Domestic cats have retained a lot of the behaviours of their wild ancestor, Felis Lybica, the African wild cat. The relationship between cat and man began about 10,000 years ago and served mutual interests. Cats caught and ate the rodents who stole the grain. This mutual useful relationship required no adaptation, neither genetic nor behavioural, on the part of the cat.
The behaviour of the cat is primarily based on hunting and protecting itself. A cat is a solitary hunter and as such aims to avoid danger as an injury will endanger the ability to hunt. They therefore attach great importance to a safe, predictable and familiar environment. If cats are forced to leave their environment (e.g. for a visit to the vet) or if a new cat enters their territory, they will hide and avoid possible danger. They will only fight as a last resort. By recognizing and respecting the subtle fearful behavioural patterns we can prevent stressful behaviour from escalating.
Another protection strategy is hiding external signals of weakness, disease or pain. Unfortunately, this behaviour causes owners to fail to recognize problems and has given the cat an image of a self-sufficient animal that needs little care.
Cats are flexible; they can live alone or in groups. If there is enough food they are able to live together with relatives and kittens and work together to raise the young. Males usually need a larger territory to ensure they acquire enough food and are less likely to live in a group.
Cats choose their companions, often relatives, and show their affection by licking / cleaning and rubbing against each other. They like to be stroked on the head, the jaws and the chin. These areas are used to communicate and give positive signals to human companions. Cats rub against caregivers to spread their scent and as a sign of familiarity. Many cats cannot live with other cats if their environmental needs are not met. People often mistakenly think that when cats eat and sleep in the same room, they also have positive feelings towards each other. However, this can just be a form of “time sharing” of the same space. Providing different locations for eating, resting, the litter box and elevated areas that give a sense of control over the environment reduce the stress of cats that live together. Integrating a new cat into their environment is facilitated by this kind of management. As a rule, it is better to adopt cats that are related. Learning to live with humans is best done when the kitten is between 2 to 7 weeks of age.
The cat has a highly developed hunting instinct. They quickly recognize the presence of known or unknown animals in their area that may be a threat. They hear the noise made by mice. Loud and unknown sounds cause fear. Their sense of smell helps them to identify intruders. Visits to the veterinarian will be easier if you bring a familiar object with you that carries a familiar scent. The use of synthetic pheromones, a hormone that the cat secretes when rubbing their face against objects, can have a calming effect in an unknown or stressful situation or environment.
Cats communicate with other cats and they often use these skills to avoid conflicts. The main means of communication are marking and the use of body language – poses. Marking is done by scratching, rubbing against objects and spraying, especially in a multi-cats environment. Spraying by neutralized cats often indicates increased environmental stress. Cats pose using body, tail and face. Recognizing attitudes can help prevent conflicts.
How do we recognize a social group of cats?
- The cats rub against each other’s body or face
- The cats twine their tails over each other
- They rest or sleep in each other’s physical proximity
- They play with each other
- They care for each other
Environmental factors are important!
Different diseases and behavioural problems are related to stressful environmental situations. This is not about enrichment of the environment but about basic needs, which go beyond just physical environmental factors. Cats do not always show their stress and feelings of fear. Usually, we are only aware of what is called bad, inappropriate and aggressive behaviour.