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The Danger Zone

The Secret Language of Cats

Do Cats Get Lonely?

By: Pam Johnson-Bennett, CCBC

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There has long been a misconception that cats are solitary creatures and are not sociable so do cats get lonely? The wrong information may come from the fact that cats are solitary hunters as opposed to animals who hunt in packs. Cats are small and take down small prey, typically only enough for a single meal for one cat, so it makes sense for them to hunt individually. They have also ambushed predators who rely on their stealth to stalk and then pounce on their prey. They don’t chase down prey as they aren’t built to be long-distance runners – another reason for one quiet cat to go on a hunt by himself. This has given many people the impression that cats won’t tolerate other cats.

Cats do have a social structure and it’s built around the availability of resources. In group living, it’s also not unusual to see mother cats helping to nurse and raise each other’s kittens.

Many cats benefit from having a companion. This is most important with kittens and is why it’s almost always recommended that if you’re adopting a kitten, you should get two at the same time. Kittens haven’t developed a sense of territory yet so bringing two home doesn’t involve having to do a careful introduction to allow for territorial issues between them. Kittens also learn from each other and that helps them get along better with other cats as they mature.

Should You Get a Buddy for Your Cat?

But what if you have one adult resident cat and you’re wondering do cats get lonely or not? Should you get a cat companion for him? There are a few things to think about beforehand.

Cats who were raised around other cats and were properly socialized will have a much easier time adjusting to the addition of another cat. That doesn’t mean a cat who was orphaned and bottle-raised won’t benefit from having a companion but the process will be much more difficult than if the cat had that important time with littermates to learn important social skills. There are some cats who will never be able to adjust to having a cat companion and it will inflict too much stress on both the resident kitty and the newcomer. That’s why it’s important to know your cat, think carefully about whether this will be a benefit or not, and have a plan in place if you do decide to go ahead.

If you think your cat won’t adjust to a companion, or if you don’t want to get a second cat, address loneliness issues by increasing environmental enrichment to give your cat opportunities for discovery, activity, and fun. What you may be reading as loneliness may actually just be boredom. More interactive playtime, solo play opportunities, visual enrichment, etc., maybe the answer. Make sure you’re spending enough time with your cat in a way that balances affection with playtime. Be creative in adding enrichment into your cat’s life.

do cats get lonely

What Cat Should You Choose?

When thinking about getting a companion cat, think about your resident cat’s personality so you can make a good match. Try to match complementary personalities. Don’t get a revved-up ball of energy because you think that will motivate your very sedate, quiet cat. Don’t get a kitten for an elderly cat because that will be frustrating for the kitten and unnecessarily stressful for the adult cat. Do your best to learn the history of the new cat so you can increase the chances of a successful match.

Do a Careful Introduction

If you do decide to get a second cat, take into consideration the issues of territory and resources. Even your neighbor’s two cats who are the best of friends now started out with a tense relationship because of their natural territorial nature and need to protect resource availability. You’ll need to do a careful introduction where you separate the cats at first and gradually expose them to one another in a baby-step way that helps them see their territories are not in danger and that there are enough resources for everyone. The key to a new cat introduction boils down to giving them a reason to like each other. Let them see those good things that happen in the presence of each other – treats, meals, playtime. If you rush a new cat introduction you will set the cats up to potentially be enemies for life. If you don’t have time to do a careful introduction then you shouldn’t get a second cat.

two cats not getting along

The Bottom Line

Do your homework. Focus on what would be best for your cat when considering do cats get lonely. Your obligation is to him. Will the addition of another cat enrich his life and do you have the time, ability and environment to do the right introduction? In many cases, the answer will be yes, but for some people, the answer is no. Use the insight you have about your cat to make the best decision for his health and happiness.

Pam Johnson-Bennett
Certified Cat Behavior Consultant & Best-Selling Author

Cat Behaviorist

Pam Johnson-Bennett is a certified cat behavior consultant and best-selling author of 8 books on cat behavior. She starred in the Animal Planet series Psycho Kitty, seen in Canada and the UK. She was a vice president of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and founded their cat division. She has served on an advisory board for the American Humane Association as well as other animal welfare organizations.

Pam is considered a pioneer in the field of cat behavior consulting, having started her career in 1982. Some of her books have been used as textbooks for behavior courses and she has influenced many practicing in the field today. Her book, Think Like a Cat, has been referred to as the cat bible.

Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, located in Tennessee. She lives with her husband, two children, a rescued cat, and a rescued dog.

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