Lonely Cat? How to tell.
Lonely cat? People get confused about this subject. They use human standards, then get their own emotions mixed in with their cat’s.
This is about our cat’s social needs, as well as our own. Here are some ideas for assessing the situation.
Lonely cat detection
One ironic thing about cat loneliness is how it doesn’t look like it to humans. A person sees their cat lying around all the time, and then projects their own feelings onto their cat.
If I lay around alone all the time, I’d be depressed.
It’s actually the depression which comes first. That is what might lead to a person lying around alone all the time. A happy cat is thrilled to lie around in any case. Does it bother them to do this by themselves?
Here’s one way to tell. If they’ve been alone, and we come home, what happens?
As seen above, I caught Mithrandir’s picture at the moment he realized I was snuggling close to exchange affection. It’s a happy realization.
Before we brought him into Kitten Country, I could tell Mithy was lonely. When I would show up in his territory, he was quick to appear and begged for attention from me. He would go away, just for the joy of coming back within minutes. There was clinging.
Mithy is feral and Gamma-shy, but he’s also social. Olwyn, with her constant critical eye, was not filling his needs for cat companionship. Mr. WayofCats, with time spent in Kitten Country, was not being that much of a human companion, once Olwyn grudgingly shared his attentions. He gave Mithy regular grooming and play sessions, but we could tell it wasn’t enough.
Mithy was cranky. He was playing with things he shouldn’t. Then, he started wailing in the night, a classic Gamma cry of distress.
It’s been two weeks now with him living in Kitten Country with Reverend Jim, Tristan, Bud, and Lou. He’s a happy member of the Boy’s Club again. He shows up in the kitchen for mealtimes, uses the Litter-Robot faithfully, and plays (carefully) with the two kittens.
With his arrival, all three adults now call formal Cat Conferences. These take place in the living room almost every evening. It’s a circle of cat loaves in each other’s eye line. With Bud, who is apparently the intern, in the doorway, observing.
Lou is not considered management material. I agree. He’s a goofball with marshmallow filling at this point.
Mithrandir was a lonely cat. He really missed his Civilization. We would have done it sooner when he began showing these signs. We were held up by finding a carrier to contain his size. But it was okay because his time as an Isolationist Cat was mostly happy. We had to wait for his loneliness to grow bigger than his fear of new kittens.
Happy with solitude
What of Olwyn, sometimes all alone in tiny Sharehouse? Why she has Mr. WayofCats all to herself.
When he is elsewhere, she reclines on his pillow, slightly above it all. Now she has time to herself, without managing creatures who don’t want to be managed.
Olwyn is the opposite of loneliness. She is glad to see me, happy to be cuddled and quick to lie across me when I watch a movie downstairs. Yet there is no pacing or wailing, and she is thrilled to cuddle with Mr. WayofCats all night.
We will be watching for signs she misses the Boy’s Club, but so far, there are none. This, too, could change.
When Mithrandir was distressed by his situation, he showed signs of stress in sad vocalizing. He would draw our attention by playing with stuff he knew to leave alone. He and Olwyn would strain their genuine friendship with his exchanges. As I explain in Dear Pammy, Should I get my cat a kitten? a bored or lonely cat is often a misbehaving cat.
Stress is often expressed with frantic activity and blaming other cats for it. We need to step in. Our job is to moderate the cat disagreements, but also figure out their causes.
If we have a single cat, their kittenhood with us might be smooth in their solitary time. As they develop into Teen Cat, or when they reach adulthood, this might change. As their brain develops, they might need more complex social interaction, and they might want something they can’t quite put their paw on because it’s not there to be focused on.
This is especially likely if we have cats with breed clues from known breeds with high social needs. Siamese, Burmese, Maine Coon Cat, and Shorthairs are known to enjoy companionship, whether cats or people. They might not like being left alone for long stretches of time.
Solved with numbers
Since cat rescue is a giant roulette wheel of genetics, any cat might long for more interaction and companionship that we, alone, can supply. Our cat might happily greet us to show they missed us, but not be distressed when we leave the next morning, either.
But if our cat is always in search of “things to do” and our efforts to leave toys and hide treats are not enough, it’s possible the problem is loneliness. If we can, we might consider getting another cat. Of course, my solution is to add two new cats, a Cat Social Unit.
Because, so much of the time, the solution to this cat problem is more cats.