The Social (or Not) Life of a Cat

Dear Pet Column,

One of my cats passed away a few weeks ago and my remaining cat appears to be sad and lonely – should I get another cat to cheer him up?

Sincerely, Lonely Cat Momma

Dear LC,

Sorry for your loss. And yes, the confusing myth of The Lone Cat... On the one hand we have the solitary tiger hunting in the jungles while on the other is the social lion living in prides in grasslands. Are domestic cats more like tigers or lions? And, if your cat is more like a lion can you turn it into a tiger? Are cats happier with other cats around or soaking up all the attention themselves? Do cats get lonely without other cats around?

I am going to throw down some cat reality here. Dogs may have a reputation for being more social, but that is only because they hunt in packs. Although domestic cats are solitary in one sense: hunting and eating (cats much prefer eating in their own space). Outside of mealtime, most cats have social needs.

While some cats feel disdain for their own kind and must be the household’s only pet, feral cats form colonies, and many pet cats befriend each other. In fact according to Dr. Leticia Dantas, D.V.M., M.S., Ph.D, of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, feral cat colonies have several complex social and cooperative behaviors such as caring for each other’s young. “but strangers are usually not welcomed…the group is usually formed by a family line — a queen and some of her litter that chose not to leave, not newcomers.”

However, Dantas states that “Domestic cats are a social species where cats are buddies because they really like each other and not because they have to be”. So generally (and next week we will talk about the many common exceptions) cats tend to be social. Still, cats are able to survive as solo creatures even if that isn’t their preference.

Back to your question, when a household cat dies, the loss leaves a void in both your life and your remaining cat’s life. Dantas recommends giving your cat (and yourself) time to grieve and stabilize. This may take a month or several months. “Cats form bonds, but they only crave the company of the cats they are bonded with, a bond cannot be transferred from one individual to another.”

Thus, bringing in another cat right away to ease your cat’s loneliness is not recommended. A new cat smell, looks, and acts different. Your cat knows this is not its buddy. Even though your bereaved cat is lonely; this would only add stress for your pet as the new cat is an alien.

So give it some time, but when you both are ready, I will be waiting. My name is Savannah and I get along great with other cats and am currently living in a cat communal room here at Second Chance. I am only a year old and I am gorgeous and gentle and ready for a more glamorous life than what it has been so far…

Next week’s Pet Column will discuss how to best introduce cats.

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