Many people think of cats as solitary creatures. But, did you know that free-roaming colony cats have complex social relationships?
Cats engage in a variety of behaviors with one another such as allorubbing (one cat rubs against another), allogrooming (one cat grooms another), cuffing (one cat smacks another with its paw), sniffing, playing, laying together… and the list goes on! (1) Cats will engage in these behaviors with and spend more time near (in close proximity to) specific cats, known as “preferred associates.” (2) Preferred associates are basically friends- although the scientific community would avoid this word as it anthropomorphizes (or gives human attributes) the relationship. But, synonyms for friends include “associate”, “playmate”, “familiar” and “companion”, all of which would describe the relationship between preferred associates.
These cats share a social bond akin to friendship in which they frequently play with one another. I have often observed farm cats chasing one another, wrestling each other to the ground and even swatting rocks at one another. They also lay with each other, groom each other, share their scents with each other (allorubbing), share tail wraps (as seen in the photo between Spirit and Sugar) and roll in front of each other- exposing their bellies. This is not to say, as with most friendships, there is not the occasional fight where one cat cuffs another- as I have so often seen when one cat wants to take back a favorite sunny sleeping spot. But in reality we know little about what factors influence cat social relationships and we know even less about how cats form social relationships with humans. Yet, one study did find that cats form attachment bonds with their owners, similar to those between infants and their mothers and between dogs and their owners. (3) Only further research can shed more light into the complex world of inter-species relationships.
(1) Crowell-Davis, S. L., Curtis, T. M., & Knowles, R. J. (2004). Social organization in the cat: a modern understanding. Journal of Feline Medicine & Surgery, 6(1), 19–28. doi:10.1016/j.jfms.2003.09.013
(2) Curtis, T. M., Knowles, R. J., & Crowell-Davis, S. L. (2003). Influence of familiarity and relatedness on proximity and allogrooming in domestic cats (Felis catus). American Journal of Veterinary Research, 64(9), 1151–1154. doi:10.2460/ajvr.2003.64.1151
(2) Wolfe, R.C. (2001). The social organization of the free ranging domestic cat (Felis catus). PhD dissertation, University of Georgia: Athens, GA.
(2) Shreve, K.R. (2014). The influence of food distribution and relatedness on the social behaviours and proximities of free-roaming cats (Felis silvestris catus). M.En. thesis, Miami University: Oxford, OH.
(3) Edwards, C., Heiblum, M., Tejeda, A., & Galindo, F. (2007). Experimental evaluation of attachment behaviors in owned cats. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 2(4), 119–125. doi:10.1016/j.jveb.2007.06.004