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It’s common knowledge that dogs have pack structures and social hierarchies, but what about cats? Consider a group of big cats, such as lions, and how they live in the wild, ‘The Lion King’, anyone? Domestic cat families are no different. Although cats have individual personalities and social graces, and some cats seem to prefer a solitary lifestyle, you’ll certainly be able to spot a hierarchy if you have a multi-cat household. Feline members of multi-cat households adapt easily to living in a social group, (or at least tolerate it!), and will naturally form a hierarchy that’s no less important to them than the hierarchy of a dog pack, although it’s often more complicated.
Cat Family Hierarchies Explained
Don’t just assume that the biggest, bossiest cat in your clan will be the top cat; there are other, more subtle signs to look out for. Who eats first at feeding time? The more dominant the cat, the more food he’ll get, and he’ll of course get to have first choice. Have you got one cat that’s constantly being rubbed against by the rest? The higher the status of the cat, the more rubbing (scent marking) the others will do. You’ll be pleased to know that this is the reason why your cats like to rub against you; as pet parent you’ve also taken on the role of chief cat!
Confidence is also key here; watch how your cats walk into the room. Does one stride confidently in and plop down assuredly right in the middle? That’s your top cat! You may notice that another cat will walk in after him and follow the wall instead of taking the shorter route, this doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s scared or unconfident, just of a lower ‘rank’ than the one sunning himself in the centre of the rug.
The female hierarchy of domestic cats is linked to fertility, and top of the ladder will be the cat that’s had the most litters. Of course, in domestic settings, our female cats are likely to have been spayed and may not have had kittens at all, so in this case it’ll be the most sexually and/or socially mature that’s Queen Bee.
Your cat family may have a distinct social hierarchy, which you don’t even notice. I had a cat once who loved to curl up on my lap – as soon as I even looked like I was about to sit down she was there straight away, purring and winding around my legs, ready for her favourite seat. When she passed away, another cat that had always seemed aloof and above cuddles, suddenly became the most affectionate lap cat. Was it that she was supporting me in my time of grief, or could it have been that she’d previously been put off my lap as it was the more dominant cat’s place?
Cat family hierarchies aren’t constant; there are a number of factors that can change the social structure. If your highest-ranking cat crosses the Rainbow Bridge, or even simply starts to suffer with health problems, then you’re likely to find a new cat begins to rule the roost. Similarly, if a new cat joins the household, the hierarchy becomes disrupted, and the new cat won’t necessarily start at the bottom!
Have you experienced cat social hierarchies in your household? What were the signs? Please share in the comments below…
Image: Micheal Evans / Antonio Picascia / Barbara Muller-Walter via Flickr
3 baby litter says
I have been raising 3 kitten’s since birth. They are almost 10 months now. Up until they fell into my lap, I never had much experience raising newborn kitten’s and I love every minute of it. These fur babies never had a dominant feline up until recently, where I’m starting to notice subtle behaviors in them. They take turns on the top tier and they also share food and litter very well. I’ve noticed the middle girl acting out aggressively and the oldest boy acting out passively. The youngest girl doesn’t seem to have a care in the World and just minds her own business most of the time. The youngest doesn’t let anyone stop her from doing anything she wants to do, but I suspect the oldest and the middle are showing more noticeable signs. I assumed for a while that I just had a qunique litter, but I’m realizing more now that the structure of hierarchy is forming more and more each day. I’m anxiously waiting to see who comes out on top, though I have my suspicions.
We have 2 unrelated boys and recently my wife’s son has his cat here temporarily. There is a definite heirarchy but I was totally surprised how it ends up which one is alpha. It’s fun to watch them eat in the morning, which one eats first while the others patiently wait their turns.
I have 3 cats namely ( storm, sky, & becky) some of the things you pointed out i can detect but all three of my cats are very close eg all 3 will lye on top of me no matter where I sit or sleep & if friends visit they will growl when they here the knock at the door.
Its bizaar. Sometimes if im in the garden one of my cats will hide in the bushes & if people walk past she will jump out at them.
They are all from different litters which makes it more odd. I cannot tell which is the more dominant one
I sometimes think it could be Storm who is the more dominant one as there have been odd occasions where I would tell Sky off for something she did & Storm will shortly after I have told her off run towards her & zap her as if to say ” mom has spoken dont do that again”
Kitty Cat Chronicles says
We have a Queen Bee, alright — Delilah! Although Caster tries to dethrone her sometimes… 😉
We definitely have a hierarchy in this household. I am pretty sure that Cinco and Manna respect me as the top kitty. However, Manna is much more dominant between the two of them. She always makes herself first in everything and Cinco patiently waits his turn.
Sharon S. says
Very interesting. My cats are from one litter and they do all of the things you point out, but they seem to take turns. The one who used to eat first, now moves away from his bowl as soon as his brother approaches. And the same cat who is number one with food, is the most skiddish around strangers. Their dynamics are fascinating.
This is so true! We see this a lot in the open (cageless) rooms at the shelter. When a new cat comes in, things can change just like that!
That is all so true. I never thought about the confident cat being the top cat. I have a bunch of cats that were born to a feral Mom and they all kind of stay to them selves. Although two of them that are brothers do rub on everyone and they do seem to get along with everyone. I also have found that the cats that got hurt really badly as a young cat by another cat, do want to be all by themselves all the time. I have also found that older cats stay pretty much to themselves. The cats that stay inside do get along with each other really well and I don’t see any of them being in charge. Anyway, great post and very interesting.
Kitties Blue says
Some of us are always jockeying to be the top cat, mostly the three oldest of us. It drives Mom crazy.
Athena and Marie says
Very informative post. Athena is an only cat but I know she won’t appreciate it if we suddenly became a multi-cat household.
I just want to say that NONE of us kitties rub against my human – what does that say about her? 😉