How Cats Use Space and Patterns of Interaction (in the home)

In a study in 1996 by Bernstein and Strack, some interesting observations were made regarding the interactions and movements of unrelated domestic cats in a multi-cat household.  14 cats were observed.  The cats were all “non-reproductive” (presumed altered).  Their ages ranged from 6 months to 13 years.  The home was in America and it was a single-storey home with 7 rooms, several closets and 2 bathrooms.  The cats were observed for at least 4 hours a day, 7 days a week over the period from late January to April 1981.  The total time the cats were observed was 336 hours.  Most of the observations were made just before and after morning or evening feeding.  The cats’ caretakers were present during the study and were allowed to interact freely with the cat.

Cat behavior multicat households

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The study focused on what the cat’s themselves did in the home and what rooms they used including their favourite spots and which other cats they spent time with.  The patterns of behaviour changed over time and with the composition of the cat groups.

Individual cats in general had places where they could normally be found at certain times of the day.  The death of a dominant cat affected the spacing of the cats and their behaviour but these cats were very rarely seen to interact with the dominant cat when he/she was alive.

Female cats remained in fewer rooms than male cats whereas male cats were more likely to roam between the various rooms.  The kittens used more rooms than the older cats.  As the kittens became older they used less rooms.  Each individual cat had specific rooms that he/she used on a regular basis.  Each cat, on average, used 5 of the 10 available spaces.

Of the favoured spaces within the home these were more likely to be time-shared between the cats rather than physically shared.  What this means is that an individual cat would use the space and then leave it whereupon another individual cat would enter the space.  This is timesharing as opposed to both individual cats sharing the space at the same time.  Most time-sharing of spaces occurred amongst same-sex pairs i.e. female/female or male/male.

“Within gender, specific individuals timeshare specific spots.”

Within the study only one adult male/adult female time-shared.  This means that timesharing is most often between same-sex individuals.

The cats appeared to have established relationships and they knew their places whilst there was very little overt aggression.  Certain individual cats were dominant.  The dominant cat controlled who went where and who avoided whom.  They also controlled who conceded space to whom and who took over places which had been vacated.  This was a very simple hierarchy of the dominant cat and the rest.  There appeared to be no hierarchy below the dominant cat.

Conclusion? The social structure appears to be well ordered in order to create harmony – the modern domestic cat is sociable and organised in groups. Despite that in my experience of reading comments on PoC there are situations where individual cats do not get along and time and patience might not resolve the problem or partially resolve it.

Source: The Domestic Cat: The Biology of its Behavior

3 thoughts on “How Cats Use Space and Patterns of Interaction (in the home)”

  1. Very good article as always Michael. I agree as with my 5 cats. They always reach their paws under the door, especially if its closed. If the door is half open they will try to push themselves though it, otherwise they will meow and cry for you to open it. I noticed when in the toilet, they love esp Jasmine to get their claws on the bottom part of the door, where there is fluff on the bottom. They often share areas together. Ozzie & Jasmine share most of the time together, they often are playing and fighting sometimes really high in the air. Sometimes there is fights amongst Tiger & Ozzie. When it used to be Cassy room where rob sleeps, Ozzie & tiger fight for attention now, so if one is asleep in there they battle each other.

    There is one question I want to ask. Is there any reason why Ozzie my Male Cat keeps mounting rebel whos less weak he seems content to keep doing this I dont really know why??

  2. Very interesting Michael. The most cats we have had at one time was five, although one was really a neighbour’s cat who didn’t get along with his sister so mostly lived with us. They all had their own favourite spots and respected each other and rarely fell out, although Walter did tend to bully the others if he got the chance.
    I think cats do wonderfully well even to tolerate sharing their home with new cats, imagine strange humans coming to live with us without even any notice, I doubt we would adjust and get along with most of them the way cats do.


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