Getting a cat

Is it okay to only have one cat?

Contrary to popular belief, cats are social animals. Learn more about the social behavior of cats and if it's okay to keep only one cat.

Is it okay to only have one cat?
Barbara September 2, 2023 • 2 minutes read

If you’re considering becoming a cat owner, you may find yourself wondering: Is it okay to only have one? The answer to this question isn’t cut and dry: it depends on the cat’s individual needs, your lifestyle, and how much time you can dedicate to the companionship of your pet.

In this article, you’ll find out more about the social behavior of cats and signs your cat may be lonely.

Do cats prefer to live in solitude?

It’s time to dispel a common myth - that cats are solitary creatures. While it’s true free-living cats go hunting alone, they still have a strong sense of community. From helping raise each other’s kittens to building life-long friendships, cats are quite social at heart. 1

Cats also exchange their knowledge. They watch and learn from each other, teaching each other hunting skills and how to play. 2 Let’s take a closer look at how cats interact with each other in the outside world to gain a better understanding of cats’ needs for company.

The social behavior of cats

A feral and free-living cat can survive on their own when necessary. However, when there is plenty of food resources available, cats form social groups - so-called cat colonies. 3

Cats know who belongs to their colony and who doesn’t. When unfamiliar cats try to join, the cats in the group usually get aggressive and push them away. This is a common behavior in social animals – they don’t let outsiders just come in. If these outsider cats keep trying, they might be accepted eventually, but it takes time and lots of interactions. 3

Within the colony, they form affiliative or friendly relationships with other cats. They greet each other, groom each other, and rub against each other. They also show affection by just lying close together, sometimes even using each other as “pillows”. They do this even when it’s hot outside, which suggests it’s not about staying warm but more about looking for company. 3

Do cats prefer to live in solitude? Cats can survive on their own. However, do they prefer it? Research suggests otherwise. Feral and free-living cats form social groups - colonies - when there are enough food resources available. Within the colonies, they form lasting friendships, help each other out, and share their knowledge. Therefore, if you are thinking about getting a cat, consider adopting two cats instead of one.

Is it cruel to only have one cat?

This question isn’t as easily answered as it may seem. It depends on a variety of factors, including the cat’s personality and the environment they live in. In general, cats need stimulation, and the most ideal way to keep them entertained when you’re not around is by playing with a feline friend. 1

If you are often away from home - and your cat has no access to the outdoors - having only one cat isn’t ideal. As mentioned earlier, cats are social beings and enjoy companionship. 1 2 4 While there might be cats who have no problem with being alone, they’re still the exception. 2

However, if it’s just not possible to get two cats, you can still make sure your single cat feels loved and content. The most important thing is that you spend time with your cat and offer lots of stimulation. Plan regular play times, even if it’s just a few minutes in the morning and evening, and offer stimulating toys and attractive scratching posts. This way, you can ensure your cat is as happy as possible. 2

Is it cruel to only have one cat? It’s not inherently cruel to only have one cat. If you’re able to get two cats together, I’d suggest getting two. They’ll provide each other with much-needed stimulation when you’re at work or otherwise occupied. If having two cats is out of the question, make sure to provide your cat with plenty of attention and stimulation during their time with you.

How to tell if your cat is lonely

Even though cats are independent creatures, they still need companionship and stimulation. But how can you tell if your single cat is feeling lonely?

Here are some ways to tell if your cat is feeling lonely and in need of some companionship or enrichment:

Excessive clinginess

If your cat is constantly following you around, meowing for attention, and even getting upset if you leave the room, it might be a sign that they are feeling lonely. When cats lack mental and social stimulation, they will demand your attention to try and fill that gap. 4

Excessive meowing

Meowing is a way for cats to communicate - mainly with us, their humans. There are a variety of different meows, each with its own meaning. Short and high-pitched usually signal excitement, while longer and lower-pitched meows are usually signs of distress. 4 If your cat is regularly vocalizing for no apparent reason, it’s likely a sign that they’re seeking attention or feeling lonely.

Destructive behavior

Destructive behavior in cats can often be linked to boredom and stress. For indoor cats, especially if they’re often alone, this can manifest in scratching furniture, chewing on cords and other objects. 1 4

To prevent destructive behavior, offer your cat a variety of toys to keep them engaged. Also, make an effort to spend quality time with them daily. Just a bit of your attention can make a big difference in their happiness and help curb their urge to destroy things around the house. 4

And, of course, if you have the possibility, getting a second cat is a great way to keep your single cat company when you’re not around.

Self-destructive behavior

When a cat feels overwhelmingly stressed, it may engage in self-destructive behaviors. This could involve constant licking or scratching to the point of harming themselves. It also includes compulsive actions like tail chasing. 1

Self-destructive behavior in cats should never be overlooked. If you notice your cat is engaging in any of these behaviors, take them to the vet to rule out any underlying medical conditions.

One possible cause of self-destructive behavior is a lack of stimulation. Cats need activities that engage their minds and bodies to stay happy and healthy. They need opportunities to hunt, stalk, and engage in play. It’s the caregiver’s responsibility to provide these opportunities for their cat.


I think it’s safe to say that cats do not prefer to be alone. Cats are social animals and require companionship in order to stay happy and healthy. If you’re considering getting a cat, it would be good to get two cats together, ideally from the same litter. This way, they’ll provide each other with stimulation when you’re not around. However, it’s important to note that while interactions with other cats are valuable, they are not a substitute for the attention and care provided by humans. 5

So, is it okay to only have one cat? There’s no simple answer to this question. It depends on a variety of things, such as the size of your living space, the cat’s personality, and your lifestyle. In general, I recommend adopting two cats. However, if that’s not possible, you can still provide your single cat a happy life. With the right amount of attention and stimulation, such as regular play times, stimulating toys, and scratching posts, you can ensure that they stay healthy and happy.

  1. Ludwig, G. (2018). Katzen - Das große Praxishandbuch. GU. ISBN 978-3-8338-28275 ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎

  2. Galaxy, J., Delgado, M. (2019). Der Katzenflüsterer - Für ein glückliches Katzenleben. PLAZA. HEEL Verlag GmbH. ISBN 978-3-95843-882-8 ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎

  3. Crowell-Davis, S. L., Curtis, T. M., & Knowles, R. J. (2004). Social organization in the cat: A modern understanding. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 6(1), 19–28. ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎

  4. The Cat Encyclopedia: The Definitive Visual Guide (2014). Dorling Kindersley Limited. A Penguin Random House Company. ISBN 978-1-4093-4790-3 ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎

  5. Rochlitz, I. (2005). A review of the housing requirements of domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus) kept in the home. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 93(1–2), 97–109. ↩︎

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