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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…