You're probably familiar with the idea of a pack of dogs having a strict social structure and a pack leader. You may wonder if cats do this as well. Feral cats will often form large groups, with a dominant female at the helm.
A feral cat has grown up without socializing with humans. Unlike your feline pal, a feral cat will typically avoid humans and hiss or run away if you get too close. When not spayed or neutered, feral cats will form a social structure centered around mating. A female, or queen, will often live in a supportive group with other females and their kittens. These groups will play together, groom each other and defend their territory. Female cats will occupy small territories that typically overlap with other feral females. The oldest sexually active female will typically take on the role of dominant female.
A tom cat, or sexually active male, has a tougher lot in life. He'll spend most of his life alone, roaming a large territory looking for a mate. You've probably seen a feral tom with a torn ear or facial scars. He likely obtained them during battles over territory with other males. When he encounters a queen in heat, he'll attempt to mate with her. However, if the attention is unwanted, the female will send him packing, swatting him and snarling at him. It can take several hours for a queen to warm up to a tom and allow him to mate with her. Once the deed is done, the male heads on his way to sow his seed, and the queen will raise her kittens without him.
The dominant queen will get the best sleeping places and first dibs on food. She'll also get her choice of locations to have her kittens. She'll have first claim on hunting areas that will provide the most prey. Submissive queens may help the dominant queen with her litter, bringing them food or helping groom them. Toms don't typically take part in this social structure. While this social behavior is most evident in groups of feral cats, it is also sometimes observed in sanctuaries. These are large areas where many cats live together but are fed and taken care of by humans.
The House Cat
Your domestic kitty won't form the same social hierarchy as his feral cousins, but he may display modified versions of this behavior. Since he's probably been fixed, he lacks the sexual drive that is the motive for these social groups. Not to mention, he doesn't have to hunt for food or raise a litter of kittens. Kittens will seek out the companionship of other pets in the home as well as your love and attention. Once kitty has grown up and established his territory, he'll be weary of any new pets in the house and will look to establish his dominance. If you've ever seen one kitty roll on his back in front of another kitty, this is a type of submissive behavior. Domestic cats are fundamentally different from their feral cousins in that they never grow out of that kittenish need for play and tactile contact.
- The Encyclopedia of the Cat; Michael Pollard
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