Cats. Lone Wolves or Social Butterflies?

Do Cats Prefer the Company of Humans or Other Cats?

Cats are often stereotyped as aloof, independent creatures who prefer solitude. But is this reputation warranted? The answer is more nuanced than a simple “yes” or “no.” Cats are social animals that can form strong bonds, not just with humans but with other felines as well. Understanding cats’ social needs and preferences can allow owners to provide the best care for their furry companions.

Whether cats desire companionship or solitude depends on multiple factors, including early socialization, personality, environment, and more. Examining cats’ social behaviors in the wild, during domestication, and in our homes provides insight into their complex social needs. While some cats thrive on their own, others benefit from feline friendships. This article explores the evidence behind cats’ social tendencies and reveals the signs of healthy bonds versus stress in group living.

In the Wild

Feral cats that live outdoors often form colonies and group together for safety, mating, and sharing resources like food and shelter. However, feral cats are still solitary hunters that prefer to hunt alone rather than in groups or packs.[*]( Colonies can range from a few cats to over 100 cats, with the average colony containing around 10-12 cats.[*]( While feral cats in a colony cooperate to defend territory, find food sources, and raise kittens, they mostly hunt and scavenge on their own. Feral cats avoid fighting over resources by spacing themselves out while hunting and eating.[*]( Overall, feral cats balance the benefits of group living with their preference for solitary activities like hunting and eating.

Domestication History

Cats were originally domesticated from the Arabian wildcat, Felis silvestris lybica, a solitary species native to the Middle East that still exists today. Unlike their wolf ancestors, cats did not have strong social structures or packs. According to the ASPCA, studies of the remains of ancient cats show that wildcats “were likely drawn to early human settlements in the Fertile Crescent by the proliferation of rodents feeding on cultivated grains and food refuse generated by permanent human settlements” (ASPCA).

While some experts believe cats were attracted to human settlements as early as 10,000 years ago, the earliest evidence of tamed cats has been traced to ancient Egypt around 1500 BCE. Cats became associated with divinity and took on a role of pest control and companionship. However, cats remained only semi-domesticated and never became as reliant on human interaction as dogs. According to the Journal of Archaeological Science, “It seems that cat domestication was a long and complex process, and that domestic cats retained some degree of autonomy from and interdependence with humans” (JAS).

Kittens Learn Social Skills

Kittens learn important social skills from their mother and littermates during the first several weeks of life. Much of a kitten’s play involves biting and chasing with littermates, which allows them to practice hunting techniques while learning limits of acceptable behavior. The mother cat teaches kittens what behaviors are appropriate through correction and encouragement.

Kittens observe social cues from their mother, including how to properly greet other cats with nose touching and social grooming. From their littermates, kittens learn how to interact through play that mimics adult cat behaviors. By 10-12 weeks old, kittens have usually learned major social skills needed to communicate well with other cats.

Adult Interactions

Adult cats are often solitary in the wild and can display aggression or tension when meeting unknown cats outside of their territory or social group. However, adult cats are capable of forming close bonds with other familiar cats and even humans in domestic settings. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, adult cats living together will often groom each other, play together, and sleep near each other as signs of companionship. The Frontiers in Veterinary Science study also found that adult cats use many of the same visual and vocal signals when interacting positively with familiar humans as they do with feline companions.

Researchers at the University of Exeter found through observing groups of feral cats that adults display infrequent aggression towards kittens and can live harmoniously in colonies when sufficient food, shelter, and space is available. So while adult cats may prefer to be solitary hunters, they are still somewhat social animals that can form affiliative relationships with other cats and humans they are familiar with, despite generally avoiding unknown individuals.

Solitary Play and Sleep

While cats can enjoy social playtime, they more often prefer solitary play, especially as they grow out of kittenhood. They are skilled solo hunters and like practicing predator skills alone with toys. According to The Honest Kitchen, cats spend 30-50% of their waking hours grooming, playing, or hunting on their own.

Cats also prefer sleeping alone for the majority of the time. The Sleep Foundation reports that cats sleep 70% of the time, equaling 12-16 hours a day. They frequently shift sleep locations throughout the day for comfort and security rather than sticking with a feline companion. While cats may occasionally nap near each other, they primarily sleep solo.

Exceptions to Solitary Preference

While many cats prefer to be solitary, some breeds tend to be more social than others. For example, research shows that breeds like the Siamese and Abyssinian are more social and active, while the more solitary Persian and British Shorthair breeds exhibit less social behaviors.

Additionally, circumstances like shelters may require group housing for cats. Shelter cats can become accustomed to having feline companions around, so adopting a pair of bonded cats from a shelter can be an option for those seeking a more social pet.

Bonding With Other Cats

While cats are often stereotyped as solitary creatures, they are capable of forming close bonds with other cats. Taking the time to properly introduce cats and providing positive interactions can help foster companionable relationships. According to, slow introductions using techniques like scent swapping can accustom cats to each other and reduce tension during those initial meetings. Allowing cats time to become comfortable with the presence of another cat before physically interacting helps make that eventual meeting more peaceful. Group playtimes with interactive toys is also recommended by Feliway as a way to have cats associate each other with positive experiences. Engaging in predatory play together redirects aggression and builds camaraderie. Eating meals near each other or sharing food can likewise help cats see one another in a positive light, leading to greater acceptance and potentially bonds.

Signs of Companionship

Cats that have bonded with each other will exhibit certain behaviors that demonstrate companionship and affection. Some of the most common signs include:

Grooming Each Other – Cats who have become good friends will often groom each other by licking and cleaning the other’s fur. This social grooming strengthens their bond and shows trust and care for one another.

Sleeping Near Each Other – Companion cats will frequently sleep curled up together or in close proximity. Choosing to sleep near each other shows they find comfort in each other’s presence.

Playful Interactions – Play sessions like chasing, wrestling, and pouncing are a way for cats to have fun and bond. Seeing cats engage in energetic play instead of lethargy or aggression are clues they enjoy each other’s company.

Other signs like rubbing cheeks, following each other around, and sharing resources like food bowls demonstrate friendship between feline companions. Observing cats’ body language and social behaviors is the best way to tell if they have formed a close companionship.


In summary, cats are in many ways solitary creatures, enjoying their own quiet time and space to play, rest, and spend time alone. However, this does not mean they are completely asocial or anti-social. While some cats are fine living on their own, most can benefit from social interactions and companionship with other cats.

Kittens learn important social skills by interacting with their mother and litter mates at a young age. This helps them become more sociable with other cats later in life. Adult cats will engage in various friendly behaviors with cats they are bonded to, like play, grooming, sleeping near each other, verbal communication, and affection. So while cats are fine being alone for periods of time, the majority seem to enjoy and even crave the company of other felines they know and trust.

The key takeaway is that cats should not automatically be thought of as solitary creatures. Their social needs may be more subtle than dogs, but they can grow attached to feline friends and benefit from those relationships. Cat owners considering getting a second cat should know that a companion can often improve their existing cat’s quality of life and provide enriching social interaction.

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