Social Groups of Cats Within the Cat Colony

If there is plenty of food around, free-roaming cats tend to form groups called colonies. The core of the cat colony are the females, typically a mother, her sisters, and her daughters. These females share the care of the kittens – they nurse each others’ kittens and even help each other give birth.

Male kittens are driven off by their mothers at maturity to avoid inbreeding. They can become solitary hunters like their wildcat ancestors or become attached to an unrelated colony if accepted by the females

Within the colony there are smaller groups of 2 or more cats that prefer to spend time together. These cats will often

  • sleep together
  • groom each other
  • rub against each other
  • “play fight”.

These groups of cats are more comfortable sharing resources: food, water, litter boxes, sleeping and resting places. Often these are cats that grew up together but that is not always the case.

The Dog Pack vs. the Cat Colony

The dog pack has a more rigid social structure than the cat colony.

The Dog Pack

  • The dog pack is a social group
  • the dominant animals breed and members of the pack cooperatively care for the young pups.
  • The dog pack has a hierarchy that is maintained through certain behavioral signals.
  • Using these signals, dogs lower in the hierarchy are able to “appease” more senior members to maintain harmony and cooperation in the pack..

The Cat Colony

  • A cat colony may have a number of smaller social groups in it
  • Affiliated females in the cat colony will share care of the kittens
  • All animals can breed
  • The cat colony does not have the distinct hierarchy of the dog pack
  • Cats do not have a system of signals to “make up” after a fight – they try to avoid the fight in the first place.


Resource Management in the Cat Colony…

In the cat colony, cats will “time-share” resources. A cat will wait until another cat is done before using a critical resource, say water or litter area.

Cats with stronger personalities (more dominant) may shove another cat over to access resources, although they are often likely to wait their turn. 

Social Groups of Cats Indoors – Managing the Multi-Cat Home


Identify Social Groups


  • Look for affiliative behavior: sleeping together, grooming each other, rubbing against each other, play fighting
  • Look for non affiliative behavior : time sharing or guarding resources, blocking passage to resources, staring
A simple sketch of your house can help with locating litter boxes.

Make Time-sharing Easy

  • Spread resources out
  • # litter boxes =  # social groups + 1
  • Feed cats individually and out of sight of each other.
  • Cats in the wild (other than mother and kittens) do not share food.
  • Daily play time for each cat
  • Sleeping, resting places – have secluded and elevated choices

Some social groups of cats will require their own room(s) with their own resources. The owner may have to organize the time sharing, allowing each group access to the common areas while the others are in their rooms.


A Multi-Cat Household and its Social Groups

There are 3 social groups in this 4 cat household.

Social Group 1

Athena forms her own social group.  She is a 15 year old spayed female. She recognizes her colony mates but prefers to spend time by herself or with her owners

Social Group 2

Marley (14 yr neutered male) will hang out with 4 year old Zelda. They will rest together, “share” snacks (they do not “steal” from each other.) They will occasionally “play fight”.

Social Group 3

Zelda will ask Gus, 3 year old neutered male, to groom her head.

Gus and Zelda go on walks together with their owners.

In the typical multi-cat household, humans have chosen unrelated cats to live together. Like school classmates, some cats will become friends, others will merely tolerate each other and still others will be simply incompatible to the extent they will need to be isolated from each other. Our cats’ most valuable resource are us, the owner-guardians. They may look to us to manage their colony.

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