The ASPCA Says Cats Aren’t Naturally Social. Oh Really?
With the loss of our cat, Leela, in September, it should come as no surprise that we plan to adopt another cat. If you know me, you know I do a lot of reading before I make any decision, especially when it comes to taking on another living creature.
In my research on how to select the right cat for my household and how to introduce him/her to the rest of the family, I found something that struck me as odd. According to the ASPCA, “free-ranging and feral cats … don’t seek out contact with other cats. In fact, they actively avoid it.” The group called this the “natural behavior of cats.” Um, am I the only one that totally disagrees with this sentiment?
I’m a National Geographic junkie, and some of my favorite nature shows include documentaries on big cats in the wild. Lions, tigers, leopards, oh my! Lions live in prides while cheetahs, at least the male ones, form groups known as coalitions. Tigers, leopards, and cougars, on the other hand, are much more solitary animals and tend to seek out others of their kind only for mating purposes. Domestic cats, as we know them, are thought to be descended from the European wild cat and African wild cat, both of which are still present today. The African wildcat is noted to live alone, except when mating or when the mother has kittens around. They’re also noted to be easily domesticated; however, they are still a far cry from the cats we have in our homes.
Besides the hybrid breeds, which are illegal in many states, probably the closest thing we have as a “wild cat” would be feral ones. A cat is considered “feral” if it is the offspring of stray or other feral intact cats. Feral cats have had little to no interaction with people. Have you ever heard of a feral cat colony with only one cat? Nope! Feral cats can often be found in large groups, usually consisting of related cats. These cats defend their territory from newcomers with few exceptions. Their territory can be large, encompassing dump sites, homes, and other places with good shelter and access to food and water.
Cats at Home
In my experience, I have found cats to be incredibly complex and social creatures. Owned cats, or pet cats, tend to bond very closely with cats that they are raised with. Although they may be cautious toward newcomers, they will often establish a relationship over time, so long as circumstances permit. (Yes, not every cat will get along with other cats.) I'm no cat expert, but I think domestic cats are like most animals -- they thrive in the company of their own kind. That brings me to the original purpose of my research -- introducing a new cat into the family.
Before losing Leela, we were a two-cat, two-dog home. Fry and Leela were siblings, and had only ever spent one night apart their entire lives. After Leela died, Fry stopped eating and drinking. He would roam the house, night and day, crying out for her. I knew we'd get a new cat in the future, but it's important to know up front what needs to be done to set up your cats, new and resident, for success.
First and foremost, you need a "safe room" for your new cat. This is a room with little to no traffic, like a guest bathroom or back room. I set up our guest bathroom as a safe room when we first got Fry and Leela as kittens so that they would have a space away from our curious dogs. I installed a cat door in the bottom of the bathroom door to allow the cats the freedom to come and go from the safe room as they pleased. Even to this day, I leave the bathroom door shut when we're not in the house, just in case the dogs become too rough in their play.
When you first bring home your new cat, it's a good idea to also provide a hiding spot in the safe room. Also, it's best practice to have one litter box for each cat you have. That way, neither cat will start a territory war over the litter box. Feed each cat in their own bowl, and make sure the new cat has comfortable access to fresh water. We use a pet fountain in the kitchen, so I'll need to keep a bowl of fresh water in the bathroom for the new cat until he/she is comfortable venturing out on his/her own. Don't try to push the cats to make contact before they're ready, or you could risk stressing them out and setting back any progress they've made.
In my research, the Humane Society of the United States had some of the best advice on introducing a new cat to the rest of your fur family. They have lots of great ideas on how to introduce your new cat to your family, including using a safe room, engaging the cats in play, and swapping blankets with their scents on them (this is helpful with dogs, as well). The most important thing to remember through any pet introduction is that it takes time -- lots of time. Don't give up just because it looks like your cats aren't getting along when they first meet. All good things take time!
About Meghan Lodge: Fits the Aquarius definition to a fault, loves animals, and is always pushing for change. Loves ink, whether it's in tattoos, books, or writing on that pretty sheet of blank paper. Proud parent of two dogs (one being very dumb) and one cat. I'm a former quiet nerd who's turned bubbly animal-obsessed advocate.