Do Cats Get Lonely or Are They Fine Without Other Cats?

There’s a misconception that cats are curmudgeons who don’t make friends with other cats. So, do cats get lonely and do cats need other cats for company? It comes down to a few different factors, like personality and age.

Two cats lying down and relaxing together.
Two cats lying down and relaxing together. Photography by AspenPhoto/Thinkstock.

Tigers live as solitary hunters in jungles. Lions live in prides in grasslands. But what about our domestic cats? Are they loners like tigers or social like lions? Yes and yes, and no and no — depending on the cat and the situation, experts say. We talked to some of those pros to try to answer the age-old questions: Do cats get sad and lonely? And do cats need other cats?

do cats get lonely? , sad cat
Do cats get lonely or are they fine flying solo? Photography by ivanolianto/Thinkstock.

Do cats get lonely? Or are they happier in single-cat households?

The first step in answering, “Do cats get lonely?” is knowing that domestic cats are solitary when it comes to hunting and eating. Dogs may have a reputation for being more social, but that is only because they hunt in packs. Not so with cats, who don’t like eating too close to each other. Many parents in multi-cat households put their kitties’ food bowls next to each other, but this is a mistake, says Marilyn Krieger, a certified cat-behavior consultant in the San Francisco Bay area. “Cats have to eat, so they will, but they’re not very happy. It’s a little stressful,” says Krieger, who is also known as The Cat Coach.

Outside of mealtime, though, most cats have social needs. While some cats hate their own kind and must be the household’s only pet, feral cats form colonies, and many pet cats befriend each other.

“They have several complex social and cooperative behaviors such as caring for each other’s young,” says Dr. Leticia M.S. Dantas, D.V.M., M.S., Ph.D., a faculty member at the Athens-based University of Georgia Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s Behavioral Medicine Service, and a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, says about feral cats. “The confusion comes from the fact that 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.”

And what about pet cats? Are cats sad when they’re the only cat in the household? “Domestic cats are a social species,” Dr. Dantas says. “Yes, you can have cats that are buddies because they really like each other and not because they have to be,” Krieger says.

Still, cats are able to survive as solo creatures, Krieger says, even if that isn’t their preference. And adult kitties have a territorial nature.

The answer to “Do cats get lonely?” is likely yes — if they’re kittens.

That territorial nature doesn’t typically kick in until adulthood. Kittens crave playmates, and they especially bond with their littermates. But even if you adopt kittens from separate litters, they will likely become instant besties.

“For most kittens, the way they learn social skills is by interacting and playing with each other,” Krieger says. “Most kittens do quite well together.”

Still, though kittens tend to be more socially flexible, “just with any species, some individuals are born not being comfortable around strangers,” Dantas cautions.

Matching your cat to a second cat

Do you have a cat-hating cat who must be by herself (a situation that might result from a kitty that got separated from her littermates at an early age) or a lonely cat who wants a buddy? It may be difficult to tell, as your cat might be clingy and needy with her human but not necessarily do well with another cat around her, Krieger says. It helps to know the history of both cats — the resident and the potential newcomer — if you want to predict whether the two will get along.

“Having grown up with others is not a recipe for success, since cats are individuals and some of them simply do not get along,” Dantas says. “Cats who are playful with other cats, were socialized to other cats as kittens and throughout their lives and do not have clinical signs of fear or anxiety have more chance of success.”

When choosing a feline companion for your cat, look for one that is a similar age, and therefore has a similar energy level. If you have an older cat, a kitten will torment and pester him with manic energy. “The kitten’s job is to be playful and explore their world and attack things,” Krieger says. “The older cat’s job is to take a nap.” If you have an older cat and want to adopt a kitten, get two kittens so that they can play with each other and let their older uncle relax in peace. Otherwise, look for an older best friend for your adult cat.

Introducing cats

The next question you’ll have when asking, “Do cats get lonely?” is, “How do I introduce two cats?”

“Cats do … form very close bonds with each other,” Kreiger explains. “Even adult cats can become close companions if they are introduced correctly.”

Related: How to Introduce Your Cat to a New Cat

Introduce cats correctly by keeping them separate at first, Dantas says. This lets them get to know each other’s sounds and smells and gives their brains time to hopefully decrease the neuroendocrine stress response. Each cat needs her own food dish and litter area, and positive experiences should come with introductions, like treats.

Getting a new companion for a grieving cat

Are cats sad and do get the lonely— after their longtime feline companion passes on? When a cat dies, the loss leaves a void in both your life and your remaining cat’s life. The question is how soon cat parents — and their resident kitties — should seek new companionship. Dantas and Krieger recommend 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,” Dantas says. “A bond cannot be transferred from one individual to another.”

Krieger also discourages bringing in another cat right away. Even though your bereaved cat is lonely; this is stressful for your pet, as the new cat is an alien. “They know this cat is not their buddy,” she says. “They smell different, they look different and everything about them is different.”

Originally published in 2017.

Thumbnail: Photography by AspenPhoto/Thinkstock.

Read Next: How to Make Your Cat Your Workout Buddy

132 thoughts on “Do Cats Get Lonely or Are They Fine Without Other Cats?”

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  4. Thank you for your timely article Kellie (btw my sister is a Kellie as well) as we had to put down our older cat of 15 years Misty a few weeks ago. Though Misty and her younger sister Allie, 5 years old didn’t bond, it is evident by Allie’s withdrawal she misses Misty terribly. Misty ALWAYS made it clear that she was the alpha cat, and Allie respected that. Allie just wanted to play and socialize all the time. It’s evident to me that we didn’t introduce them to each other properly, I also think their age difference of 10 years was not conducive to a great relationship. Allie is very sad right now. She stares off into space waiting for Misty to reappear. Allie stills respect the places that were Misty’s as she won’t go to those places like one particular perch tree and my wife’s desk chair. Allie is just now sleeping in bed at night with us, that was reserved for Misty and Allie respected it. I don’t know who’s grieving more but we all support each other.

    Great article Kellie and at the right time.

  5. You are right leaving a cat alone at home is s difficult decision. You should follow some useful tips to leave a cat alone at home. Anyways thanks for the post. This post has a lot of information and guidance.

  6. Sounds like Catmandu was meant to walk into your life…so glad he was able to touch you and you were able to return all that Love..RIP Catmandu

  7. Laurie Dunagan

    I lost my cat of 17 years in January. I adopted a new cat in February because I love cats and was lonely without one (I live alone). My new cat has taken until the first of June to allow me to touch him. He still bolts away if I get close – he has to be cajoled into approaching me. I can’t pet him yet, but I have faith! He meows very loudly in the evening and it sounds so mournful. I was wondering if he is lonely as he was in the shelter for a year with another cat in his enclosure.

  8. The first cat that showed up in my adult life was a big orange and white tabby with an old soul presence who changed my life. Catmandu was his name so I discovered from an animal medium. I had moved to a duplex in a semi-rural area and I kept seeing this cat seemingly watching me off and on for a few weeks. He would always move away when I approached until one day the front door was open and he simply walked as if that was the most normal thing to do. That began an eleven year relationship that truly was amazing when I look back to who I was before and after. Because of major disruptions in the household he moved, his decision, to a neighbor two houses down living for about another 2 years beginning his healing work in their lives. The neighbors called to tell me he was at the vet and the vet wanted to put him down. I got to see my dear old friend and asked him if he wanted this he indicated with his tail that yes he was ready to go. Whether human or otherwise there are few who have changed me, opened my heart as he did. Thank you Catmandu many blessings on your journeys.

  9. Hi, I had a cat since she was a kitten. At 3 yrs old I got a kitten. It was tough in the beginning. Per vet; you watch them closely for awhile. It’s ok if my 3 yr old swatted at the kitten as long as the 3 yr old claws are not out. If so, that means the 3 yr old wants to hurt the kitten; not good. If I had to go somewhere so I couldn’t watch them; I would put the cats in separate rooms. I did this for about 3 months. Luckily my three-year-old swatted at the kitten all the time never with claws out. As the kitten grown up; I wouldn’t say they were best friends but the the 3 yr old got used to the kitten. If the kitten bothered her she would just growl and swat her and walk away. The kitten eventually learned, to stay away. Cats communicate with each other and the kitten knew what it could and couldn’t do after a while You never discipline the three-year-old from swatting or growling at kitten as long as the kitten isn’t hurt. . I didn’t feed them side-by-side and always have at least two litter boxes . Good way to connect them is play with both of them at the same like with a toy wand or light

  10. They say, “you don’t find your cat, your cat finds you”. You sound like a lovely, kind person. I can see why these cats have all found you! My best beloved, now gone kitty found me much the same way. I think we and our cats are all soulmates, destined to know & help each other in some way. Good luck for your futures together.

  11. I am not a cat behaviorist but have for the last 15 years had one then two, then loss, then another two, then four, then/now 15 of various ages from tiny kitten to much older(?), feral and tame, more or less. They all came of their own accord and sadly disappear often my favorites but one thing they show me is that they are all individuals that love good food, yes even shared from the same bowel and given the freedom choose friends and family to interact with and sometimes have disagreements. One thing that has always been true is that they bring a lot of love into my house so they are always welcome however long or short their stay.

  12. Help ! We found a hurt stray male cat about a year ago
    We thought he was 4 years old. Turns out he was one or two years old. It was fine for a year but now he just wants to be pet and sleeps all the time. Should we get him a kitten or older cat? We’re at home most of the time. If we should get a kitten or cat, should it be make or female ? Please help

  13. Emma,
    You should keep all three kittens. They will have a wonderful bond together. Didn’t Jesus, go out to fine lost lamb, and brought him back to be with reunited with his family. ( Other sheep’s). So this is a wonderful act of kindness you and your family are giving to baby kittens who need a loving home.

  14. I have two adult males, bonded and am currently fostering 4 kittens (mom was feral) and now have to find homes for my kittens and am hoping to only have to find 2 homes, kittens need that bond and it will break my heart to have to separate each if they have to go to separate homes. Kittens need company and litter mates are perfect. If you know anyone in Tucson who wants kittens in AZ. Please lmk!

  15. I have 3 cats. I had 2 and after a few months, I fell in love with a kitten at the shelter I volunteered at and wound up with 3. Honestly, it is not an overwhelming amount of work. One more bowl to fill, one more box to scoop, and one more adorable furball to cuddle. :)

    My husband and I enjoy having 3. They never fail to entertain us and it’s so sweet to see how they bond.

  16. Always show the your remaining cat her dead companion. I had three cats and two had to be put down due to an illness. We quickly buried them so the other cat didn’t see. What a mistake, he searched for weeks trying to find them, then he just sat in a box for months. He just faded away I believe due to grief. He lived one year after they died. Now I always show my cats the dead body if one of them dies, they accept that and get over it.

  17. Your little female needs a place where she can safely retreat, or you may have to keep the young male limited to his own space for a part of the day to give the female a break. If one or both are not neutered / spayed there will soon be kittens.

  18. Give your cat a very good deworming. Every cat and dog gets round worms from their mom and later, the soil or litter box. While medications remove worms living in the gut. There will always be bradyzoites in the muscle that drugs can’t touch ( microscopic larvae ). It’s my experience some cats become allergic to these parasites which results in hair loss and self biting. While ALL indoor cats should be deformed once a year, cats who are hyper sensitive to bradyzoites require more deworming. While most rugs are oral and leave the body within a couple days, there are topical drugs like revolution that kill all parasites for 30 days. This is good for cats who may have cheytiella… a fur mite that is microscopic just like a dust mite. I’m allergic to mites so I get little mosquito like sore when I have contact with an infected cat. Good luck.

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