The cat family are mainly solitary predators except for members of the family like the lion and they do not live in socially structured groups.
However, while the wild ancestors of domestic cats are solitary animals, the social behavior of domestic cats is more variable and depends primarily on the density of cats and the availability of food sources.
Our pet cat, Felis catus, has proven to be an extremely adaptable species, while retaining its roots as a solitary hunter, in many cases (natural and artificial) will adapt to group living through the development of social structures.
Broadly speaking, the living arrangements of free-living domestic cats can be divided into those in which females form small groups, roughly analogous to the pride of lions, and those that maintain separate territories (more typical of most wild cats) living arrangements.
Colony life of cats
Wild cats (cats that live without human help) can and will form small colonies around available food sources. This is not inevitable and some will live alone, but it is not uncommon for females and kittens (maternal groups) to develop cooperatively in small groups. While there may be very loose dominance hierarchies within these groups, the relationships are complex, and they do not form interdependent hierarchies, such as can occur in dogs. Relationships are complex, with some cats more closely related and less connected to others – which may be influenced in part by how related they are, age, gender, etc. However, they neither developed a social survival strategy nor a herd mentality, and they continued to exist as lone hunters. Therefore, cats are not “social” animals, but have the ability to adapt to form social groups.
Where social groups of cats do exist, they seem to work well only when group members are familiar and there is no competition for food or other resources. Cats can develop strong social bonds with familiar people, especially between kittens in the same litter and between kittens and their mothers. However, in feral cat groups, kittens may often be fed (nursed) by more than one nursing queen, which in itself may help form social bonds at a young age. In fact, kittens may also try to suck from non-lactating queen bees, which may also help form social bonds.
Male cats usually do not form part of small colonies and tend to exist on the periphery with large territories that may overlap several groups of females.
Female groups/colonies generally have relatively more distinct and smaller territories, although the size of female territories varies greatly, probably in large part depending on the abundance of food and the number/density of females in the group.
Cats as obligate carnivores
All felines, including domestic cats, are obligate carnivores. While cats can safely digest plant material, they cannot meet all of their nutritional needs on a strictly plant-based diet.
If you already have a cat, it’s likely that this question has case proof, especially if your pet has been your buddy for a while.
Some domestic cats love to catch mice and other small prey and give them to their owners. If you have ever been the victim of such a gesture, fear not! This is just one of several signs that a cat is happy in your home.
In addition to their hunting skills and behavior, the anatomy of cats provides several clues as to why they are obligate carnivores.
If you may ask, an obligate carnivore is a predator that eats meat out of biological necessity. Some examples of obligate carnivores, both mammals and non-mammals, include dolphins, seals, hawks, snakes, lizards, and most amphibians.
As a result of their traditional diet throughout evolution, these animals may not be able to synthesize essential nutrients from plant material. This forces them to rely on other animals to provide them with vitamins, fatty acids and other pre-formed nutrients.
Biological features of obligate predators
The first key to confirming your cat’s proclivity for carnivory is also her most powerful weapon: her teeth!
Cats have 4 fangs at the front of their mouths that help them tear meat, whether it’s in the hunt or in a bowl of food.
They also have razor-sharp predatory teeth in their upper and lower jaws that help them deliver the final blow to small prey.
Next, the digestive system of a cat can confirm that your feline friend is meant to consume a meat-based diet.
Cats have the shortest digestive tract to body size ratio of any mammal. As a result, they have less fermenting bacteria to help them break down plant material and derive nutrients from it. For this and other reasons, cats are career carnivores that need to be kept on a meat-based diet.
Furthermore, cats are unable to produce an important enzyme that helps other mammals process starch.
Further, a cat’s digestive system can confirm that your friend is meant to eat meat. Cats have the shortest digestive tract relative to body size of any mammal. As a result, they have fewer fermenting bacteria that help them break down plant material and extract nutrients from it. For this and other reasons, cats are predators that must be kept on a meat diet.
In addition, cats are unable to produce an important enzyme that helps other mammals process starch. Salivary amylase is usually found in – you guessed it – saliva, where it starts digesting starch as soon as you take a bite.
Many carnivores have evolved to have the ability to convert plant matter into nutrients that support their health. For example, vitamin A plays a vital role in maintaining healthy skin, vision, immune system and neurological functions. The human body can synthesize vitamin A from beta-carotene, which is found in carrots, spinach, cabbage and sweet potatoes. Cats, on the other hand, are not capable of this synthesis, so without meat and other foods rich in vitamin A, they cannot meet their nutritional needs.
In general, plant proteins are of very little value to obligate carnivores. Too much reliance on a plant-based diet can lead to a deficiency of taurine, an amino acid that plays an important role in metabolism and biological functions. Taurine, commonly found in dark meats such as chicken and turkey, also supports your cat’s vision, nervous system, immune system and heart.
Finally, cats produce energy through gluconeogenesis, which means they use non-carbohydrate sources to meet their glucose needs. Instead of breaking down carbs for energy, your friendly predator turns amino acids, glycerol and other nutrients into energy to sustain life.