Do lone cats get lonely? … and other mysteries of kitten-dom

Kali Singh

Kali-Singh (ID#A471438) is a beautiful 4-year-old cat whose pet parent recently passed away. Though shy in the shelter setting, she is ready to come out of her shell to meet her furrever parents. She’s looking for a mellow household, but loves to play with wand toys, treat dispensing toys, and especially affectionate pets.

Ever since Lux the cat came into our lives, the focus of conversation in the office has been about cats. All things cats. Cat behavior, cat toys, catitude, selfies with cats, and a strange conversation about whether or not the cat mafia is really a thing.

Spoiler: the cat mafia is totally a thing.

One afternoon last week, we set off a debate about whether or not domestic cats as a species are more the “loner” type, or more social. The question came up because since Lux is living in our office until we can find her a home, we wondered if she gets lonely on Sunday afternoons – which is the one day of the week there isn’t someone in the office all day.

Our cat behavior team comes in a couple of times on Sundays to change her litter and give her food. But beyond that, Sunday is pretty much Lux’s “me day.”

So we wondered whether Lux got lonely when we aren’t around.

She’s such a social cat with humans. She wants to be in the center of all the action, even if it’s just to lounge in someone’s lap during meetings.

She gets along fine with my dogs – although, she really doesn’t seem interested in going near them. From what we’ve seen in the cat communal room where she was living before she came to our office, she doesn’t particularly enjoy the company of other cats either.

If you look at cats in the wild, it seems there are two camps. Adult tigers live as solitary, “loner” hunters in jungles. Lions are more social and live in prides in the grasslands.

So which camp do domestic cats fall into?

According to cat behavior experts, domestic cats just aren’t into labels. Some are social, while others prefer a more solitary existence. Just like people, I suppose.

But even loners can get lonely, right?

The first step in answering, “Do cats get lonely?” is understanding that domestic cats are solitary when it comes to hunting and eating. Dogs may have a reputation for being more social, but that is only because they hunt in packs. Not so with cats, who don’t like eating too close to each other.

So if you live in a multi-cat household and you keep all of your cats food bowls in the same place, you may want to reconsider that set up. It’s stressful for most cats – which can lead to unhealthy eating behaviors like being food finicky, over eating, or not eating enough.

Outside of mealtime, though, most cats have social needs. While some cats hate their own kind and must be the household’s only pet, feral cats form colonies, and many pet cats befriend each other.

Community cats (or feral cats) have several complex social and cooperative behaviors such as caring for each other’s young. So while colonies of cats can socialize peacefully for the most part, they don’t generally welcome outsiders. The group is usually formed by a family line — a queen and some of her litter that chose not to leave, not newcomers.

And what about pet cats? Do cats get lonely when they’re the only cat in the household? According to most experts, the answer to that is dependent on the individual, and how old they are.

The territorial nature in cats doesn’t typically kick in until adulthood. Kittens crave playmates, and they will especially bond with their littermates. But even if you adopt kittens from separate litters, they will likely become instant besties.

For most kittens, the way they learn social skills is by interacting and playing with each other.

Still, though kittens tend to be more socially flexible, just with any species, some individuals are born not being comfortable around strangers.

If your cat is an only child in your household, and you work and travel often, it’s much more likely that you’ll have a lonely cat on your hands. If your cat gets lots of social interaction with humans though, loneliness may not ever be an issue.

If you think your cat would do better with a buddy, great! We’ve go so many cats and kittens who are looking for a new BFF. But here are a few things to consider when matching your cat to a second, or even third cat.

First of all, know that even if you have a cat who has been well socialized with other cats in the past doesn’t mean they will necessarily get along with a new cat now. Cats are individuals, and some of them simply do not get along.

But there are a few ways to stack the cards in favor of a new feline friendship.

For some humans, the “opposites attract” thing seems to really work. Not so much with cats though. The more in common they have from the beginning, the more likely they will be able to tolerate one another long term.

One important common factor to consider is age. We often have adopters come in to adopt a kitten as a companion for their adult or senior cat. They mistakenly believe that a younger, more energetic cat will magically bring out the inner “teenager” in their lazy little lion. But what happens most often is that an older, less playful cat will only find the spastic high energy of a kitten downright annoying.

You really don’t want an annoyed cat on your hands. They will terrorize you and that poor little defenseless kitten for even having the nerve in the first place.

The better idea would be to adopt a companion cat of similar age and activity level. This way, they are a lot less likely to step out of their lane socially.

If you have an adult cat at home and really want a kitten though, we suggest getting two! This way, the kittens will be able to exhaust their endless energy on each other. Everyone wins!

If you’re thinking about bringing home a kitten or an adult cat for the holidays, now is the time! We have so many at the shelter who are in need of homes – and if there is too much going on over the next couple of weeks with family, travel, and events, consider buying your loved one a pet adoption gift card from our shelter shop. This way, the whole family can select a pet at the right time for you.

Happy Holidays pet lovers!