton University showed average groups of 10 per sq km.

The results of all studies, therefore, showed a relatively high density of cats in small areas ~ the more resources in the way of food, the higher the density of the feral cat population. Whilst the studies need to be replicated in many different locations, overall they show that domestic cats choose to live in groups, provided that there is enough to eat.

 Studies by Bradshaw at Southampton General Hospital of neutered cats (where the Cat’s Protection League neuters and releases cats) showed that neutered cats spent a lot of time with the females (eunuch-like) and the females were tolerant of the neutered males.

 Everybody fed together at feeding sites, e.g. skips, refuse bins, and there was no squabbling or competition over food.

 Cats do not have a hierarchical social structure ~ they have only one issue where they might compete ~ for nesting sites and shelter/warmth where occasional contests would develop. They do not compete over anything else.

Why the contest for shelter/warmth and nesting sites? Studies have shown that females in a matrineal society are either centrally located within the core territory or peripherally located within the core territory. Studies in Rome by Natoli showed that 82% of litters fail with peripherally located females whilst this was only 53% in centrally located females. So, generally, the litters of queens in a peripheral location are almost twice as likely to fail compared to centrally located females. In this respect it is obvious why competitive issues arise over nesting sites. Centrally located sites are protected by the female and her close female relatives as it makes sense to be in the centre of the territory for warmth and shelter.

How do certain cats get to be centrally or peripherally located cats? Through physical contests? By working their way up the hierarchy? No ~ it depends on who their mother is! If a cat is born as a peripheral cat it will remain so for the rest of its life. It is not in the cat’s ethology to challenge for the central site.

There is more likely to be fragmentation of the social structure on the periphery of the territory. Generations of kittens on the periphery are not succeeding and so are less likely to have close female relatives and the matrilineal society starts to break down.

For male cats, the nesting site is not important. Competition issues occur over shelter and sexual competition.

Studies by MacDonald within a colony of feral cats, asked whether cats had a preference as to with whom they sat or slept. It was shown that cats preferred to spend time with close female kin, e.g. close body contact for warmth, sisters had litters close together to share suckling and baby-sitting duties etc. There is a huge investment by lactating mothers in their litters so shared suckling would only occur if resources allowed. Living in close proximity allows spatially for shared duties, especially care of the young when the mother goes off to hunt.

MacDonald studied cat colonies for 789 hours and plotted social interactions, e.g. sitting together, sleeping together, mutual grooming etc. On average they occurred 2 to 3.5 times an hour.

So how does this knowledge impact on the lives of our domestic pets? We know that related females can & will choose to live in relatively close proximity. We know that cats communicate in ways other than visual & verbal signals ~ olfactory communication is equally, if not more important in the cat world. We know that any challenges are more likely to be over territory, warmth & resting places, not over food.

So just because we have one cat that shares our house doesn’t mean that it lives a solitary existence ~ your back garden could be providing him or her with a wealth of social interactions with neighbouring cats through smells, sounds & sights. But what about the solitary cat that has no outside access? Is it asking too much of a social creature like a cat to be kept in a house or flat, no outdoor access, & with long hours alone because of the owner’s work & social life? Maybe a companion cat could help ~ but introductions need to be carefully managed & initiated by smell alone at first.

Whilst cats may spend time together sleeping & resting & possibly in mutual grooming, they are still solitary hunters ~ so owners would need to ensure that indoor cats have sufficient resources available to provide solitary predatory practice ~ toys, climbing frames or the equivalent, opportunities to “hunt” for food by maybe hiding dry food in different places? And owners should provide LOTS of resting/sleeping places in warm draft free areas, at different heights, so that there is no need for competition.

And what about human company? Most cat owners have tales to tell about how their cat “loves” them, wants to spend time with them, enjoys a cuddle & a warm lap. It doesn’t take a research scientist to tell us if our cat enjoys human company!! So maybe those solitary indoor-only cats aren’t living fulfilling lives & our perceptions of cats as independent creatures, content to walk alone, are wrong?



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Velvet's Avatar
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07-01-2011, 11:27 AM   #2

Re: Domestic Cats ~ Solitary or Social?


My feeling is that there are cats, who if not getting what he/she expects at home, will go looking elsewhere & usually gets it.

Vets i used to go to had/have gorgeous inhouse cat. Everyone that goes there fusses him. Nurses, receptionists & vets attend to his whims. He has it all, YET its known that he will disappear for periods of time & he has been seen coming out of a house further up the road!

Some cats do it because they can i.e. they are free to come & go as they please. They will have wee social networks of houses they can visit where someone will feed & make a fuss of them. Rather than being cool & aloof, they are sociable creatures & we are glad to oblige, well some of us anyway

Of our two Tim is aloof with strangers, he is very fussy who he makes friends with. Amber on the other hand greets everyone. Now is this because she lived as a stray when very young & was in different places i.e - homes, vets, rescue etc OR is it because Tim's background is feral & its a natural built-in reaction to shy away from strangers & keep out of the way. Some people who come into the house, he will literally run from & get up on the back of mum's chair, she says, for her to protect him He stays there for the duration of their visit.



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07-01-2011, 11:44 AM   #3

Re: Domestic Cats ~ Solitary or Social?


This article is really interesting wilbar, thanks for taking the trouble to write it. It is certainly thought provoking and I need to think about it - my initial thought is that Kizzy is certainly a happier, more affectionate cat since Pip was introduced. He is a highly sociable boy and will run to greet all comers to our house. Kizzy hasn't got that far yet and is much more likely to absent herself, but given time will come in and see who the visitor is.



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Catsey Junior
 
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07-01-2011, 11:57 AM   #4

Re: Domestic Cats ~ Solitary or Social?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Velvet
My feeling is that there are cats, who if not getting what he/she expects at home, will go looking elsewhere & usually gets it.


Vets i used to go to had/have gorgeous inhouse cat. Everyone that goes there fusses him. Nurses, receptionists & vets attend to his whims. He has it all, YET its known that he will disappear for periods of time & he has been seen coming out of a house further up the road!

But isn't that part of the cat's ethogram? Quite normal behaviour really provided the cat has the opportunity. If you observe cats hunting in the wild, they don't stay at one particular location for very long if there's no chance of a meal, e.g. if the prey is startled, if there's competition, if there's no signs of prey. The cat will just try somewhere else. So it would be peferctly normal for a cat to get some things it needs from one location & other things from somewhere else.

Some cats do it because they can i.e. they are free to come & go as they please. They will have wee social networks of houses they can visit where someone will feed & make a fuss of them. Rather than being cool & aloof, they are sociable creatures & we are glad to oblige, well some of us anyway

Of our two Tim is aloof with strangers, he is very fussy who he makes friends with. Amber on the other hand greets everyone. Now is this because she lived as a stray when very young & was in different places i.e - homes, vets, rescue etc OR is it because Tim's background is feral & its a natural built-in reaction to shy away from strangers & keep out of the way. Some people who come into the house, he will literally run from & get up on the back of mum's chair, she says, for her to protect him He stays there for the duration of their visit.
Sociability with other cats is partly a genetic & inheritable trait, & partly learned behaviour depending on early experiences. Similarly "friendliness" towards humans is also an inheritable & genetic trait, & is inherited via the father's genetic input. Friendly fathers often produce friendly kittens. But obviously there is a lot of input from early learning & experiences with humans.

Like dogs, cats have a period in their development when the fear response is more muted. This is an evolutionary sound response because at some stage young animals are & should be, encouraged to start to explore the world around them. It would be pointless if the young animals were so scared they were frightened to leave the den. So nature allows for a period when the fear response is dampened & the young animals start to explore. Experiences like being handled by humans, hearing human voices & getting used to their smells at this stage, can have a huge impact on the kitten's response to humans later in life. Provided the experiences are positive, induce a feeling of well-being, then the chances are that the kittens will be less scared of people later in life. And if they've also inherited their father's "friendly" genes, even more so.

So with your Tim & Amber I would suggest that it is a mixture of bioth nature/nurture that has formed the way the perceive humans. With feral cats, that have had very little input from humans during their formative period, or have had only negative experiences, then it is far more likely they will remain wary of people. But through learning experiences, lots of feral cats can get to trust & enjoy the company of SOME people, usually their carers, who provide food, warmth, gentle touching etc. But they will still remain very wary of strange humans.



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07-01-2011, 11:59 AM   #5

Re: Domestic Cats ~ Solitary or Social?


Quote:
Originally Posted by angieh
This article is really interesting wilbar, thanks for taking the trouble to write it. It is certainly thought provoking and I need to think about it - my initial thought is that Kizzy is certainly a happier, more affectionate cat since Pip was introduced. He is a highly sociable boy and will run to greet all comers to our house. Kizzy hasn't got that far yet and is much more likely to absent herself, but given time will come in and see who the visitor is.
I find that interesting, do you think rather than my theory re Tim, it is just a case of some cats being mire socuable than others?



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07-01-2011, 12:08 PM   #6

Re: Domestic Cats ~ Solitary or Social?


This article made me think of Beauty again. Beauty was scared of other cats (among other things), but there was one particular cat she used to seek out for company. All other cats she was scared of and would get really anxious around them.

Dylan on the other hand, he likes any female cat, all people but can't stand other male cats.

The rescues I have helped were a mixed bunch. Some really liked the company of other cats but either disliked people or tolerated them (a few liked both people and other cats), some hated other cats but liked people and some couldn't care less either way.



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07-01-2011, 12:28 PM   #7

Re: Domestic Cats ~ Solitary or Social?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Velvet
I find that interesting, do you think rather than my theory re Tim, it is just a case of some cats being mire socuable than others?
I would say yes and reading wilbar's last post I think it could be true and depends on genes and early experience.



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Catsey Junior
 
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07-01-2011, 12:39 PM   #8

Re: Domestic Cats ~ Solitary or Social?


Quote:
Originally Posted by rescuecatsrule
This article made me think of Beauty again. Beauty was scared of other cats (among other things), but there was one particular cat she used to seek out for company. All other cats she was scared of and would get really anxious around them.

So maybe Beauty was born to a peripheral mother, so was not a naturally secure cat in that resources may have been scarce. She wanted the company of other cats but possibly early experiences taught her that not all cats are friendly. And maybe Beauty tried various overtures to other cats that were rebuffed, except for this one particular cat that acepted her? And as a female cat she was motivated to seek the companionship of another "sister" cat, even if the other cat was a neutered male?

Dylan on the other hand, he likes any female cat, all people but can't stand other male cats.

So probably Dylan inherited people friendliness from his dad plus he had positive early experiences with humans? And he is naturally motivated to seek out the company of other cats, but his "maleness" recognises that others males are competitive for territory, and/or he's had prior experience of the aggressive/territorial behaviour of other male cats.

The rescues I have helped were a mixed bunch. Some really liked the company of other cats but either disliked people or tolerated them (a few liked both people and other cats), some hated other cats but liked people and some couldn't care less either way.
And that just goes to show the mixture of factors that go towards forming cat likes & dislikes, temperament, personality, whatever you want to call it. No two animals are going to be identical anymore than 2 humans. But isn't that what makes life interesting



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Catsey Junior
 
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07-01-2011, 12:47 PM   #9

Re: Domestic Cats ~ Solitary or Social?


I've just noted a major typo in my article The last sentence under the heading Domestic Cats ~ Solitary or Social? should read "Scientific research in the 1990s is showing that cats are sociable creatures ~ feral cats choose to live in social groups." I originally put "solitary creatures" which made no sense at all!! Sorry ~ just as well this is in the Working Articles thread!



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07-01-2011, 02:29 PM   #10

Re: Domestic Cats ~ Solitary or Social?


I am now thinking about my experiences with Harley. When he first came calling, he was an intact stray and although he was people friendly, he did seem to have a dominance issue with other cats - not just Kizzy and Pip as my neighbour's cats were both scared of him and other neighbourhood cats stayed away. According to my neighbour, he had major battles with the other Tom that belongs to the local farm.

I thought his dominance issues may pass after he was neutered but this seemed not to be the case. All that happened was he got bigger and heavier and more of a bully.

OH was talking to neighbour a couple of days ago and he mentioned that neighbourhood cats are beginning to come back - they "know" that Harley is no longer guarding his territory.



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