By Lindsay Lowe
“Should I get a second cat?” If you have one kitty at home, chances are you’ve asked yourself that question at some point.
It’s true that many cats can benefit from having a feline buddy. Although cats have a reputation as solitary animals, they are social creatures and can thrive on forming close bonds with other creatures.
Certain changes in behavior, such as irregular sleeping, eating, or grooming habits, may indicate that a cat is lonely and could benefit from some feline companionship. That said, if you notice behavioral shifts, don’t automatically assume your kitty needs a friend, cautions Marilyn Krieger, a certified cat behavior consultant and owner of TheCatCoach.com. “Whenever you see a different behavior, it’s very important to take the cat to the vet to make sure there isn’t something physical going on,” she says.
If you are thinking of bringing home a second cat—and your vet thinks it’s a good idea—here are seven signs that your cat may benefit from some feline companionship.
If your cat meows excessively, follows you around, and generally won’t leave you alone, it could be a sign that she needs more social interaction, says Pam Johnson-Bennett, a certified cat behavior consultant and owner of Cat Behavior Associates in Nashville. This “extremely needy” behavior could indicate separation issues, she says.
“If you notice your cat is looking sort of unkempt and not grooming himself as much,” this could be a sign that your cat is lonely or distressed, Johnson-Bennett says. Obsessive over-grooming, which may be a form of self-soothing, could also be a sign that your cat might benefit from a buddy. However, don’t assume your cat is lonely if he demonstrates unusual grooming habits, she warns. It could also indicate a medical condition.
Is your cat chowing down more than usual? It could be a sign of boredom or lack of social stimulation. “Just like with people, the cat may turn to food because there’s nothing else to do,” Johnson-Bennett says. “Or the cat may not eat as much, because she or he might start becoming depressed.” A change in eating habits may also indicate a medical issue, however, so make sure to bring it up with your veterinarian.
If your cat starts knocking things over or tearing apart furniture while you’re out, it could be a sign of boredom or loneliness. “If there’s nothing to do and no one to play with, the cat will find something,” Johnson-Bennett says. “Because they’re predators, they are born to move and discover.”
Unusual litter box habits can also be a sign of stress or loneliness, Johnson-Bennett says. If your previously litter-box-trained kitty starts going in other parts of the house, you should definitely mention the change to your veterinarian. “Cats are such creatures of habit that they give us such a good signal,” she says. “It’s like a blinking neon sign when they change their routine.”
A shift in sleeping habits may indicate loneliness. “If the cat sleeps a lot and doesn’t engage with you anymore, it could be that the cat is just so lonely, she’s kind of become depressed,” Johnson-Bennett says. But, as with any other change of habit, it’s important to rule out medical issues first.
Just like people, cats can become lethargic when they’re bored, lonely, or depressed, Krieger says. If you notice your cat has become listless and low-energy, it could be a sign that he would benefit from having a feline pal around. However, a feline friend may not be the only solution, Krieger points out. Your kitty may simply need more interaction with her human companions, or more enriching toys to keep him busy.
Introducing a second cat into the home should be a careful, gradual process. Though cats can be very social, they are also territorial and may initially bristle at a new feline’s presence. “We don’t do well if somebody just comes into our house and takes over,” Krieger says. “It’s the same with cats.” She recommends keeping the second cat in a different room to begin with, then gradually introducing her to your first cat. Also, when choosing a second cat, make sure she has a similar temperament and energy level to your first cat.