Why You Can’t Herd Cats

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By Samme



Ever wonder why you can’t herd cats? Blame evolution and ancient feline survival strategies.

That’s according to researchers, who say that cats have evolved behaviors that make them solitary and resistant to cooperation, according to a  BBC report.

“Cats have evolved lots of mechanisms to keep themselves apart, which aren’t exactly conducive to herding,” Daniel Mills, told the BBC. Mills is a professor of veterinary behavioural medicine at the University of Lincoln, UK. In a recent study, Mills and a colleague demonstrated that cats are more autonomous and solitary than dogs.

Unlike other animals that band together to form defensive units, cats remain loners even when confronted with extreme danger. “It’s just not something that they typically do when they’re threatened,” says Monique Udell, a biologist at Oregon State University. Basically, cats do not subscribe to strength in numbers, she said. Lions are the exception to the rule.


The findings come from a study published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology. The authors found that cats are not only solitary, but impulsive and resistant to being ordered around.

Domestic cats are not purely antisocial. But their sociability – to one another or to their human owners – is  on their terms, according to the BBC report, which points out that ancient cats essentially domesticated themselves by moving into human dwellings to hunt mice. “They retain a large degree of independence and approach, or stay close to us, only when they want to,” says Dennis Turner, a cat expert and animal behaviorist at the Institute for Applied Ethology and Animal Psychology in Horgen, Switzerland.


Cats keep themselves apart so they don’t compete for food while hunting. They spray their territory to avoid awkward encounters with each other. If they accidentally come face to face, the claws can come out. Hence the territorial rivalry between Downing Street cats Larry and Palmerston.

(Photo: Steve Back/The Telegraph)


Domestic cats might be a bit more cooperative than their wild relatives. “When the researchers compared the domestic cat to four wild cats – Scottish wildcats, clouded leopards, snow leopards and African lions – the domestic cats proved to be most like those group-living lions in terms of their overarching personalities.”




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