I began doing cat behavior consulting in 1982. At the time, no one in their right mind was brave (or foolish) enough to attempt to go into cat parents’ homes and work one on one with them to try to resolve behavior issues. Back then, it was very common to hear people referring to one myth or the other about cats. Many people were resigned to living with a cat who had behavior problems. Many didn’t feel it was worth putting much time and effort into it because everyone knew cats were aloof, independent, not affectionate and certainly untrainable. While I never agreed with those myths, I did understand why many people believed them because there wasn’t much accurate information out there about cats. What surprises these days is that there’s so much information available and all you have to do is watch a YouTube video featuring cats to see that they are social, trainable and most definitely not aloof. People routinely mislabel cats are solitary as well so they never make an attempt to provide companionship for the cat no matter how lonely that kitty may be, or not much of an attempt at interaction is made. The problem with our perception is that we keep comparing cats and dogs and trying to show that one species is better than the other. The truth is that they’re just different.
No Aloofness Here
Cats are very tuned into their environment because they’re hardwired as predators. Their keen senses are on high alert for the sight, sound or smell of potential prey. So what you may interpret as a cat being aloof is actually your exquisitely designed companion being ready for anything. Just because your cat may not jump to immediate attention when you call her name, doesn’t mean she’s aloof – she’s focused.
Cats show affection in so many ways and you might even not notice some of the more subtle ones. Your cat doesn’t have to be a lap cat to be affectionate. She may enjoy sitting next to you or maybe even a several inches away but that doesn’t mean she’s not affectionate. Think about how many times your cat has rubbed her head against you (head bunting), given you one of those slow-blink cat kisses, rubbed alongside of you, purred or given you some scratchy-tongue kisses. Those are all signs of affection. Most cats enjoy being petted as well but not necessarily in the same way you pet your dog. No belly rubs for the kitty, please, or else you’ll trigger a defensive response. Some cats may also have preferences when it comes to where on the body they like being petted or for how long. Some cats will enjoy a kitty massage for extended periods and some prefer a drive-by stroke or two. Your cat spends a great deal of effort getting to know you as a companion — what you like, what you don’t, etc. - so if you do the same you increase your chances of having the relationship you’ve always wanted with her.
While it’s true that in general, cats can be kept home alone for longer periods that dogs, they are still dependent on us and are not low-maintenance companions. The misconception that cats are independent and require little or no care causes many of them to suffer needlessly both physically and emotionally.
Cats need your companionship and in fact, some will go through separation anxiety if left alone too often or for too long – something most people only associate with their canine counterparts. A cat may not display separation anxiety in the way we associate with dogs so it can be easy to overlook the signs that a cat is concerned and confused.
Solitary or Social?
Cats are constantly called solitary creatures and that’s not entirely true. Cats are social animals. Their social structure is different than that of dogs. The misconception may come from the fact that because they are small predators they often hunt alone because they go after prey that will only supply enough food for one. Cats are also unique in that they are predators but because of their size, they are also prey. They must be cautious in certain situations.
I believe the other factor that causes people to become confused about a cat’s social structure is that they’re territorial so relationships must go through the delicate process of identifying and negotiating turf issues. You may have a dog who instantly becomes friends with almost any other dog he meets, it may seem frustrating when you realize that cat introductions won’t ever be accomplished that quickly. I’ve often said that there’s a reason there are no cat parks in the world. Cat introductions require finesse and territorial negotiations. One cat isn’t going to happily bring a ball to the park with the hope that she’ll find another cat to play with.
If you just look at your cat’s world from her point of view you’ll see a wonderful companion who is ready to offer you so much love. Don’t compare her to a dog — look at her for the gorgeous cat that she is.