Contrary to what is historically portrayed, the domestic cat is not asocial. In fact the domestic cat is a decidedly social creature or at least is able to be sociable. This is due to the evolution of the domestic cat over 10,000 years. One day perhaps in another 10,000 years the domestic cat will no longer be a hunter. The desire taken away from him due to domestication. It is a reliable food source that creates the environment around which a group of cats will form.
The food source is the first step in the formation of an integrated social group of domestic cats that learn from each other, groom each other (allogrooming) and in which queens support each other in the process of giving birth in a mutually altruistic manner. This is why you see feral cat groups at fishing ports and the like. The cat is able to tolerate or enjoy high population densities if the food source is right.
I think the idea that the domestic cat is a solitary creature comes from the behavior of the wild cats generally. Most are solitary. Unusually, lions form prides. It would seem that the process of domestication has made the domestic cat a social animal. That sociability is retained by the feral cat it seems.
If we start with the premise that the domestic cat is not asocial it guides our caretaking. For instance if we are away at work all day and look after a single cat, should we adopt a second cat to allow both to form a supportive relationship? The answer would seem to be yes, we should. The difficulty it seems is that we decide the existing cat’s companion, which can cause problems. In a more natural environment cats decide upon their own companions.
We often hear of “inappropriate elimination”, peeing outside the litter box. A better understanding of the social needs of the domestic cat would address this common complaint. Unexplained aggression can also be caused by creating an inappropriate environment for your cat companion. Often the cat is blamed when on a deeper analysis it might be the case that the person looking after the cat is to blame. Most cat behavior turns on the environment that we create.
This is a nice quote from Harvey Harrison a regular visitor who knows a lot about cats. I agree with what he says:
“The main reason why cats form a relationship with humans which we see as sociable is because they see us as their proxy mother. We provide food, shelter, protection, and they respond with trust and what we interpret as affection. We are a pretty good substitute for their mother who usually rejects or ignores them after after a certain period of time. In effect they become eternal and dependent kittens. I have a rescued feral kitten who not only kneads but also sucks in my hands as if to get milk. This why adopted feral adults l cats are more difficult to assimilate than kittens. They have gone through the experience of mother rejection and their wild survival instincts have surfaced. When multiple feral cats receive food from humans they revert partially to their kitten to mother instincts and become more tolerant to other ‘kittens'”
Groups of cats get to know each other and form friendships – associates or affiliates. Stranger cats entering the groups are likely to be resisted as the social order is disturbed. You hear of this in multi-cat households. Patience and time should allow integration to take place but as mentioned, often, we foist a strange cat on an existing group.
We should consider the modern domestic cat a sociable animal. Of course, we are often the major partner in a cat’s social life. We need to be around to fulfill that role. Senior citizens are in general the best cat caretakers for this reason and senior citizens are likely to prefer cats over dogs because of lower maintenance requirements, so the feeling is mutual. See best cat breeds for seniors.
Cats in groups form friendships called “preferred associates”. Cats might be together during the entire day. Cats that are related are more likely to form friendships. Cats that are friends groom each other (allogroom). Allogrooming usually takes the form of licking each other on the head and neck. The recipient of grooming from another cat assists by adjusting position so that the grooming covers new areas. Preferred associates touch noses and meet in the tail up fashion.
Cat friends often rest close to each other and in close contact with each other. This is an expression of friendship. Allorubbing also takes place between friendly cats. This is rubbing against each other akin to the human hug and scent exchange takes place. Scent exchange is the creation of a more friendly environment for both cats.