A cat and dog relax togetherIn this post, we look at how cats get along with other species – are their behaviors affiliative or is there conflict?

How cats get along with other species


How Cats Get Along with People: Signs of Affiliation


In an interview with Terry Gross of  the NPR show, “Fresh Air”, the well-known anthrozoologist, John Bradshaw, noted that cats view their owners as cats, specifically cats they are affiliated or friendly with.  Cats greet us as they would an affiliated cat, rubbing up against us, touching their noses to our hands, licking our hands and faces, snuggling next to us in bed at night.

Rubbing our legs is an affiliative behavior.Cats use the same friendly behaviors when interacting with people as they do with other cats.

  • nearness
  • rubbing up a person’s legs (allorubbing)
  • bunting against our hands (nose touching)
  • licking hands (allogrooming)
  • approaching with tail up

How Cats Get along with people: Signs of Conflict


Cats show similar conflict behaviors when interacting with humans that they would use with other cats.

  • staring
  • stalking and pouncing
  • running away
  • biting, swatting and swiping
  • arched back and hair standing on end

Young cats in particular can be guilty of stalking and pouncing on owners as they round a corner in the house. Some of these behaviors can be the result of playing with the cat inappropriately or redirected aggression, where the cat associates the owner with a fearful experience.

A petting session sometimes comes to an end when the cat bites or swats the person petting him, then jumps down and runs away. It is important to add to the list above some “pre-conflict” behaviors that we must watch for:

  • flattened ears
  • fur on the cat’s back ripples
  • the cat turns to face you with a stare

How Cats Get along with Children


Cats showed no preference to gender or age when meeting volunteers in a shelter for the first time. The volunteers did not interact with the cats but instead read an age-appropriate book. [Turner, The Mechanics of Social Interactions Between Cats and Their Owners]

After 5 minutes, the volunteers were allowed to interact as they pleased with the cats. The cats reacted strongly to the differences in behavior between men, women and children. Women and girls tended to move onto the floor with the cat and speak quietly; men remained seated, and boys approached the cats immediately, causing them to run away. [See below Turner].

Children, being more active, and less attentive to the body language of cats, tend to elicit more conflict behaviors from cats then adults. Children playing with cats must be supervised by adults as young children, in an excess of enthusiasm, may hit the cat with a toy or chase them.

A cat’s impulse is to flee when chased by a child but if cornered, he may bite or scratch. It is important to allow cats avenues to escape the attention of boisterous youngsters – high cat trees or closets with latches that allow the cat access but not the child.

How Cats Get Along: Cats and Dogs


Although cartoons and films may show cats and dogs as mortal enemies, many co-exist peacefully in human homes.

A recent survey based study by Thomsen et al. (cited below), indicated that the success of the relationship depends on the age of the cat (preferably around 6 months) when introduced to the dog. Ideally, good experiences with friendly, well-behaved dogs during the cat’s “sensitive” period will predispose the cat to forming relationships with dogs. Slow, gradual introductions between cat and dog (similar to Introducing Cats) have the best chance at success

Just like with humans, cats tend to show the same behaviors to dogs they are friendly with that they would show to other cats.

  • sleep in the same room as the dog, sometimes touching
  • rub against the dog when greeting
  • approach with tail up

Although a dog may be affiliated with the cat in his house, this does not mean he will not chase or bark at a strange cat. A cat who has been raised with dogs may still turn and flee from dogs he does not know. Affiliation exists between individual animals, not a whole species.

Dogs also have a set of affiliative behaviors. The hallmarks of a well-socialized dog include:

  • relaxed body
  • rapid tail wag
  • no staring
  • indirect approach, looking and sniffing at the ground

Canine conflict behaviors include:

  • backing away or trying to escape
  • submissive behaviors: flattened ears, tail tucked, looking away
  • staring, growling, snapping, erect posture
  • tail held vertically or arched over the back

Another survey-based study (Menchetti et al. cited below) compared owners’ perceptions of how dogs and cats living in their homes get along. Owners felt that:

  • Dogs are more social than cats towards strange animals and humans
  • Dogs are more playful than cats with their owners
  • More dogs lick the cat than vice versa
  • More cats ignore the dog than vice versa
  • Most dogs and cats in the same household will sleep together and play together at least occasionally
  • Although cats and dogs have different body languages, they still manage to understand each other

A Tale of Tails


Both cats and dogs use their tails to communicate.

  Cats Dogs
Friendly Gesture Tail up Tail wagging
Conflict Tail twitching Tail up

Somehow, cat-dog pairs translate each other’s language. The cat approaches the dog for a nose-to-nose greeting with tail up and lies down beside him. The dog recognizes the cat’s behaviors as positive signals and he wags his tail.

When the dog approaches the cat with the tail up, the cat recognizes the conflict/aggressive signal, arches his back, twitches his tail and backs slowly away.

Cats will use the same visual signals that they use with other cats when interacting with other species, such as humans and dogs. It is important that we, as pet guardians, know and understand the affiliative and conflict behaviors of each species residing in our homes to prevent altercations and promote peaceful coexistence.

CITATIONS:


Menchetti L, Calipari S, Mariti C, Gazzano A, Diverio S. Cats and dogs: Best friends or deadly enemies? What the owners of cats and dogs living in the same household think about their relationship with people and other pets. PLoS One. 2020 Aug 26;15(8):e0237822. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0237822. PMID: 32845923; PMCID: PMC7449504

Jessica E. Thomson, Sophie S. Hall, Daniel S. Mills, Evaluation of the relationship between cats and dogs living in the same home, Journal of Veterinary Behavior, vol 27 2018, Volume 35-40 ISSN 1558-7878, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2018.06.043.

Turner DC (2021) The Mechanics of Social Interactions Between Cats and Their Owners Front. Vet. Sci. 8:650143 doi: 10.3389/fvets.2021.65014

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Do cats have personalities? If you define personality as “the characteristic sets of behaviors, cognitions, and emotional patterns that are formed from biological and environmental factors, and which change over time” – yes, cats and other animals have personalities. How do describe your cat’s personality? How does personality affect how cats get along?

Studies (see Litchfield et al., cited below) of captive wild cats such as Scottish wild cats and cheetahs have suggested using personality assessments

  • to house socially compatible animals together
  • to tailor the environment to an individual animal’s needs – for example, provide more hiding places for a fearful cheetah

Can personality assessment improve the welfare of our domestic cats?

In 2017, Carla Litchfield and her research team published a study on personalities in pet cats. Litchfield’s team conducted a survey of 2,082 cats in New Zealand and Australia. The survey consisted of 52 personality items. Statistical analysis of the data found five reliable personality traits – “The Feline Five”: (citation below)

  1. Neuroticism
  2. Extraversion
  3. Dominance
  4. Impulsiveness
  5. Agreeableness

“The Feline Five” is similar to the Five Factor Method (FFM) used in human personality research. The FFM describes a person’s personality using five factors. An individual’s personality will have varying amounts of each factor. These five factors are: Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, and Openness to Experience.

THE FELINE FIVE AND HOW CATS GET ALONG


Anxious or calm? (neuroticism)


Cats that score high on this factor are typically shy, fearful of people, insecure and anxious. On the other hand, calm cats don’t get as stressed when faced with changes in environment and exposure to other animals and people.

It is worth observing how the anxious cat gets along with other cats in the household. Timid, anxious cats can become the targets of more dominant cats who may stalk and chase them and prevent them from accessing resources such as food and litter boxes.

  • Providing more resources and hiding areas will improve the welfare of anxious cats.
  • It may be necessary to provide dedicated areas that only these cats can access.

The anxious cat will also benefit from consistent and regular interaction with humans following the CAT guidelines (See Touch not the cat: interacting with cats).

extroverted or introverted?


Extroverted cats are out-going and inclined to interact with people and other pets. They are sociable and curious. Introverted cats spend more time alone and are more quiet and reserved.

Extroverted cats can be energetic and prone to boredom. This can result in interact conflict – for example, a younger active cat may pick on a senior cat for entertainment. Extroverted cats can benefit from more play (hunting), foraging (food puzzles), and supervised outdoor access via leash walks or a catio.

dominant or Meek?


The dominant cat will stalk and chase other cats and sometimes humans. They displace other pets from favored positions and will steal their food. “Meek” cats are more tolerant of other cats and are willing to time-share places; they don’t exhibit the bullying behavior of a dominant cat.

Dominance behaviors are thought to occur more frequently in captive populations of cats. In the colonies of wild cats, the females raise the kittens co-operatively. There is competition between some male cats but there are also the “family toms”, unrelated male cats that affiliate themselves with the colony and have been known to protect and participate in rearing the kittens. [I. Rochlitz(ed.), The Welfare of Cats, 1-22 © 2007 Springer]

The popular “pack hierarchy” theory of wolves has been abandoned. Observation of non-captive populations of wolves show that they group together in family units, where the parents guide the activities of the group.

In the instance of a dominant cat “bullying” a more timid cat, the welfare of both the bully and the victim must be considered.

  • Enrich the “bully” – give him or her more opportunities to play (hunt) and forage (food puzzles).  If possible, offer supervised outdoor access via leash walks or a catio
  • Provide the victim with ready access to resources and safe places. This may require separation when the two cats are not supervised.

impulsive or cautious?


Impulsive cats tend to be unpredictable and may react differently to the same thing at different times. Cautious cats are not so easily stimulated by their environment and keep to a smaller set of activities that they are comfortable with. Impulsive behavior is thought to be a response to environmental stress. [Litchfield et. al]

Agreeable or unfriendly?


Agreeable cats are well-adjusted cats that are friendly toward people and other pets. Low scores of agreeableness (irritable, aggressive toward people) may be due to poor socialization, frustration, pain or illness. [Litchfield et al.]

The agreeable cat is thought to be a source of enrichment for other cats in the household.

Personality and How Cats Get Along


Personality results for Gus.

Recognizing different personalities in our cats can help us manage how cats get along in our multi-cat homes. Whereas two timid/shy cats may get along, two dominant cats can clash. A dominant cat and timid cat may suffer from a bully-victim relationship.

What are the personalities of your cats? Take the online test based on the “Feline Five” at https://www.idrlabs.com. (Search for “feline five”).

Citation: Litchfield CA, Quinton G, Tindle H, Chiera B, Kikillus KH, Roetman P (2017) The ‘Feline Five’: An exploration of personality in pet cats (Felis catus). PLoS ONE 12(8): e0183455. https://doi. org/10.1371/journal.pone.0183455

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Fighting cats

If your cats get along well, they will share sleeping areas, engage in some allogrooming, and greet each other on occasion by touching noses. Well, you say, my cats aren’t very good friends but they aren’t trying to kill each other, either. What are the signs of conflict? What should we look for to avoid getting to the point “they want to kill each other”?

The 2020 survey referred to in last week’s post not only assessed affiliative behaviors, they also polled respondents on conflict behaviors. They chose seven behaviors associated with conflict. These are listed below with the frequency reported by the participants of the survey. (Elzerman AL, DePorter TL, Beck A, Collin JF. Conflict and affiliative behavior frequency between cats in multi-cat households: a survey-based study. J Feline Med Surg. 2020 Aug;22(8):705-717. doi: 10.1177/1098612X19877988)

Behavior Frequency Rank
Stare daily 7 – Most frequent
Stalking daily 6
Chasing daily 5
Running away weekly 4
Twitching Tail weekly 3
Hissing monthly to never 2
Wail/Scream monthly to never 1 – Least frequent
     

How do your Cats Get Along?


Let’s take a closer look at these conflict behaviors.

THE STARE


 

A cat will stare without blinking:

  • at prey while hunting – he is aware of where that animal is and what it is doing, otherwise he may miss out on dinner!
  • during a cat fight. Fighting cats must be able to rapidly respond if the other launches an attack.
  • to discourage another cat from accessing a resource.

 

Cat blocking other cat
Zelda looks innocent but she is keeping another cat from going through the door.

If you see one of your cats fixing an unblinking stare on another, take note of the circumstances and see what happens if you intervene. For example, if one cat is staring at another cat and is sitting in a doorway, she may be blocking the other from resources through that doorway.

Interrupt the stare by opening the door wider, throwing a treat away from the doorway, or redirecting the “door-blocker” with a toy. Does this give the other cat a chance to get through the doorway? If this is successful, you may want to look more closely at how these two cats get along.

Avoid handling the cats in this situation in case they are more aroused than they appear.

 

Stalking, Chasing and Running Away


These behaviors may be associated with:

When hunting, the cat is targeting a toy or prey. It is object play. But how do we know whether two cats are fighting or playing? After all, many of the same moves in a cat fight are seen when cats play together.

Just like a football game, play between cats has distinct rules. And, like football, tempers may flare when a player challenges the rules. What starts as play can escalate into a cat fight.

invitation to play

play sequence

Cats chasing each other

end of play

Play is over

Are these cats playing?

Social play consists of an invitation to play, the play sequence, and the end of play. The rules are:

  • Claws are not extended
  • Biting is gentle without intent to injure
  • The invitation to play is often repeated by one or the other of the cats throughout the interaction.
  • If one cat declines play (there may be some hissing and growling here), the game ends.

If you see that the “rules” are not being followed, it is time to shake a bag of treats or can of coins and redirect or separate the participants. [see Managing the Indoor Cat Fight].

Check all your cats regularly for wounds from bites and scratches.  If you notice your cats having a lot of wounds from scratches or bites and they “play” together, this may not be play. It may be conflict and it is time to observe the cats, assess their environment and social status.

Twitching Tail


A twitching tail indicates that a cat is focusing on something. The tail is for balance and changing direction – the tail often twitches before the cat pounces.

  • The twitching tail + stare > pounce: Is this play? conflict?
  • Are the rules of play being followed?
  • A map of the social groups in the house can help with deciding whether this is play or conflict.

Vocalizations – Hissing


The hiss is that snake-like sound. Cats may hiss when they are:

  • afraid
  • startled
  • frustrated
  • displeased
  • You will hear it in a cat fight, often from the cat on the defensive.

Vocalizations – Wailing/Screaming


Cats will wail or scream:

  • if they are fearful
  • if they are hurt and in pain
  • if they are fighting

You must decide from the circumstances and the body language of the cat or cats if these vocalizations are meaningful. If it is a cat fight, the combatants must be separated [managing the indoor cat fight]; if a cat is hurt, you must get the cat in a box or carrier for a trip to the vet.

Don’t wait for a fight to break out. Take a few moments to determine if your cats get along and if there is anything you can do to improve things.

  • Map social groups [Social Groups of Cats]
  • Draw a house map of resources (litter boxes, food stations, water, scratchers). Draw paths showing how cats reach these resources.
  • Move furniture if necessary to make accessing resources easier for all cats.
  • Make sure there sufficient resources for the number of cats.

Next week, we’ll take a look at describing individual cats’ personalities. How does this affect how cats get along?

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