Pet Companionship: Does My Cat Need a Friend?

When one of our cats died, my wife immediately wanted another cat. I thought, however, that introducing a new cat would be stressful to our cat, Miranda. She was already very nervous. My wife, however, always uses the excuse that cats need other cats. I wanted to figure out if this is true. Do domestic cats need other cats to live with? Or, are they as solitary as their reputations suggest?

Most articles on the subject, consulting various experts, leave the question so open-ended that it would seem there is no real answer. Some cats need other cats, others do not. Feral cats form colonies but domestic cats are different, etc.

So, it would seem that cats are a bit too complex to pin down on this issue. Cats do prefer to hunt and eat alone. In fact, it is widely suggested that if you have two or more cats you should not place their food bowls next to each other because this will make meal time very stressful. Personally, I don’t buy this as universal advice. Again, it depends on the cats and their unique relationship.

Despite the varied and less-than-satisfying answers on the internet, further research suggests that, indeed, domestic cats probably do not //need/ other cats, generally speaking. When a second cat is introduced to a one-cat household, even when the introduction is done carefully, it is just as likely that they will learn to tolerate each other and come to some sort agreements as to co-existences that only the feline mind can understand. On the other hand, they may form a strong social bond. Or, all-out war may ensue.

Even if two cats who meet as adults do form a bond, this does not suggest that this bond was needed by either cat. If you have one cat and that cat is happy and seems content, introducing another cat is a great way to ruin it! Chances are that a cat who seems happy and content has what she or he needs, security, food, a place to toilet, and yes, a good social bond with a nice family of humans.

And if your cat does not seem happy, jumping to the conclusion that another cat will bring about a state of euphoria is way off the mark. Cats are territorial and will often balk at sharing their core territory with other cats. In fact, some cats seem to outright hate their own species.

But, this begs the question. How do cats see other animals? How do they see other cats? As I suggested in the article Does Your Cat Think You are a Giant Furless Cat, we have no way of knowing if cats even regard other animals in categories. They probably do not. For a cat, it is just as likely a question, to put it simply, of friend or foe, family, or non-family.

Grieving Cat

When cats have a strong social bond, or even what we would call a loving relationship, and one dies, the other will go through what appears to be a grieving period. We can never truly know what this feels like for a cat, but it is clear that this bond is missed. However, cats are more likely to form a bond with new humans than they are with new cats. Bonds are not transferred. Just because your cat is grieving the loss of its companion does not mean it is eager to form a bond with a new cat. The new cat is more therapeutic for you than your cat and a similar bond may never occur. The new cat is a stranger. A territorial encroacher.

So, whether your cat is is happy, in a funk, or grieving, do not assume he or she needs another cat to play with. Cats form many different types of relationships with other cats. Sometimes, they even end up having different “territories” in the house, with each cat assigned its own area. I don’t know about you, but a cat who can never come downstairs without being in hostile territory is probably not a happy cat. On the other hand, the cats may share territory without being best buddies.

Our cats have quite a mystifying relationship. Remember I said Miranda was (had been) a nervous cat. Well, in truth she was down-right neurotic. When we brought home Petey, as a kitten, we tried to do everything right. You can read about how to introduce a new cat elsewhere.

While things went slow, we got lucky. Petey was always somewhat submissive to our female Miranda1 And while he was afraid of her at first and would run and hide behind us to keep her at bay, he also found her very exciting and would keep coming back for more play. He is what I would call a submissive thrill seeker. As it happened, this was just the thing for Miranda. She was basically “in charge” and could always dominate Petey, who, for his own part, still seemed to think she was the bee’s knees. Miranda being able to dominate, with Petey being somewhat happy-go-lucky and playful resulted in a much calmer and content Miranda. Now, although they do not cuddle or groom each other, they fight, play, eat together, and sometimes sleep near one another. Every once and a while, they even share what seems to be a bit of affection, a little nose-rub. But, did Miranda need Petey in her life? The answer is no. Petey ended up being good for her in many ways but it could have just as easily gone the other way.

This article is not meant to tell you whether you should adopt an additional cat as a companion for your current one. It is not even meant to tell you how to introduce another cat. There are many resources to help you do this and yes, it does matter very much HOW you introduce a new cat to your old cat. The purpose here, however, is to answer the question do cats need other cats. I think the answer is, that while some cats, depending on their circumstances and personality, may benefit from having a feline companion, we cannot say that cats need other cats.

Remember, cats can be social animals, but their social bond with you counts. If their basic needs are met, including love and affection from their humans, another cat will likely upset this delicate balance. And, if you have a sociable cat which is allowed to go outdoors (something I don’t recommend), it can interact, as desired, with other cats without having to share its core territory with them (see also can domestic cats survive on their own?).

Think of it this way. If you have your own apartment, you might like to go out with your friends and enjoy seeing other people, but would you like a stranger to suddenly move in with you? The difference is that humans are extremely social animals. We do need other humans around. Cats, not so much. If your cat seems to be unhappy, nervous, etc. consider other basic needs first. It is true that cats are not completely solitary animals. It is also true that some cats can benefit from having other cats around. Neither of these facts means that cats absolutely need other cats.


1. This is not to say that Petey is generally “submissive” in terms of personality.

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