Given complete freedom what would a male domestic cat do?

We are so used to seeing our domestic cats in our homes, fitting in with the human lifestyle, it might be useful to remind ourselves what a male domestic cat would do if given complete freedom. If they lived without compromise. And I do believe that domestic cats compromise because they are shoehorned into the human lifestyle.

Cat stalking during hunting. This is a copyright free image on the Internet
Cat stalking while hunting. This is a copyright free image.
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This is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a good thing actually because they are looked after. And they are, after all, domestic cats. They are meant to live within the human environment.

However, they’ve not quite been fully domesticated. Just below the surface is the wild cat within. We know that. And their motivations and desires come from that wild cat within.

And just looking at my cat this morning at 5 AM, after he has just come in from the outside, I thought about what he is motivated to do.

The natural lifestyle of a male domestic cat is pretty straightforward. They live entirely in the present which is healthy. Humans should learn from that.

Patrolling home range

Their life is centred around their home range. The piece of the landscape which they consider to be theirs. It needs to be patrolled. He needs to go out and check that he is the owner of that piece of landscape. He doesn’t want to share it with other cats.

He will allow other animals to share it but other cats? No. Although that basic rule isn’t black-and-white. That’s because of domestication. My cat allows a female neighbouring cat to come onto his home range and even come into my home. He does this to play with her. To a certain extent he is a social creature no longer ‘solitary’ as the news media professes. She objects because he’s too rough.

The biggest compromise is found in multi-cat homes where perhaps four or five cats live full-time inside a three bedroomed home. Their home range is dramatically shrunk, and each home range overlaps dramatically with another. These cats really don’t have a home range which they can call their own. This is about domestic cats becoming social animals.

They are no longer solitary creatures but sociable creatures living with moderate harmony among themselves. But it breaks down and we see lots of stories on the Internet of a failure of harmony within multi-cat homes because a new cat has been introduced to that home and the resident cats disapprove. This is going back to the original natural desire of the wild cat within that I referred to above.

But the thread that runs through a male domestic cat’s life is to patrol his home range and to mark it with urine sprays against vertical objects such as bushes and fence posts.

Cat active at night disturbs some cat owners
Cat active at night disturbs some cat owners. Picture in public domain.

Hunting

Once he’s done that, he has done the basics for the day. And while patrolling he will be hunting. Domestic cats have basically two methods of hunting: to wander along trails and paths representing the boundary of the territory waiting for a prey animal to present itself to them. The other way is to wait very patiently and silently outside the burrow of a prey animal and pounce when it emerges.

Hunting obviously occupies a large part of the domestic cat’s day if allowed that opportunity. The domestic cat is built to hunt both mentally and physically. They are a top predator. Predation is their raison d’être. It’s all they know and pretty much all they do including resting in between killing animals.

It’s why play is so important to cat caregivers. Playing with a domestic cat is a rather poor substitute for the real thing namely hunting. All play is play-hunting. Play revolves around killing the toy. And if the toy can’t be killed because is made of plastic a domestic cat will become bored with it quite quickly.

The best cat toys are those that can be destroyed which is expensive for their owner.

And rather than being able to hunt for prey, a domestic cat becomes a scavenger because placed before them will be a bowl of cat food. That is in effect scavenging and domestic cats are not very naturally predisposed to scavenging. They much prefer to kill and eat their food fresh and warm.

Sleeping

So after patrolling and hunting they rest and sleep. The old adage is that domestic cats sleep for large parts of the day, up to 15 hours a day or more. But they don’t actually deep sleep for 15 hours.

Cat sleeping. They are very flexible in their sleeping patterns
Cat sleeping. They are very flexible in their sleeping patterns. Picture and words: Michael.

Cats like humans enjoy REM sleep which is rapid eye movement sleep. We can see it happening when our darling cat twitches while dreaming. Their whiskers move and their eyes move as well. Sometimes cats sleep with their eyelids up so you can see their eyes moving.

But as domestic cats are very efficient hunters, they have plenty of time to sleep or rest. I don’t believe that cats sleep 15 hours or more a day. This is a misconception. They sleep, I would judge, about five hours and the rest of the time it is resting and snoozing.

Within a split second they will be alert, fully awake. They cannot have been asleep beforehand. Domestic cats are so alert to their surroundings that even when snoozing their ears are moving around like radar antenna picking up the information and analysing it to decide whether it is hostile or not.

Gabriel having sex on my arm
Gabriel having sex on my arm. You can see him gripping my dressing gown in his teeth in the belief he is gripping the nape of the neck of a female cat to stop her swiping him angrily. Photo: PoC.

Procreation

There is one activity which I almost forgot! Sex. The male domestic cat is arguably obsessed with procreation and therefore sex. It is of course a completely natural motivation, and they will seek out a female cat in heat and he will respond to the call but both males and females are sterilised almost in every case and the desire to procreate is blunted. My cat likes to have sex on my arm. He is not the only domestic cat who like to do that. It’s a legacy of his natural desires which has survived neutering. It shows you how deeply embedded it is in the male domestic cat psyche.

The list

Patrolling, hunting, eating, defecating, urinating, snoozing, deep sleeping, and sex these are the basic things that a male domestic cat does naturally. He has to fit these activities within the human environment and above all else this means playing with your cat.

Naturalness and boredom

I’m a great believer in avoiding boredom in a domestic cat. Boredom can lead to a desire for food therapy which is eating without being hungry. And if a cat is confined to the home full-time, they are likely to be less active. Combine food therapy with reduced activity and you generate obesity. There is a feline obesity epidemic. So say all the experts.

And with obesity you bring in a whole range of other illnesses which should be avoided. And where there is human obesity there is feline obesity because people normalise body shape and fail to recognise that great health problem in the West: obesity.

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