If you have a dog, you know that socialization is among the most important things you can give to your canine companion. Natural pack animals, dogs socialize with other dogs to learn things like how to set and respect boundaries and to have some of their physical needs met through exercising. But what about cats? Are cats naturally social animals too? Do they need to be in the company of other cats at any point in their lives to further their development, and if not, do they even enjoy sharing time and space with other felines?
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Cats and socializing
Often regarded as "aloof" and "independent," many people believe that cats are not social animals, which is not entirely true. According to Merck Veterinary Manual, cats need to socialize just as much as dogs do, especially during those formative early weeks and months of their lives. Kittens will naturally socialize with their littermates, which is where they learn some of their early predatory behaviors, like chasing, stalking, and pouncing, along with play fighting. For outdoor cats, they can learn hunting skills from their mother as well.
The difference between cats and dogs in terms of socializing, however, is that cats require this social period for much less time that dogs do. Most puppies and kittens are adopted into their, hopefully, forever homes at around eight weeks. Most dogs require ongoing socialization well into their adult years, but cats don't exactly have the same need for community that canines do. Unlike dogs, cats are solitary hunters by nature, which does not create the need for group associations into adulthood. That's certainly not to say that two adult cats cannot be friends, or that all dogs love being around other dogs, but cats are generally less naturally inclined toward socialization for survival's sake.
Do cats like company?
As every cat is their own unique individual, that answer will depend on the cat. Some cats enjoy the company of other felines while others won't tolerate the sight of another cat anywhere near what they consider to be their territory, like inside the home or around their yard if they go outside. More often than not, a cat who has been around other cats from an early age is generally more likely to tolerate being around cats later in life, whereas an older cat who has been on her own for the most part may have a harder time bonding with new feline friends, especially in her own home.
One situation where cats can be seen relying on the social structure of a group is within outdoor colonies. The ASPCA defines colony cats as wild, feral, or abandoned cats who live or congregate near a regular source of food for survival. Colony, or community cats, can usually be found in or around abandoned buildings or other deserted structures near people, while some have makeshift homes built by a caretaker in the neighborhood. Some cats within colonies can certainly form bonds with one another, with others simply utilizing the colony as a home base and source of regular food and water.
How to introduce cats
People bring new cats into their home for a multitude of reasons, from spotting an adoptable cat in need of a good home that they couldn't resist, to a well-intentioned desire to find a companion for their own "bored" cat who sits at home all day while they're at work. Whatever the reason, it's important to keep a couple of key things in mind before introducing two cats — the temperament of each cat, and the fact that most cats are very territorial of their space. If you have two cats on your hands that you believe can get along, it's essential that you introduce them slowly and under supervision the first several times.
Before you introduce your cat to a new cat, The Humane Society suggests setting your new guy up in his own space where your other cat cannot get to him, and make sure he has everything he needs to be comfortable, like food, water, a litter box, and a place to rest. Next, expect the introduction process to take at least several days to reduce the possibility of fighting. Keep your cats separate until both cats seem relaxed, then being supervised introductions for short visitations. You can make introductions easier by feeding both cats on opposite sides of a closed door or gate so that they can begin to become familiar with the other's scent or place used bedding in the other's bed to introduce them to the new smell.