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CAT WATCHING EXPLORED: How Sociable Are Cats?

The cat is often characterized as a solitary, selfish animal, walking alone and coming together with other cats only to fight or mate.  When cats are living wild, with plenty of space, it is true that they do fit this picture reasonably well, but they become more crowded.  Living in cities and towns, and in the homes of their human owners, cats show a remarkable and unexpected degree of sociability.

Anyone doubting this must remember that, to a pet cat, we ourselves are giant cats.  The  fact that domestic cats will share a home with a human family is, in itself, proof of their social flexibility.  But this is only part of the story.  There are many other ways in which cats demonstrate co-operation, mutual aid,  and tolerance.  This is particularly noticeable when a female is having kittens.  Other females have known to act as midwives, helping to chew through the umbilical cords and clean up the new-born offspring.  Later they may offer a babysitting service, bring food for the new mother, and occasionally feed young from other litters as well as their own.  Even males sometimes show a little paternal feeling, cleaning kittens and playing with them.

These are not usual activities, but despite the fact that they are uncommon occurrences, they do reveal that the cat is capable, under special circumstances, of behaving in a less selfish way than we might expect.

Territorial behaviour also involves also involves some degree of restraint and sharing.  Cats do their best to avoid one another, and often use the same ranges at different times as a way of reducing conflict.  In addition there are special no-cat’s land areas where social ‘clubs’ can develop.  These are parts of the environment where, for some reason, cats call a general truce and come together without too much fighting.  This is common with feral city cats, where there may be a special feeding site.  If humans throw food out for them there, they may gather quite peacefully to share it.  Close proximity is tolerated in a way that would be unthinkable in the ‘Home-Base’ regions of these cats.

Considering these facts, some authorities have gone so far as to say that cats are truly gregarious and that their society is more co-operative than that of dogs, but this is romantic exaggeration.  The Truth is that, where social life is concerned, cats are opportunists.  They can take it or leave it.  Dogs, on the other hand, can never leave it.  A  solidarity cat is, if anything, relived to be left in  peace.

If this so, then how can we explain the mutual aid examples given above?  Some are due to the fact that we have turned domestic cats into overgrown kittens.  By continuing to feed them and care  for them we prolong their juvenile qualities.  Like Peter Pan, they never grow up mentally, even though they become mature adults physically.  Kittens are playful and friendly with their litter-mates and with their mothers, so they are used to acting together in a small group.  This quality can be added to later adult activities, making them less wild  in cities, where there is little space, adapt to their shrunken territories out of necessity, rather than by preference.

Some animals can live only in close-knit social groups.  Others can tolerate only a completely solitary existence.   The cat’s flexibility means that it can accept either mode of living, and it is this that has been a key factor in its long success story since it first domesticated thousands of years ago’.

Written By Lizzie Christian Copyrighted (c) 26th May 2016.