This is a question vets hear a lot – people who are worried that their cat will be lonely, or need a companion. So in this blog, we’re going to look into it in more detail for you!

Know your history…

Modern domestic cats are descended from the wild cats of North Africa. These animals are solitary stealth hunters, living and hunting largely alone. The only time they live together in groups is when a mother has her kittens with her – and as soon as they’re old enough, the kittens leave and head off to establish territories. Unlike many more social mammals (e.g. wolves, horses or humans), both the males and females have separate territories, which they will defend. However, while a male will defend his territory against other males, and a female against other females, a male and a female territory will usually overlap, allowing mating and reproduction. If there is significant population pressure, two female cats (especially if they are related) may “time-share” a territory, but they take great care not to meet if possible.

The Rule of Thumb is the Rule of One…

As a general rule, domestic cats are perfectly happy in their own company, and do not require the presence of other cats! As long as they have a suitably obedient human to feed them, they’ll be as happy as larry.

If you have got multiple cats in a household, they will often timeshare – so Topcat gets the lounge in the morning, the bedroom in the afternoon, and the garden in the evening, while Garfield has the garden in the morning, then moves to the lounge, and then the bedroom. Again, though, it’s important that they don’t meet and have to compete over resources – like food, water or litter trays. If there aren’t enough resources for all the cats, they will become stressed, and may get ill, or fight.

Sound familiar? This is the standard explanation of cat social dynamics, and for most cats, most of the time, it holds true.

However, as with all living things, it’s not quite that simple…

Modern domestic cats are thousands of generations removed from their desert-dwelling ancestors. Feral cats (wild living domestic moggies) have been extensively studied in recent years, and we now know that they are much more social than we have previously given them credit for. If prey is plentiful (or you’re generous with the fridge door!) they quite happily form large and complex colonies. While their relationships are much more flexible and unstable than those in, say, a wolf pack, they are still quite capable of negotiating really complex social arrangements. If one cat feels picked on, then they may well leave, and be replaced by another moving in.

Cats can even live in “families”

Wild cats almost always split up and go their separate ways when they are old enough. However, domestic cats may not – siblings often remain living together – or at least nearby – for prolonged periods. In fact, the main driver for setting off on their own is puberty – so if your cats are neutered, there is a good chance that they will live together as “adult kittens” for life. Just remember, adding a new cat to a stable group is a recipe for disaster as the social fabric is torn up in flailing claws!

Remember, though…

Every cat is a distinct individual! Some are happy in groups, and others need solitude. Some will pine and even appear to grieve when a companion dies; for others, being freed from the thumb of the tyrant gives them a new lease of life.

Every decision needs to be individual, based on your cat’s personality, needs and desires.

If you’re worried about your cat’s emotional health, make an appointment to discuss it with your vet, who will be able to rule out medical problems, and advise you on how best to help them.