Cats are famous for moving around on their own if something doesn’t suit them. Or they lead a double life with their neighbors, which often remains hidden for a long time.

Just like in the case of a cat on the outskirts of Vienna that I was told: When he was diagnosed with diabetes, his owner put a collar around his neck with her cell phone number and a request not to feed the animal. It needed special food.

“Four elderly ladies immediately called the owner.” All of them had been in and out of hangovers for a long time. To date, he was the only one who saw through the network of relationships.

There are countless stories about how cats’ double lives were exposed. As a rule of thumb, if they come home less often and appear well fed, a second family could be involved. Some people accept that and even talk to their neighbors about who is on vacation and when.

In other cases, the dispute escalates, and lawyers are hired, who then send out requests to cease and desist so that the cat is no longer fed by someone else or allowed into the neighbor’s house.

Cats are interested in potential new homes for many reasons. These range from changes at home that the animal finds stressful – a new partner, the birth of a child – to delicious food.

“You should never feed strange cats,” says biologist Dennis C. Turner, who has researched, among other things, the relationship between humans and house cats. The – usually well-intentioned – gesture harbors the danger of destroying a relationship: that between the cat and its original owners. In addition, feeding can be bad for the health of the animal, says the Swiss-American.

“If the cat goes to the neighbor, then you should talk nice to the neighbors,” advises Turner. It is well known that the independent animals like to visit several households. “Cats are basically opportunists, even when it comes to their contacts,” the scientist states.

Turner has found that cats are sensitive to changes in the household and often stay outside longer at first. “They will come back later.” This applies at least to well-socialized animals, i.e. those who like to interact with people from an early age.

The fact that cats are even able to independently organize a new home is due to their personality, which from a scientific perspective is the result of evolution and domestication. “Cats are very individual and don’t bond very closely to their people,” says the Austrian biologist and behavioral scientist Kurt Kotrschal, who has researched, among other things, human-animal relationships. Dogs, on the other hand, as descendants of wolves, are cooperation and bonding animals. The ancestors lived in packs.

Exactly this independence of cats fascinates widely – and according to Kotrschal it is also a reason why many people prefer cats to dogs. The animals also like to be alone and decide for themselves when they want to have contact, says the scientist. “It’s a social relationship with built-in distance.”

“The bond works in cats between mothers and offspring, but not among themselves,” says the researcher. “And unlike dogs, it’s not pronounced between humans and cats.”

Recent research has suggested that the brain structure of cats is one reason why the animals don’t engage in complex social relationships. “The cat can’t help it,” says the scientist. “If she likes people, she likes people in general.”

The easiest way to prevent cats from moving to another family is to keep them indoors. This is also the right thing to do for safety reasons, as many cats die on the streets. And because of species protection, since free-roaming cats kill a lot of songbirds.

There has been a bitter debate about the confinement of cats, for example during the breeding season of birds, for years, and for many people confinement of their pet is probably not an option. Sometimes the result of visiting the neighborhood is a move after all.

In such cases, the Freiburg behavioral biologist Immanuel Birmelin advocates respecting the cat’s wishes. The scientist, who generally advocates treating pets better, has done a lot of research on how animals think.

There are certainly parallels to thought processes in humans, says Birmelin. The animals make their decisions and have rational reasons for doing so. Seeking legal advice when moving out of a cat is not a good idea. It is better to think about why the cat moved out and to think about how the animal will come back home voluntarily.

Sources: Institute for Applied Ethology and Animal Psychology by Dennis C. Turner, Kurt Kotrschal at the University of Vienna, Association for Behavioral Research by Immanuel Birmelin, RND

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