Social Behaviour in Cats

Pete Wedderburn
3rd December 2019 - 2 min read

It’s often said that cats are solitary animals, when in fact, they’re socially versatile and can happily exist alone or form social groups dependent on their experience and environment. They are, however, very territorial, and sharing resources with another cat can be incredibly stressful for them, so methods to introduce cats properly and provide a suitable environment should be your first priority when getting a cat.

You can look for signs that your cat is stressed. For example, if they are stressed it’s likely that they will:

  • Spend less time in your company
  • Eat less
  • Groom less
  • Have less interest in playing
  • Spend more time hiding and resting
cat hiding in the bush

Socialisation

Well socialised kittens are more likely to form positive relationships with other cats and people if they’re exposed to them positively in early life.

Kittens

The first two to seven weeks (approximately) is the socialisation period in which kittens should experience a range of sensory stimuli in a positive manner-

  • Handling
  • Textures
  • Sounds
  • Smells
  • Environments
  • Other cats
  • A variety of people, etc.

Studies on the effects of early learning and socialisation in cats report that when the mother (queen) is present, kittens are more confident and display fewer signs of anxiety. Therefore, any socialisation, should be conducted with the mother present.

Following this period, socialisation should continue in the home. Some veterinary practices run ‘Kitten Kindergartens’ giving kittens the opportunity to socialise with other kittens and get used to handling in a positive way.

Positive Interactions

If you’re unsure if your cats get along, there are certain behaviours they will display that indicates positive interaction with one another.

Cats that are part of the same social group will groom each other (known as allogrooming) and rub up against each other (allorubbing) they will also greet each other with their tail ups and often sleep and spend time together. 

orange kittens playing

Negative Interactions

Cats that don’t get along may:

  • Avoid each other or keep to certain areas of the house
  • Hiss or growl
  • Display signs of stress.

Cats may still be in close proximity of one another but facing the other direction depending on access to resources.

There is a common misconception about cats’ social hierarchy and may be described as dominant or submissive but science doesn’t support the theory. The way a cat reacts to different situations is more likely as a result of their personality, experience, and environment.

Some cats may love food and be highly motivated to get to it, but inhibited and shy in a new environment or in the presence of other cats.

If you’re worried about your cat’s behaviour, think first about what might be motivating the behaviour or reaction you’re seeing, what emotions they’re potentially feeling, and what the triggers could be.