Behaviour That the Domestic Cat Shares with the Lion

Male lions and male domestic cats share one behaviour that is rare amongst the family of cats. In both species of cat, several males may take turns mating with a female in heat.

Cat queens mutual support and cooperation
Cat queens mutual support and cooperation
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You would have thought that the males would start fighting over the female but fights are apparently quite rare. An older dominant male probably gets most of the action. With the lion there is “male tolerance”. This can be explained by the fact that there are male coalitions and the individual cats are related. This does not apply to domestic cats.

Perhaps someone can help me and explain why domestic cats and lions behave similarly in this particular aspect of their behaviour. I’m not sure whether research has been carried out on which male sires the most kittens or whether the number and order of matings affects conception.

Lioness and cub
Lioness and cub

Another area where there is similarity in behaviour between lions and domestic cats is when female domestic cats cooperate to care for several litters. With respect to breeding and raising offspring, female domestic cats living in groups may choose one of two strategies. Most of the cats rear their kittens alone. However, there are cases of as many as four mothers pooling their litters and raising them together.

As is the case for lions, females in the group sometimes show a high degree of synchrony of oestrus (they mate and raise young at the same time). This makes communal care feasible. Female domestic cats who raise their young together are closely related. Is that always the case?

This form of female domestic cat cooperation is believed to be an adaptation for defence against infanticide by males (males who kill offspring which is commonplace amongst lions). On the occasions when male infanticide has been observed in domestic cats it most often involves kittens from litters being raised by a solitary mother which supports the belief that it is a form of defence.

Source: Wild Cats of the World and myself.

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6 thoughts on “Behaviour That the Domestic Cat Shares with the Lion”

  1. I can only attest to feral populations.
    It is, absolutely, true that the dominate male in any colony gets most of the action; but, there may be a tolerance for others to partake (but, only if he allows).
    The biggest difference that I understand between lions and feral cats is in the rearing of offspring. The male feral has no involvement, but the male lion is deeply involved. I like that.

  2. I think the reason that cats and lions share this particular trait is that there usually are several males close to a single female. Lions live in prides while cats live in close proximity with other cats even if they are not part of a, say, feral colony.

    Other cat species including the wildcats are solitary and probably don’t come in contact with many males during heat. For example, if you look at our cats’ closest wild relative – the wildcat, you’ll find that each cat would have its own territory, with the territory of a single male bordering that of several females . When a female is in heat, she comes to the border of her territory and calls, and the male shows up. There probably aren’t that many males close enough to take turns…

    This is just a wild guess based on the documentary about Scottish wildcats I saw on YouTube (3 videos entitled ScottishWildCat1, 2 and 3). I don’t know about the mating habits of other wild felines big and small, but as all of them are solitary, it’s fair to assume that a female simply doesn’t come in contact with several males during the period of time she is in heat.

  3. Very interesting comparisons. A cat gave birth near the woods of my house. I began talking with her and gave her food and told her she could bring her babies to my yard. The next morning she was seen carrying them over, one at a time. The last was larger & multicolored but seemed to have a defect. The Mother dropped this one in a different area from the healthy litter and proceeded to kill and eat it. I was clearly upset.


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