Cats are often seen as the opposite to dogs in many respects – dogs are pack animals that need interaction with others of their kind or human substitutes. Cats are seen as aloof and independent, not needing humans but often enjoying their attention. How accurate is this view and do cats really not need one another?
Most behaviours in our pet cats come from their ancestors, wildcats, and their development around the world. While cats don’t need to hunt for their food, they still learn to pretend-hunt as kittens. They will often catch small animals and birds though they don’t need to eat them. And they react to threats as they would in the wild, when the threat could mean death. Another important trait inherited from those wild cats surrounds territory and how they interact with other cats.
Cats are mostly solitary hunters and therefore, their territory is theirs to hunt across. It need to be defended to ensure they have enough food to live. Therefore, they mark their territories to warn off other cats and show the boundaries of their land. Cats don’t like to fight each other, despite how it sounds outside the window in the middle of the night. The marking of the territory acts like a warning sign to other cats. But this sign is sometimes ignored.
At the heart of the territory is the den, a core area where they will sleep, eat and spend time with a mate. This is the part of the territory that the cat defends most vehemently and incursion into this will result in a battle. In the domesticated cat, this could be their house or even a specific part of it. If another cat or animal enters this core area, this may evoke a strong reaction from the cat.
In the wild, cats often have areas that are like neutral ground. This is where they can meet with other cats and interact with them. In the home, this might be where shared food and water bowls are placed and even a cat litter box. Anyone not welcome on this neutral territory will be hissed, growled and spat at until they leave it.
Feral domestic cats can sometimes form into colonies to help survive. This is often when there is a single or a few food sources in a small area and a single cat couldn’t hold off the rivals or even eat everything there. For this reason, the cats occupy the area together and don’t treat it like their territory, more like neutral ground. There is less of the hierarchy in these groups than is seen in dogs. This is because cats aren’t pack animals but can choose to live together.
This colony mentality can happen when cats live together in a house. They may realise that it is best to work together and tolerate each other, though perhaps being ‘best friends’ with the others of the colony may never happen.