Many cat lovers keep more than one cat, but are multiple felines a good idea? Veterinarian David Gething, of Creature Comforts (www.creaturecomforts.com.hk) says it depends on the situation.

"Nearly all members of the cat family are solitary predators that do not tend to form social groups. The only real exception are lions," Gething says. "Domestic cats, when living in the wild, don't tend to live in multicat situations, and are solitary hunters. They tend to live alone and eat alone, only coming together either to fight for dominance and territory, or to mate.

"Cats will mark their individual territory with scents and pheromones and, if another cat strays onto established territory, the resident cat will hiss and growl initially, and fight if the advances continue. Furthermore, because cats have evolved into having a generally solitary lifestyle, they are not nearly as good at some of the visual and vocal cues for interaction."

Gething says it can be more difficult for them to have complex interactions and properly socialise, although cats have the ability to communicate with each other and with people. "This is not to say that cats can't live together. They are masters of adaptation, and they can form social units if the situation presents itself. Feral cat colonies are one example, where groups consisting generally of females and juveniles will congregate around areas with plentiful food and shelter." These situations usually occur only when conditions for survival are favourable and there is no competition for resources. Cats do not tend to work as a pack to hunt or achieve goals like other species and, if resources are scarce, they will tend to compete rather than work together.

"Humans are very sociable and we live in social groups, be it within the house or the neighbourhood, and because of this, we tend to expect the same of our cats." Gething says many cat owners do have more than one cat and, in many cases, they will live in harmony with their feline companions, but this is usually due to their adaptability rather than a desire to be a pack animal. "Unfortunately, we do see instances where the social dynamic breaks down quite regularly."

There are benefits of multicat households, he adds. "The biggest is the company and mental stimulation that having a buddy provides. When you live in a country with long working hours such as Hong Kong, having two cats at home can mean less reliance on the owners being there to play and entertain." He says human interaction, love and affection are important, too, but a feline friend can help supplement or add to the social contact.

Cats will usually not lie next to each other, but they'll often stay in the same room, content in knowing they have a companion nearby. Young cats will often also play together rather than playfully attacking people or the furnishings. Even as they grow older, and aren't playing so wildly together, they'll still enjoy the interaction of having another cat in the house, the vet says.

Next week, we discuss common issues that can arise in multicat households. 

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