Behaviour Wellness

SOCIAL GLUE: Do Your Cats Have a Group Scent?

The importance of group scent in a multi-cat home

Cats rely on scent more than any other sense, and they rely on group scent, in particular, for social comfort. Cats that are friends groom and rub up against each other to create and maintain their ever-important group scent. For example, if you have a five-cat household, each cat will have a “five cat” scent associated with their specific identity as a group, rather like we have last names that are family names. This group scent, or “social glue” as I call it, helps cats feel affiliated, friendly, and relaxed with one another.

Without a group scent, the best-case scenario is that your cats will merely coexist with one another, without ever forming a truly bonded relationship. I like to describe this as a scenario of forced captive living among domestic felids. In such circumstances, cats really don’t feel comfortable and probably would be happier as the only cat in the household. In the worst-case scenario, your cats will not get along well at all. Likely, they will display varying degrees of hostility toward one another. Behaviours such as excessive claw marking and urine marking may predominate or become more frequent.

In a group, one cat may be the “social facilitator” cat. These cats groom and rub up against all the cats in the home to generate a group scent, which fosters positive social behaviour. If you think your cats are lacking a group scent, you can become a social facilitator “cat” yourself, by brushing all of them daily with the same brush. If your cats don’t mind being brushed and remain calm when smelling a brush that contains another cat’s scent, you can easily facilitate more social and friendly interactions among them by doing this. By promoting “social glue” between your cats, an environment that was once a war zone can be transformed into a feline utopia. The cats will essentially feel a collective belonging to the group instead of discomfort with other cats that smell so distinctly different.

The technique: brush each cat two to three times a day, four to ten strokes for each cat every time you brush them. Rotate the order of cats as you go. The areas to brush are the areas where the cats themselves maintain the group scent—the entire head, neck, shoulders, and rib cage area. Use the same brush and don’t remove the hair from the brush between cats. Eventually you will remove the hair from the brush as it becomes full, but remember the idea is to spread the scent of each cat to the other. Before brushing, let your cat sniff the brush that contains the other cat’s scent. If his response is relaxed, proceed with brushing.

This can go a long way towards helping your cats get along and giving them the stress-free environment they deserve.

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  • Sandra

    I started out with 1 beautiful female black cat then I got a Libra also a female and she was a kitten when Magic was about 3.I thought magic would want a playmate while my husband and I were working all day.Well they hissed and faught and never got along.So when Libra was about 5 I got a very handsome blonde tabby named Morris.What a ladies man he was,though nether Magic or Libra wanted nothing but distance with him.After all 3 froliced together magic being about 10 now and Libra she was about 7 and Morris ide say about 5 there was no love loss anywhere.
    After my husband passed in November 2017 one year after magic’s frail tiny body didn’t want to eat or play anymore.About the fall of 2018 Magic passed away.She couldn’t eat or play or use the litter pan.I had wee wee pads all over the house but she still would lay up near my neck and pur so loudly but I think she missed her daddy so much as if she could feel my grieving.So now I still have Libra and Morris and even with catnip they,never play together.
    I should have contacted Jackson the car whispered on tv maybe he could have done something.

    • Ashley Lee

      I’m so sorry to hear this Sandra! Even though they don’t play together, I’m sure Libra and Morris enjoy each others’ company. It sounds like your husband and Magic had a special bond and I’m certain your husband is taking great care of her and they’re both looking down on you, Libra, and Morris with love. -AL

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