With ‘optimistic enthusiasm’ is the way Dr Bradshaw describes how dogs make contact with other dogs. We know this is because their wild forebears were highly sociable wolves. The ancestors of domestic cats were ‘solitary and territorial’. The result for modern day domestic cats is that the ‘default’ mentality for them is that they are suspicious and sometimes fearful of every other cat. And it also means the that our beloved cats are ‘not born to love people’. It is a learned process. The process is socialisation during the early weeks of their lives. If you don’t do it you get a feral cat. Feral cats are considered a problem by society in general.
The domestic cat’s success turns on seven weeks of ‘training’ immediately after they are born. When you think of cats like that it makes me wonder why we ever domesticated them. It was an accident of mutual survival about 10,000 years ago. They wanted food from farmers and farmers liked their rodent hunting skills. The longterm outcome of 500,0000,000 domestic and feral cats on the planet was never envisaged or thought imaginable at that time.
It is a perpetual struggle to make the cat sociable. ‘Cats spend their lives trying to avoid contact with one another’. That is not entirely true of all domestic cats but the gist of the message is clear. That inherent unsociability is always present. Optimistically, cats are becoming more sociable.
The modern cat is always learning greater tolerance of other cats. They have to learn this as they are forced to live in close proximity of each other. This applies to domestic cats in urban homes where they are allowed out and to feral cats in colonies formed around a food source.
This backstory affects the success or failure of multi-cat homes. It is surprising that a good percentage of people remain unaware that they cats don’t trust each other when they adopt a second or third cat to keep the resident cat ‘company’.
Bradshaw argues that as the density of domestic cats increase inline with increased human population and increased urbanisation they are inevitably forced into contact with each other which at least potentially increases the tension that each cat experiences. For some cats it becomes impossible for them to relax. These cats experience an underlying stress which affects their health and wellbeing.
I am painting a rather negative picture but it is a realist’s picture. A lot of people are unaware of this background information. It is useful to know about it. Nine years ago a veterinary charity estimated that ‘the average pet cat’s physical and social environment scored only 64 percent. Multi-cat households scored lower. They also concluded that people’s understanding of cat behaviour scored 66 percent. The moral of this information is that people can do better. They need to learn more about cats and apply it to improving their wellbeing.
The reality is that the more I read about cats and their domestication the more I realise that you can only describe it as a qualified success. The domestic cat is not born to love people and other cats and people need to do more to improve their wellbeing in the light of this starting point.
Note: I have quoted Dr Bradshaw from his book Cat Sense which I higly recommend.