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Those of us that live with and love cats know that cats are different from dogs, people, and other species. We also recognize that cats can be important family members, friends, companions, and even “the love of our life”. The cat’s social structure is sufficiently different from ours that it was once thought that cats were not social animals. We now know that cats are indeed social, just different.

The cat’s social structure usually consists of related females cooperatively caring for kittens in a colony. Many of the adult males leave the colony and may remain solitary; some will try to integrate into a colony, which can take a very long time of slow and gradual introductions.

Cats choose with whom to be social and when. When we understand that social groupings usually consist of queens and kittens, it makes good sense to adopt littermates or siblings together. These kittens already have a great social group and are much more likely to be “best buds for life”. Being the same age, they can play rough together, without a younger cat hurting an older cat. The next best choice is a kitten and the mother cat.

Trying to introduce different cats to each other is like a solitary cat trying to integrate into a colony – the introduction needs to be very slow and gradual. Even if the cats live together without hissing or fighting, they may pass each other without any interest to sleep together or play together – or they may choose to become great friends just as mine did. The rule with cats from different families though is they need to choice; if we try to force them to be friends, it will backfire.

How can you tell if your cats are friends (called “affiliates” in veterinary medicine)? Cats that like each other rub against each other, and often sleep or rest together. They also lick each other, preferably on the head and neck. (see pictures) In fact, when introducing ourselves to a cat, it’s best to massage in front of the ears, under the chin, or on the cheeks. But first let the cat come to you and then do so; forcing them, will greatly delay the loving relationship.