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Hierarchy in cat groups: is there such a thing?


For a long time, scientists thought that there was no such thing as a hierarchy or a fixed social structure in cat groups. It was said that cats were individualists and loners who were happy even without the company of their own kind. Nowadays one knows: this is not true. However, the "pecking order" under fur noses is not as clear and unambiguous as, for example, in a dog pack. Who is the boss? The hierarchy in cat groups is flexible and quite complex - Shutterstock / DmyTo

In a multi-cat household or when outdoors go to meet the neighboring cats, subtle signs can be seen upon careful observation, which reveal the hierarchy in the respective cat groups. But how do the fur noses determine who is the highest ranking kitty and what factors influence this social structure?

Are cats loners or social creatures?

For a long time, lions from the large cat family were the only representatives that could be described as social beings. A species is considered to be social if the animals that belong to it form strong relationships with one another and thus establish a certain hierarchy - like dogs or lions in a pack. The other cats, including our beloved house tigers, were viewed as individualistic loners who do not care much about the society of their peers. But then scientists found that bobcats and cheetahs also live in groups and establish a certain hierarchy there. Recently, researchers discovered that there appears to be a hierarchy and social structure in domestic cat groups as well.

Hierarchy in cat groups is very complex

In the 1970s, experts were still convinced that cat groups consisted of individualists thrown together who happened to be in the same place at the same time because there was something to eat there. Her theory was that hunger was apparently stronger than the need to defend your own territory. There are certainly reclusive velvet paws who do not value cat society and who are satisfied as a single cat. But most cats appreciate it if they can at least occasionally communicate with other people - for example, free walkers on a tour of their territory. Domesticated cats can also have a very intimate and loving relationship with their favorite person, especially if they are raised by hand.

The reason for the assumption that our house tigers are independent rebels without interest in their fellow cats is probably due to the complexity of the structure of cat groups. The hierarchy is not fixed at some point and then stays that way, but is flexible and can vary if circumstances change. In addition, differences between female cat groups and hangover friendships can be observed. The structure is even different when all the cats and cats in the community are neutered.

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How is the ranking under fur noses determined?

Which place in the hierarchy of cat groups a fur nose takes depends on various factors. In any case, it is not the case that the largest, strongest, and bossiest hangover in the community takes the crown and keeps it for the rest of his life. For example, health status, inner peace and self-confidence are more important if a domestic tiger wants to occupy an upper place in the ranking. If a velvet paw community consists of female animals, a close family bond can often be observed. Sisters, aunts, grandmas and cat mothers form a group, protect each other, guard and suckle other mothers' litters and defend their kittens against aggressive tomcats who only spread their own genes and want to do something to the offspring. The ranking of the females is rather subtle, but they do exist. Older cats, who have had offspring more often, enjoy a higher status, unless they are sick, then it sinks again.

Hangovers do not form such fixed groups, but make friends with their fellows, which are also called "brotherhoods". The hierarchy is more clearly regulated there, but only applies in connection with the hangover brotherhood. In his own territory, a young male who is at the bottom of the "pecking order" in the male group may also be the boss. Territorial battles serve to clarify the ranking within the group, especially young cats who are new to the area must first prove themselves before they are accepted into the illustrious circle of the brotherhood. If he fails, he may have to relinquish his territory and is bullied by the other hangovers. Once all the animals in a community have been neutered, the gender differences are no longer so clearly recognizable.

Importance of the hierarchical structure for the multi-cat household

The highest-ranking kitty in a cat flat share has certain privileges: she is allowed to eat first and chooses the best places that then belong to her. You can tell which of your fur noses has the highest status if you closely monitor body language and behavior. The "Queen" enters a room straight away and sits confidently at her favorite place, which offers the most advantages for cats. In winter it is the warm place by the heater or by the fireplace, in summer it is the highest and best lookout point. Lower-ranking animals tend to sneak along the wall and get the less attractive places. In addition, the cats rub their cheeks on the highest-ranking velvet paw that the head-butters only receive. There are scent glands in the cheeks of the cat and rubbing mixes the smells of the house tigers and creates a community. This is very important for social ties. The cats below in the hierarchy take the first step.

The social structure in the multi-cat household can easily get out of balance if something changes. These can be minor things, like the changing of the seasons, through which the favorite places change. A change of furniture or even a move make it necessary for the cat flat share to be reoriented. It can be problematic if a cat falls ill or dies because the whole hierarchy gets mixed up. This can lead to stress, restlessness and even aggressiveness.