Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Social Maturity (Or The Beginning Thereof)

(Photo above shows Cora, Shadow, and Brodie snuggling on their new favorite shelf-bed.)

One subject that's been on my mind rather a lot lately is social maturity in cats. Small felines reach reproductive maturity anytime between about four and twelve months, but social maturity can come considerably later -- usually sometime between two and four years.

Why has this been on my mind? Well, mainly because Coraline, Brodie, and Shadow will be two years old in August, and it is clear that things are shifting within the Kitty Social Order around here, as well as with respect to individual cats.

All three youngsters seem to have gotten considerably more confident and more sure-footed over the past two months or so. This has been dramatically in evidence for Brodie in particular. Cora (who has always been the boldest and most assertive of the three) is thus having to deal with two brothers who no longer just defer to her when it comes to who gets to sit on the softest bed or the highest perching spot, or who simply aren't agile enough to get to such places.

Brodie, meanwhile seems to be reveling in his newfound assertiveness. While he is still very shy and cautious around unfamiliar humans, Brodie's interfeline negotiation toolbox now includes such items as "challenge sister for the top perch on the cat tree and chase her until she decides to give up and go sit somewhere else".

It is a wee bit odd, I must say, to see that sort of thing from someone who is generally such a polite cat. But given nobody ever has a scratch on his or her person following such a scuffle, I'd wager these tiffs are just a bit of sibling one-upmanship as opposed to serious fighting.

According to author Pam Johnson-Bennett, writing in Cat vs. Cat: Keeping Peace When You Have More Than One Cat:

Much like human adolescence, social maturity is the prime time for cats to jockey for social positions. This may cause subtle and not-so-subtle shifting in the pecking order in a formerly peaceful, well-established cat family. This can be a time when a cat feels more confident and views an opportunity to elevate his status.

In other words, as cats near social maturity it is perfectly normal for them to start asserting themselves more. Thus, so long as nobody is getting hurt (which they aren't) and as long as nobody seems to be showing signs of undue stress (which I'm also not seeing) I figure it's probably best to just keep an eye on things and not worry overmuch.

After all, in amidst the "position-jockeying" Cora and Brodie continue to share napping spots on occasion and play cooperatively. They're very closely bonded still, something which is evident even in casual contexts (like in the picture below, when they were both watching a toy):

I am really beginning to see the benefits of raising littermates together in all this...clearly Cora, Brodie, and Shadow have managed to learn the finer points of claw-sheathing and bite-strength moderation. Kittens taken from their families very young may have issues later on with biting, etc., because they've not gotten the social experience that lets them learn what actually hurts vs. what simply makes a statement.

As for Shadow specifically, what I've noticed there is that he has recently gotten a lot quicker to assert his opinions to his siblings, as well as much bolder when it comes to standing his ground with the human members of the household. E.g., whereas before all I needed to do was look at him if he jumped onto an off-limits surface (such as the stove) and he would get right down, now he will stare straight back at me and hold his position until I literally get up and walk over there.

I have also lately been wowed repeatedly by Shadow's growing talent at anticipating and reading the actions and moods of his housemates (human and feline alike). He's gotten particularly adept at figuring out when I am about to give Nikki food in "her" room (she prefers to eat privately), sneaking in, and hiding under the futon. Of course Nikki knows when he's there even when I don't and generally she lets me know, but still.

It is amazing to consider the tiny little cues Shadow must be picking up on in order to determine "hey, if I go hide under here now, maybe I'll score some extra crunchies!" Because he just seems to KNOW what I am going to do, even before I get up to do it. He really does run circles around me (figuratively AND literally sometimes!) in this department. And his sense of humor (which is very much of the "trickster" variety) is developing in leaps and bounds. E.g., where he used to just randomly chase Nikki around the house (something that she did not appreciate), now he's more liable to do a kind of "fake-out" move wherein he simply jumps or runs in her general direction but then alters his course just prior to breaching Nikki's personal space boundary.

Nikki, meanwhile, nowdeems him worthy of close-range pillow-napping (he used to get away with cuddling up to her occasionally before, but usually she'd swat him if she "caught" him making such an attempt. Now she knowingly lets him sit near her. Hopefully he realizes what an honor that is!):

...and of course, he and Brodie are still total snugglebuddies:

Coraline, as noted above, has always been a very confident cat, so her recent advances in that area (while there have certainly been a few) haven't been as dramatic as her brothers'.

Cora, looking lioness-like as she captures the feather toy

Primarily what I've observed with regard to her lately is that she's gotten more strategic. I've had to go through yet another round of cat-proofing in the house: securing shelves, moving items that could be knocked down, and applying non-skid material to surfaces that weren't necessarily intended to be for kitty-climbing (but which, I figure, I'd better make safe for such activities since it seems they're going to happen anyway!).

Additionally, much to my utter bewilderment, Cora seems to be trying to befriend (or at least develop some sort of mutually amicable relationship with) Nikki. Nikki now lets her much further into her substantive "personal space bubble" than previously:

(The above picture was taken just after Cora had made a "brrrt!" greeting-noise at Nikki and rolled over on her back.)

Cora will happily challenge her brothers for a favored path or resource, but somehow, it seems she's come to see Nikki as someone meriting a certain degree of deference. Which is something I am kind of relieved about, given the very strong personalities of both girlcats here. Upon introducing them I figured someone was going to have to start granting the right of way. And it does make sense it would be Nikki, given her seniority and relative worldliness.

Anyway, needless to say, I am very glad I managed to outfit my desk area and office closet with a whole new set of climbing, perching, and napping-spot opportunities recently. Since currently none of the four cats here (not even Nikki, since being injured fighting outside late last year) have unescorted access to the outdoors, it is really important that they have sufficient indoor territory, especially as they continue to mature and seek their place(s) in their home.


  1. Great post, Anne! Looks like your cats are very happy in the environment you have created for them.

  2. CPP: Wow, no fucken this or that in your comment?!

    But anyway, thanks. :P I try my best to provide a good home and do right by the kitties, but ultimately of course they'll be the judges of that! At the very least all of them seem to be developing a healthy self-respect which is really good to see.


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