Social Behavior of Cats

While cats are often considered asocial, meaning they like to be alone, anyone who has spent time with cats knows that they show plenty of social behaviors. Cats often are not as anxious for our approval as dogs are, but they do interact with other cats and animals as well as people.

Cat Hierarchies

Agreeing on a hierarchy is a very social behavior, and cats living in groups often form well-structured hierarchies. Rank can be based on:

  • age
  • aggression
  • gender.

Stud cats, male cats who are actively breeding, find themselves at the top, but aggressive queens (un-neutered females) can climb in rank by attacking amorous tomcats (un-neutered males). Queens generally rank higher than females who have been spayed, and older queens remain dominant over the younger females who are raised with them.

If you have a group of cats and would like to understand their hierarchy, try putting out a bowl of fresh food. The cat that eats first is the dominant cat.

Cat Talk: Biting

Social behavior of cats involves the use of body language to communicate with humans and other cats. These behaviors include biting.

Cat biting can be broken down as follows:

  • Gentle biting, often referred to as nipping, is actually a sign of affection. Cats use nipping in the way humans would use a kiss. Nipping is often accompanied by other affectionate behaviors, such as rubbing.
  • Biting is harder than nipping and is a sign that a cat is annoyed with the attention he is receiving. Perhaps his skin is getting irritated from too much stroking, or he may just want to be left alone to catch a nap. This kind of biting is not aggressive and does not mean your cat doesn’t like you. This is simply his way of telling you to stop what you are doing.
  • Aggressive biting is done with the intention of injuring someone. This behavior is very rare in domestic cats.

Body Language: Heads and Tails

A cat can do a lot of talking with his head, even if he isn’t able to use spoken language:

  • Cats greet one another by touching noses, a sort of feline handshake.
  • Cats like to rub their faces on the cheek or leg of a human friend. This is both an affectionate greeting and a way of marking territory.
  • If a cat’s head is held high, he is feeling confident.
  • If a cat’s head is lowered, it is a sign of submission.
  • Licking other cats and people is a way of grooming and showing affection.

Cats also communicate with their tails. A wagging tail may be a sign of happiness in dogs. In cats, however, it means something entirely different. If a cat twitches the tip of her tail, she is probably angry or hunting. Larger tail twitching is a sign of displeasure. Cats may also twitch their tails during play.

You can tell a great deal about a cat’s mood by the way she holds her tail:

  • A tail hanging low is a sign of unhappiness.
  • If a cat holds its tail high, she is probably feeling happy.

Social Sounds of Cats

One of the most familiar of all cat sounds is purring. Purring is often a cat’s way of telling you that she is happy and content in her home. Sometimes when a cat purrs, her tail will tremble.

Facts About Purring 

Purring is a complex social behavior and does not always indicate happiness. Cats also sometimes purr when they are:

  • dying
  • eating
  • in labor
  • in pain.

Other sounds that cats use to communicate are:

  • chirping and chattering when observing prey
  • chirruping as a greeting
  • growling or hissing when angry or in danger
  • meowing to communicate hunger or distress or to get attention, among other things.

Bonding with your Cat

People can take advantage of the social nature of cats to form a loving, long-term bond. To help build a great bond with your cat:

  • Allow your cat personal space and allow her to show social behavior in her own time.
  • Feed and clean up after your cat.
  • Give your cat cuddles and strokes when she is ready.
  • Play with your cat.
  • Talk to your cat.

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