Do Cats Get Lonely Without Other Cats?

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Domestic cats, like many feline species, are a mix of social and solitary. They are territorial, and hunt alone rather than in packs, but also participate in social rituals such as collaborative feeding of young kittens, social play, and allogrooming.

It can be difficult to tell if a solitary cat is happy on their own, or whether they crave feline company. This is often a very individual preference, with young, active kittens often having greater social needs than older adults. Introducing a new cat to a household must be done carefully to nurture a positive inter-cat relationship.

The Social Structure Of Feral Cats

Felines are generally solitary hunters and eaters, and also tend to have a highly territorial nature. These facts do not lend themselves to developing great social skills, and many feline species, such as tigers, are often solitary.

However, our domestic cats do have the potential to be social animals, just as lions live in prides. Unlike dogs, who can live in large packs in the wild, feral cats often form small colonies – groups of cats living near to a known food source.

These groups are often made up of female cats and kittens, co-parenting, and sharing resources. These colonies are observed to cooperate best when the cats are familiar with each other, and there is plenty of food. Close bonds can form between cats, though most often between kittens and their mother, and between kittens of the same litter.

Male cats do not tend to be part of these groups and are more likely to be loners. Their territory may overlap with that of a colony, but male territories are considerably larger, depending on the availability of food and females.

Also Read: 15 Facts You Should Know About Feral Cats

How Does This Compare To Domestic Cats?

three cats friends

Our kitty companions have remained similar in many ways to their wildcat ancestors. However, pet cats have also adapted to live in blissful domesticity with their human companions. Cat’s behavior can be quite flexible, with genetics, early environment, and social influences all playing their role in the temperament and personality of each individual cat.

Cats can certainly enjoy companionship: with their own kind, with another pet, or with a human family member. Many cats appear to be social, actively seeking out a feline friend or human companion. However, other cats appear happy to be solitary.

Kittens are more likely to have social needs. They require playmates to help them learn about social interaction and hunting skills and provide both physical and mental stimulation at this highly active age. Kittens form special bonds with their littermates, but can also bond with kittens from separate litters.

As kittens transition into adulthood, some maintain this youthful love of play and social interaction, whereas others seem happy in single-cat households.

Also Read: How To Introduce A New Kitten To An Older Cat

Should I Get A Second Cat?

Orange Kitten meowing

This is a tough one, as it is really hard to predict which cats will get along together, or whether they’d really be happier alone. Some cats seem to show apparent signs of loneliness, such as hiding away, giving a plaintive meow, or displaying clinginess to their owners. There can also be symptoms of boredom in single cats, such as destructive behavior and excessive vocalization.

Cats most likely to benefit from a feline companion are those who are naturally playful or social, have had the experience of being with other cats or kittens when young, and are not showing signs of stress or anxiety.

Kittens often bond better with a new cat than an adult cat would, so early introductions are best if possible. Cats who are left alone for long periods of time may also benefit from companionship, especially if they display separation anxiety or destructive behavior – although this is not a cure for these complex behavioral issues.

Adult cats who have been solitary for much of their lives, or who were separated early from their mother and litter mates may find a new cat a more difficult addition to the household. Cats who show signs of stress, such as hiding away, litter box issues, excessive grooming, or loss of appetite may also find a disruption to their schedule and environment by a second cat an added stress rather than a pleasure.

Also Read: 5 Reasons You Should Get A Second Cat (And 3 You Shouldn’t)

Making Introductions

Communication of two cats

If you decide on the exciting step of adding an extra feline family member, take some time to choose appropriately. The best pairings tend to be cats of similar age – and therefore a similar energy level. Kittens just want to play, whereas an older cat might spend a large proportion of the day having a nap or two (or three!) – try and find a new cat who fits the routine and needs of your existing pet.

When introducing a new cat into your household, there are some simple steps to follow to make the process as smooth and stress-free for all concerned as much as possible.

1. Preparation And Arrival

Cats are territorial, and a good way to ruin a new relationship is to place a new cat straight into the existing cat’s territory. Set up a separate area for the new cat initially, somewhere that your other cat doesn’t go into much.

Make sure the new cat has all the resources it needs – cats don’t like to share. Provide food, water, a litter box, hiding places, a bed, a scratching post, and cat toys. You could use a synthetic pheromone spray such as Feliway to help your new cat feel reassured and safe when they arrive.

Let the new cat settle into their new home – this may take a week or two. The items in their area will gradually take on their scent, marking the room as their territory.

Also Read: What Are Cat Pheromones And Do They Really Work?

2. Scent Swap

Scent Swap

The first introductory step should be with scent only. Start by taking some bedding from one cat and giving it to the other, and vice versa. This should be repeated until the cats gradually show less interest in the unfamiliar item – they are becoming accustomed to the scent of the other cat.

Then, allow them in turn to investigate each other’s area, whilst the other cat is taken somewhere else. This allows each cat to understand the limits of each other’s territory, and become more immersed in their individual scents.

Also Read: What Scents Do Cats Hate? This List Might Surprise You

3. Visual Contact

adult cat smelling newborn kitten

The next stage is to allow the cats to see each other. Preferably, this should take place in neutral territory, with both cats having the option to escape if they wish. Keep sessions short and use treats and praise as rewards to ensure they are kept positive. This stage should be repeated until both cats appear calm when they see each other.

4. Free Contact

how cats communicate

Finally, the big moment! Your cats should now be ready to meet. Initially, keep these interactions fairly short, and always supervised. If all goes well, free and unlimited contact for longer periods of time should naturally follow as the cats should already be fairly used to each other.

If you feel at any point that the introductions aren’t going well, go back to the previous step and spend more time on that stage. Professional help from a qualified animal behaviorist is a good idea if you are struggling to introduce a new cat successfully.

A common reason for inter-cat aggression is competition for resources. Keep food and water bowls away from each other and easily accessible to both cats. Provide plenty of litter boxes, beds, toys and even things like a cat tree may not be well-shared.

If your cats are left together for extended periods of time, make sure there is plenty of enrichment such as puzzle feeders or activity toys so that they don’t become bored or frustrated.

Also Read: How Do Cats Communicate With Each Other? A Veterinarian Explains

Cats And Loneliness: Summing Up

Cat behavior is a funny mix of solitary and social, which makes their inter-feline relationships difficult to predict. Mother and kitten family groups tend to be highly social, but adult cats (especially males) are often more solitary.

Cats can certainly be happy as a single cat, but they are a social species, and many will appreciate having a companion. Introducing a new cat can be daunting, but taking the process slowly and in a stepwise manner is the best route to success.

Also Read: 12 Signs Of An Extremely Happy Cat

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it OK to have just one cat?

Cats can be happy as a solitary pet but will need social interaction from their owners to fulfill their social needs. They will also require plenty of enrichment if left alone for a period of time, such as toys, puzzle feeders, and climbing trees.

Do cats get bored without another cat?

Cats need social interaction of some form, either through another pet or their owners. They also need to be kept active both physically and mentally to prevent boredom, so if they are solitary will need some active playtime, enrichment such as a cat tree or puzzle feeder, and some human company.

Does a single cat get lonely?

Cats are social creatures and need some form of interaction. They can happily exist as an only pet but will require plenty of human companionship, play, and enrichment in their home environment.

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About Lizzie Youens, BSc (Hons) BVSc MRCVS

Lizzie has worked in companion animal practice for over ten years, in a variety of roles from small rural branch surgeries to large hospital environments. She also enjoys reading, gardening and spending time with her young daughters.

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