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Are Cats Pack Animals? Understanding Their Social Structure!

cats in animal shelter

Have you ever wondered whether cats are pack animals? Look at feral cats! Feral cats survive entirely on their own, essentially without human companionship or assistance. Larger colonies can have 15 or so members, often related by matrilineal descent. And what about pets?

Pets often go into mourning after losing a beloved feline, canine, or human buddy, demonstrating just how much some cats value companionship. There are plenty of reasons a sensible person might begin to question the notion that cats are solitary, disinterested creatures. So, are cats pack animals, or do they prefer a detached sort of life?

Cats aren’t pack animals by nature, but they adapt their behavior to accommodate groups, particularly when the animals involved are familiar with each other and there’s plenty of food to go around. Feral cats often bond deeply with their mother and littermates.

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What Does It Mean to Be a Pack Animal?

Pack animals live in groups, and most work together to hunt. They also protect each other and often help raise each other’s offspring. Packs usually have complex, hierarchical social structures.

Wolves are probably the pack animals people are most familiar with. Many scientists suggest that dogs don’t belong in the category as they never hunt cooperatively or share puppy-rearing responsibilities.

So, Feral Cats Aren’t Pack Animals

feral cats resting outdoor
Image Credit: Dimitris Vetsikas, Pixabay

Not really. They’ve adjusted some of the ways they interact with each other to accommodate the realities of group living. Most feral colonies are heavily matrilineal. They’re primarily made up of queens and their kittens.

Male cats who reach sexual maturity are usually kicked out, although some remain loosely affiliated with the colony while living on the group’s outskirts. Feral kittens rarely have contact with their biological fathers, as adult male cats are excluded from the settlement.

A few unrelated males usually hover around the fringes of these groups and are largely viewed with suspicion. Feral colonies work as long as the group members know each other well and there’s enough food to avoid competition.

But cats that live in colonies remain solitary hunters. Feral cats won’t work together like a pride of lions to bring down prey. That sort of cooperation doesn’t happen among these kitties. Colony cats will often disperse if faced with long-term food scarcity.

There’s no real genetic difference between feral cats and pet cats—they’re all part of the Felis cactus genus, which makes sense, as many feral cats are descended from abandoned pets. Felis catus, as a species, is incredibly good at adapting to whatever situation its members find themselves in.

Depending on the circumstances, they can happily live on their own, in colonies, or with a four-legged friend or two. And while they may help each other out when it comes to kitten-rearing, most prefer to hunt alone.

Do Cats Bond With Other Cats?

Absolutely! Cats bond deeply with their mother and littermates, often engaging in cooperative grooming and lots of head-butting to create a familiar scent shared between family members. Cats’ sense of smell is 14 times sharper than ours.

And they consistently use their sharp noses to identify family members, including human ones! When a cat rubs its head against you, it leaves behind its scent and takes some of yours, creating a smell it uses to quickly recognize you as belonging to the family group.

Littermates who are raised together and stay with each other are often extremely affectionate and attached to each other. Feral cats often form colonies of female relatives and their offspring. You’ll see cooperative feeding among queens in colonies, which builds bonds between unrelated colony mates.

Should Cats Always Live With A Buddy?

two cats fighting
Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

It depends. Two kittens that have always lived together will probably experience a fair bit of grief if separated. Adopting littermates together provides comfort, continuity, and companionship. And having a buddy often keeps energetic, growing cats occupied and out of trouble. But cats are also territorial, particularly ones that have never really lived with other pets. There are several cats that won’t tolerate another dog or cat in the house.

Cats that don’t enjoy the company of other animals often become stressed when forced to share their home. Adding a new pet to the family can be traumatic for older cats who’ve grown accustomed to living alone. Cats that have lived with a dog or an unrelated feline often grieve the loss of that companion. Cats that are used to living with buddies sometimes enjoy the company of a new pet, but many don’t appreciate the presence of younger, rambunctious animals with a tendency to disturb the peace.

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How Do Cats Feel About Their Owners?

Cats adore their owners but don’t see humans as members of some newfangled feline pack. Most cats prefer the company of their favorite human to playing with a toy or snacking on a treat or two. Cats have astonishing memories. Many can remember people for up to 10 years, particularly individuals they lived with for an extended period and once shared a strong bond with. And cats are often very in tune with their favorite human’s emotions.

Are Lions Pack Animals?

lions resting on rock
Image Credit: Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz, Pexels

Yes. Lions are the exception to the rule when it comes to cats preferring to live alone. Most lions live in prides of several female cats and one or two males. They hunt cooperatively to bring down prey, such as buffalo, that no lion would be able to take down single-handedly. They also raise cubs cooperatively. Male cubs are pushed out of the pride when they’re around 2 or 3, with most leaving to join another pride.

Are Lions the Only Big Cats That Live in Groups?

Yes. Lions are the only big cats that prefer to live and hunt in groups. Tigers, leopards, and jaguars, the other members of the Panthera genus, are primarily solitary creatures. And there’s little, if any, cooperative kitten raising among tigers, leopards, and jaguars.

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Final Thoughts

Even though cats can and do live in colonies and enjoy the company of people, dogs, and other kitties, felines aren’t pack animals. They’re solitary hunters that can adjust their behavior based on the environment, which leads to increased sociability in some situations.

Cats form deep bonds with their mother and littermates, as well as humans, dogs, and other cats they live with for long periods. Some even mourn after a companion’s death. Cats don’t create loving bonds because they need to be a pack member but because they enjoy being around particular individuals.


Featured Image Credit: Yulia Grigoryeva, Shutterstock

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