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Question: Are Cats Really Solitary Animals?
I read a magazine article that was a debate between cat behaviorists over whether cats have the capacity to love humans. One expert claimed that cats are solitary animals and only seek human companionship to fill their physical needs. I really do feel a bond with my two cats, but am I just fooling myself?

Answer: I have read the same article, and yes, it is indeed an old debate. I have to agree with you that cats can and do express emotions and feelings, and that they are definitely capable of bonding with humans.

While it is true that cats aren't "pack animals" as dogs are, they do establish "partnerships," often at an early age, both with other cats and with their humans. Incidentally, this has nothing to do with anthromorphizing cats; they bond in a different way than humans, but they definitely bond. . .learn more
Photo Credit: © Franny Syufy

Comments

June 10, 2008 at 4:56 pm
(1) Mandy says:

I think cats are very adaptive and that people who end up with cats who prefer solidarity are so because that is what they were taught; how they were raised, if you will. If they get used to no one giving into their needs, they will stop trying to get those needs fulfilled. My cats are extraordinarily clingy because I have doted over them since their induction into my heart, and as such, they will annoy the living daylights out of me. (lol) Seriously, I do know that cats want loved because they crave it–and perhaps they don’t have the capability to comprehend love the way we do–but I know they love. I think that’s all that matters as a cat caretaker: to know that the cats need love, and to provide that.

June 10, 2008 at 5:25 pm
(2) Ethel says:

Cats are capable of bonding with their humans especially if you are the only human they interact with. My two cats often fight for my attention. One never made it to adulthood but my original shelter cat whom I adopted since she was 3 weeks old follows me everywhere and curls up with me when I’m sad. She understands I need the companionship and everytime I have to go away for more than a day, she always sleeps with me the night before I have to leave. She also recogizes my voice on the answering machine everytime I call home to let her know I’m thinking of her. My cousin who is not a cat lover was amazed of this kind of bonding he witnessed between me and my cat.

June 10, 2008 at 6:56 pm
(3) Bonnie says:

“Mac” was adopted from the “Cat House” also a rescue home. They neuter and spay and keep shots current until adopted. My husband had become bed-ridden we brought “Mac” home when he was 6 weeks, opened the box on the bed and when he came out he immediately laid on my husbands legs.(he had lost feeling in his legs) “Mac” who comes running or turns his head whenever you call his name was there at my husbands side until he died. He definitely mourned. When I came home from work, he spoke to me, followed me, had to rub up and around my legs, as if he was looking for the answer of where my husband went and I was the only one who could answer or provide what he needed until he found out. Soon after my husband passed we adopted two more cats, from the same cat house.A black cat, “Mulan” (the only cat whose name we did not choose or change)she became the love of Mac’s life.But he still sleeps with me on my bed right next to me every night. And our “Staz” kitty who doesn’t really like to be touched or held….but loves a really good scratch behind her ears if you can get close enough. And guards me and has to know where I am and be with me, even if I’m in the garage, she and Mac will “MEOW” at the door until I open the door for them to come out with me….I could go on and on about the love and bonds I have with my cat’s. They are only “Solitary” when they choose to be the same as you and me when we want to be alone. They are a part of my life and a big piece of my heart belongs to them, for all the times no one else understands, and even when they do.

June 11, 2008 at 10:45 am
(4) Pat says:

My cats have their moments when they prefer to nap in peace, but both of them really need a lot of time and interaction with me, and they also like to be near each other (but not touching, they’re not real close where they cuddle together). When Raleigh was an only cat she really seemed unhappy. She had a hard time adjusting to a second cat, but once she did adjust she seems much happier and livelier not being alone all day. They both sleep with me, hang out with me (Coco follows me like a puppy dog) and get their lap times and tummy kneading times. They are very affectionate and friendly, and greet strangers in a friendly manner.

June 11, 2008 at 5:25 pm
(5) Sue says:

Audrey is almost always following me, sitting next to me or otherwise asking for affection. Abby, who is a calico, is more independent, but she is very loving as well – on her own terms. She has a regular “petting schedule”: first thing in the morning, after my shower, and while I’m getting ready for bed. Other than that, she’s playful but not as affectionate, unless she knows I’m upset about something. Although both take alone time once in a while (Abby more than Audrey), neither one would qualify as a “solitary animal.”

June 12, 2008 at 2:20 pm
(6) Andrea says:

I think it’s a silly debate. While sometimes their behavior is mysterious they definitely seek affection without an ulterior motive (at least mine do anyway). They follow me from room to room just to hang out and nap alongside me. Two of them cling to me and one of them prefers my husband. I even have one that enjoys social eating. She asks for company at her dish – has nothing to do with whether she is hungry or not. If she can get you to join her she will purr like crazy and keep returning even with a full stomach and dish as long at you entertain it. She will even sit in the kitchen chair and eat off the dish on the table! I don’t think she knows she’s a cat – except when she decides to bring home dinner ;)

June 12, 2008 at 2:45 pm
(7) eades says:

cats are like people they have their solitary moments but when our family awakens in the morning so does our dog and two cats. When we go into our home office at least one sometimes two cats sit in an ajoinning chair. Our cats groom us when we sit on the couch. Solitary …sometimes

June 12, 2008 at 7:24 pm
(8) Bill says:

There is no question in mind that my cats, (especially the two Cornish Rex cats that have lived in my house, one after the other), want and crave human attention. It is nearly impossible to describe what love really is even for humans, totally impossible for cats, but they do crave attention and petting.

I once heard an expert opinion (I forget where) that domestication is nothing more than arrested development. The kitten bonds with its mother, of course, then transfers that bond to a human or humans. The kneading of paws on your lap is a continuation of the motion a kitten uses to start the flow of mother’s milk. The cat stays kitten like in behavior and thus never “grows up” to a solitary state.
It’s an interesting theory anyway.

June 12, 2008 at 8:24 pm
(9) Jessica says:

I don’t agree that cats are (in general)solitary animals. I live in South Florida, and we see huge numbers of feral cat colonies here. These cats are not domesticated, yet ‘choose’ to live in groups. I also volunteer for a shelter that has started a “common area” for the cats (rather than individual cages)because most prefer to be in the company of others rather than being solitary! Many shelters are now adopting this new practice. I believe that is why they adjust so nicely in home environments with humans- I think it is natural for them. I think the “fact” that cats are solitary is a myth! I’ve found my own truth!

June 12, 2008 at 8:59 pm
(10) Janet says:

If cats are such solitary creatures then why does my Princess sit out by the end of the driveway waiting for her fan club, as I call them(several young kids on trikes and big wheels in our trailer court), to come see her, they bring no treats, just love and attention which she returns. Or why when I found one of my kittens almost died (We still don’t know what happened), I laid him by the heater after cleaning him up to warm his deathly cold body up in hopes of somehow saving him, three other cats went and laid with him, his brother, his Mom and an Aunt. There was at least two with him at all times and they seemed to take turns trying keep the little one warm. Yes he made it !! With that much love how could he not make it. Nobody will ever convince they did not love him back to life, or know what they doing. Why do some of my Furbabies run and launch(yes launch) themselves into my arms. Or when I am on the computer I will have one or two in my lap and three on the floor under my feet and one or two in the shelves, if I switch computers they will switch with me. I have more than ten cats,(living in a trailer court with a big heart for all the throwaways) I had wanted a big family and didn’t get it, so I adopted and rescued furbabies. I have all the love I want and so do they. Even my Roommate(who is allergic to cats) loves it and is very loved

June 13, 2008 at 6:15 pm
(11) VEWenneker says:

I have 12 cat’s…some of them as long as 17 year’s. They all show various degree’s of true love…but I do wonder, very often, if it’s a part of their behavioral neccesity. One is feral and untouhable. A second has gone feral on me but is very loving to my caretaker upstair’s although it’s twin is the most pleasing of them all. Be sure to spay and nueter local feral cats. They are one of God’s Blessed creatures…and they all bring me endless joy. Hurrah for and to all cat’s.

June 13, 2008 at 7:30 pm
(12) Jill says:

Cats definitely bond with people and crave human companionship. In our local Humane Society shelter, adult cats live in rooms with other cats-up to ten in a room-rather than individual cages. Yet many of them greet human volunteers, staff and visitors, sit on our laps, and clearly demand and enjoy our company. They even fight over our laps! If one cat is on my lap and another tries to get on, the current lap sitter will often hiss and strike out at the intruder. Some cats are semi-feral or shy of humans, probably because they were not handled as kittens. They will panic and struggle if I lift them onto my lap, but if left alone they will voluntarily lie down beside me, with their bodies touching me. These shelter cats have access to food at all times, so they are not asking to be fed. So cats clearly seek and enjoy human companionship even when they have the company of other cats.

My own cat, whom I adopted from the shelter, always greets me when we have been apart, sits on my lap, purrs and licks me. I think the licking behavior comes from the few months she spent at the shelter, mostly in the company of other cats. When I first adopted her a few years ago she licked me constantly, very industriously, as if she were giving another cat a bath. However this behavior has decreased over time.

Other cats I’ve had, outdoor cats, recognized the sound of my car when I returned home and ran out to the driveway to greet me. They too had food available all the time, so were not motivated by a desire for food.

So the answer is: yes, cats do bond with humans, seek out and enjoy our company.

June 15, 2008 at 4:35 pm
(13) Natasha says:

I have three wonderful fur babies and they not only are with me in whatever room I am in, but really do care for each other. My friends even comment on how much these cats love me. They all great me when I come home and line up to get greated. They do not fight for my attention they know they will get their turn. In my opion it’s the individual cat and how the owner treats them. I love them so much, I can’t inagine not having them. I have made it clear if something happens to me to not split them up.

June 16, 2008 at 1:42 pm
(14) Marisa says:

I’m sure cats bond w. us-it’s not just to meet their needs. Unfortunately this was proven as my cats got sick & 2 died. Even though I gave them meds., which they hatede, washede parts, etc. as soon as possible they came back w. me to cuddle. My cat now is losing weight fast & I have a hard time getting her to eat. But she wants to cuddle w. me all the time. She’d prefer to lie ON me than next to me. I’m sure we have a love bond.

July 13, 2008 at 7:26 pm
(15) Cheryl says:

I know that cats bond because my cat comes up to me all the time to hug me. She puts one paw on one side of my neck and the other paw on the other side of my neck. She purrs away and she even licks me. She loves to snuggle. I love it when she does that. :-)

July 23, 2008 at 7:39 am
(16) Mesti says:

I have three cats at home. I think they’re like you and me. They have their own personalities. My old cat (around since i was 5) likes to be alone. She likes to be scratched but she doesnt like to be hugged, and i would pick her up and hug her just to annoy her =D haha. Its like having an arrogant older sister XD.

But she’s always around, you know. You wake up in the morning, she’s sleeping at your feet. You leave the bed, she leaves the bed. You eat your breakfast, she eats her breakfast. You watch tv, she’s on the sofa. When the clock hits 10, she’ll start screaming and wont go to bed until you do.

She is definitly a solitary animal, in my opinion. As much as we love her, and as much as she loves us (that i know for sure!), she likes to do things her own way. =D i really love her!!!

My second and third cat are from the streets =D we picked them up. They are also very adorable. The second cat likes to be an alarm clock =D she’ll come up to your bed and sleep and purr on you until you get up. haha.

The third cat like to sleep with me. She likes to snuggle into my blanket >

September 2, 2008 at 1:04 am
(17) Lynn says:

I disagree with the article completely! Our family has had many cats over a 30yr period and we have bonded emotionally with every SINGLE one of them! Yes, they do show emotions, love, seek our companionship.. and they are more independent than dogs, but, that doesn’t cancel out the fact they DO bond, and connect, love us!

September 25, 2008 at 8:48 pm
(18) Carol says:

OH Boy do they bond.
I have mine by my side at all times. I think she thinks she is a kid .
I sleep she sleeps I roll on my side at night she goes to that side puts her head against mine and her chin on my shoulder sprawled out lengthwise. And all night long right by my side at my head like this.
It may be because I rescued her and she was only 4 lbs. pregnant and you could not tell she was so malnurished. I have no idea. All I know is this is my little Princess and boy does she live up to that name.
I so would like to take in another cat one that is out side and some what of a Pharro cat but is one that comes in loves me and my home .
Any suggestions? I so would love to take him in and she doesn’t beat the crap out of him just chases him away???

May 11, 2009 at 11:35 pm
(19) Lynda Grysko says:

I have 10 cats now, down from 12, 2 years ago. there is never a time that I sit down on the couch or in my chair, that there is never less that 3 cats vying for my lap. It is a constant battle between all of the the cats to sit with me at any given time. Same goes for when my boyfriend is here and it’s even worse when he is here. They love him just as much and it’s the same scenario, sometimes even more so. the cats just love him!

July 25, 2010 at 7:42 pm
(20) cindy olen says:

Some studies of rural feral cat behaviour would indicate that they are not solitary in the strict sense, but maintain communities comprised of related individuals, each with its own hunting and mating territory. Females will sometimes share a territory with a sister or daughter. Male territories overlap those of several females, and the boundary lines between females’ territories can be kind of fuzzy. Urban ferals can’t spread out as much as rurals, so they tend to have tighter-knit communities, with the cats mingling in something like a state of detante most of the time, much as they would do when confined in the home.
All that aside, I believe that cats certainly do form bonds with both people and other cats (even with dogs!) that goes way beyond simple physical necessity or constraint. I’ve seen this happen in my cats, and those of others.
For example: I had a pair of littermate brothers, two beautiful tabbies, Cheetah (spotted brown) and Marble (classic brown). I got them when they were 7 weeks old, and though they had very different personalities, they were inseparable and very peaceful with each other. Cheetah was more people oriented and liked to play games with us. He played “fetch”—the only cat I’d ever had until then who would bring the tossed toy back to be thrown again. Marble never played this game. He would chase a thrown toy (to do so is almost a reflex and part of their hunting behaviour tool kit), but he would never bring it back to us. Cheetah would leap into our arms when invited to do so. Marble never would. Cheetah liked particular kinds of toys, while Marble liked different kinds. When sleeping with me at night, Cheetah would sleep at the foot of my bed, while Marble would sleep up near my body.
Though their interactions with us were different, they did everything else together. They curled up with each other to nap, they shared a double sided cat food dish at every meal, wrestled and chased each other around, and there were always a lot of mutual head bumps, rubs, kisses and mutual grooming.
At around the age of two years, Cheetah died suddenly of heart failure.
Marble spent three days looking for him all through the house, calling and chirping, and looking at me as if I was supposed to do something to help find him. Marble also refused to eat.
I tried all kinds of things to get him to eat—gave him “treat” food, petted him while he stood in front the bowl, changed bowls—nothing worked. Finally, I put one of my son’s old stuffed toy dinosaurs—a grey plush Daiken stegosaur he named Grey-grey—on Cheetah’s side of the double bowl. It worked! It wasn’t Cheetah, but it was a dinner companion. After that, Marble started playing the games with us that Cheetah always played. Suddenly, he was into fetch, and he would leap into our arms, and he played with Cheetah’s toys, and even started to sleep at the foot of the bed.
I could not help but think of these actions as a sign that Marble genuinely missed his brother. Not to get too anthropomorphic about it, but it’s almost like a child who starts wearing an absent sibling’s clothes and using their things as a means of keeping that person close and dealing with their loss.
If this isn’t a sign of social bonding beyond the necessities of mating and kitten-rearing, then what is it?

July 26, 2010 at 12:59 pm
(21) Franny Syufy says:

Thanks, Cindy! Another 5-Star comment. :)

January 24, 2013 at 12:40 am
(22) april12333 says:

I always wonder about cats being solitary animals I now have 7 strays I’m currently in the process of grieving the loss of Mr No. 8 – after battling with FLUTD for over a year I had to finally take him to the vet and was told he had a 2 cm blockage, I wanted to put him down but was in shock and didn’t have the guts at the time so meakly went along with the vet’s suggestion to treat him. The next day when I sat at home depressed as hell I regretted the decision not to put him down and didn’t want to collect him at the end of the week as I just couldn’t financially and emotionally carry on – his condition was killing me as much as it was killing him. I knew that I would pick him up and would be back at the vets a week or two later. I then called the vet and told them to just put him down – I felt at peace with the decision. It wasn’t until later in the day I had a panic attack, I changed my mind, I didn’t want to put him down, I desperately wanted things to be back to normal, but I couldn’t pick up the phone and call the vet, something deep inside just wouldn’t let me. I had him cremated, I haven’t been back to see him or his ashes, the pain is just too much. I’ve killed my best friend and the pain is unbearable. My other 7 strays all tend to now sleep on the same bed, they seem content with each others’ company. I worry that they are mourning the loss of my little man – I know he enjoyed their company even if at times there was a bit of jealousy. If cats were solitary animals would they not prefer their own space?

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