Rescue and domestic cats need their personal space (peripersonal space) like humans

Rescue cats and domestic cats and indeed feral cats in colonies, all need their personal space just like humans. These photographs clearly illustrate this aspect of their character. When food arrives, they prioritise getting the food over the need for personal space and come together.

Immediately I saw these photographs of rescue cats at Ernesto’s Cat Sanctuary in Syria, I noticed how very precisely they had arranged themselves. They had decided on the amount of personal space they needed. It is as if somebody had placed them there like chess pieces.

People need their personal space otherwise known as “peripersonal space” to feel more secure and comfortable. It is completely instinctive for humans and for cats. We clearly share this aspect of our character.

When it is violated, we feel insecure unless there is a very close connection between the individuals. Intimacy demands a breakdown in that ironclad personal space which is like a second skin.

I suspect that at this famous cat rescue center in Aleppo, Syria which appears to have received considerable funding as it looks quite nice, relative harmony is established because the cats demand their personal space. It might be an essential self-management tool to keep the peace and I wonder whether “The Cat Man of Aleppo” whose real name is Mohammad Aljaleel, realises it.

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He is currently rescuing cats from the Syrian earthquakes which so dramatically affected Turkey, their neighbour. He cares for about 2,200 cats and other animals including foxes and even birds and chickens! He is a complete hero in the eyes of many including me.

In humans, the brain automatically computes a buffer zone around the body which is flexible. Sometimes you see dominant male humans with a lot of space around them.

It is said that this is not the individual demanding extra personal space but the others who allow him the space in trepidation of what might happen if they encroach on it.

More confident individuals require less personal space which is what you expect. In the cat world, the timid cat likes to hide and keep their distance. I would expect a similar social interaction to take place between cat in terms of the flexibility of personal space.

In the photographs we can see that the cats enjoy about 1 yard of personal space which they deem satisfactory for them. When they climb all over Mohammad in their appreciation of him, they give it up both in respect of other cats and him.

Perhaps we should be highly grateful when our domestic cat companion enjoys coming onto our lap or lies next to us. At that point, the bond between us is far stronger than the need for space.

My cat insists on touching me when lying on me in bed

My cat insists on touching me when lying on me in bed. Image: MIkeB

In fact, in those close relationships, domestic cats have an opposite but equally strong instinctive desire: to touch their human companion. In fact, it needn’t be a human companion. Domestic cats will touch each other and dog companions by extending their paws in a very distinct and positive way as can be seen in the photograph above taken by me yesterday.

This is also reassuring and makes them feel more secure but the physical action is the opposite to the one demanding peripersonal space.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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