A study described the use of space and patterns of interaction among a group of 14 unrelated domestic cats living in a single-story house. Although I am referring to a scientific study, cat owners should not be put off by that because the findings are interesting. Cats are very intelligent in finding ways to live together amicably when there is a reliable food source combined with warmth and security. To stress the point: a source of food forces domestic cats to put aside their natural instincts to occupy their own home range and find other means to satisfy that instinct.
The cats had individually distinct home ranges, with males tending to have slightly larger home ranges than females. Clearly they were much reduced in size to almost miniscule levels compared to their normal home range which might be up to many hectares.
Some cats had preferred spots within the rooms they frequented, and sharing of these spots was primarily based on time rather than physical sharing. Because of a lack of space, rather than dividing up the home into mini-home ranges the cats operated a ‘feline time share’ system. They shared the same preferred places but at different times.
The study also found that certain individuals were identified as dominant or subordinate, but overt aggression was rare and there was no clear hierarchy. Domestic cats do not operate a hierarchy system as is found in some other species.
The group was found to be living at a density about 50 times higher than what has been observed in most studies of outdoor cats, but the group was able to maintain stable groupings.
The authors states: “Tail positions could be identified and may have played an important role in helping this relatively large group occupy this relatively small home.” This must be a reference to tail positions such as ‘tail up’ which is a friendly signal to other cats indicating that the cat is non-hostile. This must have helped to keep the peace.
It might also refer to tail positions which indicate a submissiveness to a more dominant cat which also would help to keep the peace because the submissive cat recognises the other cat’s dominance thereby eliminating hostility.
The study highlights the complex social dynamics among domestic cats living in close quarters and suggests that they are able to adapt and maintain stable groupings even at high densities.
Domestic cats are known to be very adaptable when ‘needs must’ as the saying goes. And in this adaptability they’ve become sociable as best they can be despite their wild cat ancestor being a solitary creature.
Study citation: Penny L. Bernstein & Mickie Strack (1996) A Game of Cat and House: Spatial Patterns and Behavior of 14 Domestic Cats (Felis Catus) in the Home, Anthrozoös, 9:1, 25-39, DOI: 10.2752/089279396787001572.
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