Do Cats Need Friends? It Depends on the Cat.

Some cats need to be the only feline in the house, while others are happiest when they have other cats around.

Some cats prefer friends. By: suetupling
Snuggle buddies! Some cats prefer friends. By: suetupling

Last winter, 2 cardboard carriers were left in the parking lot of the Avon Veterinary Clinic in Avon, Connecticut. Michael Simoneau, a veterinary tech, went out to investigate.

One carrier had been chewed and clawed open. Next to it, under a big quilted moving blanket, was a red tabby. In the other carrier was this cat’s reason for sticking around: his buddy, a male Sealpoint Siamese.

The 2 friends, now known as Simba and Orion, are living together in a Great Dane–sized cage at the clinic. They are definitely bonded, and one won’t be going anywhere without the other.

The Lone Rangers

Simba and Orion defy the time-honored cliché of cats as loners, as 4-legged Clint Eastwood characters who materialize out of nowhere and disappear back into it just as quickly.

Cats do not require friendship from other creatures, this thinking goes. Most certainly, they do not care to share their home, their yard or their hunting grounds with other cats.

For some cats, this is true. Plenty of ads make it clear that the cats being rehomed don’t care for their own kind. Annie, a Bengal-cross that we were fostering, loved people but was extremely aggressive toward other cats. We ended up bringing her back to the emergency vet clinic where she’d been left in the first place. She is now their office cat and, at last report, was doing very well there.

Social Butterflies

But there are also plenty of ads about the cats who must be rehomed together like Simba and Orion; they need each other.

Sometimes the alleged loner does better with other cats than expected. Dulcie, our Himalayan foster, didn’t play well with others, or so we were told. But during her time with us, she ambled about the house with good-natured indifference. She didn’t generally seek the other cats out, but she didn’t start fights with them either. And once, right before she left for her new home, Dulcie playfully bopped Dervie’s tail.

Author and blogger Pamela Merritt writes that “cats love being part of a Social Unit. What might be less obvious is how much Cat Social Units contribute to the harmony of our Cat Civilization…. Any cat who enjoys a social bond is engaging the social side of their personality.”

As Merritt sees it, felines tend to “run dual operating systems. There’s the Lone Hunter side, or the Social Creature side. When our cat has a friend, they are both operating on the Social side.” My guess is, Dulcie finally felt safe enough to start showing the playful kitten side of her personality.

This video shows Hunter and Carrie, 2 cats who are clearly happy to have a friend:

YouTube player

Helping Things Along

Merritt advocates what she calls “The Two Cat Solution.” Bringing one new cat in can backfire, and badly, as she points out: “A skilled social cat actually needs a cat buddy. Having their friendship gestures constantly rebuffed by Only Cat is not a good situation for either of them.”

But if you bring in 2 sociable kitties they get to play together, and your Greta Garbo cat can watch and “explore social interactions at their own speed.”

A Feline Mystery?

That’s how the Humane Society describes cats’ friendships with one another. The organization adds, “We do know that cats who are well-socialized (those who had pleasant experiences with other cats during kittenhood) will likely be more sociable than those who haven’t been around many other cats.”

Conversely, a former street cat might do badly in a household with other cats. After all, most of his life as a stray was spent fighting over food, mates and territory.

On the surface, this is a reasonable argument. We all know how important socialization is. But I think it’s a bit simplistic. I’ve seen strays with next to no socialization bond with house cats, especially when the former have come out of feral cat colonies.

Then, too, sometimes the most surprising bonds form. Sushi, one of our torties, barely interacts with anyone. But she and Circe, our friendly flirty blue Abyssinian, had their own quirky friendship. They didn’t play — in fact, they didn’t do much except hang out together.

But Sushi seemed to like Circe being there and occasionally groomed her new friend’s head. If their friendship was a mystery, then it was one with a happy ending.