Are cats opportunists?

An opportunist, by definition, is someone “who takes advantage of situations or circumstances even if they are contrary to his principles or character”. In the animal kingdom, the reputation as an opportunist falls firmly the shoulders of the cat as opposed to the dog, which has earned its status as man’s faithful friend. But is the feline really an opportunist? Dr Maria Grazia Calore, veterinary doctor and expert in pet behaviour, reveals some little known facts.

Why are cats considered opportunistic?

A direct comparison with the dog has contributed to cat earning its reputation as an opportunist. The feline is well known for some particular characteristics, which are quite the opposite of a dog’s:

  • It is hardly trainable

  • It’s more independent and less tied to the social group

  • It is not always receptive to contact with humans
  • It tends to isolate itself more often

An ethological explanation: education from the mother

These traits can be explained, in part, by the predatory nature of the cat and the fact that it belongs to a relational species but the education it receives from its mother also has a part to play.

In fact, a typical mother cat is far from strict: she doesn’t intervene when her kittens demonstrate aggressive behaviour such as hissing or when they play fight when it’s time to eat. Instead, the mother cat encourages the kittens to explore the territory and teaches them to hunt by bringing them in prey, both dead and alive, to practice with. Thanks to this ‘training’, a young cat is ready to live independently from an early age.

Cat and man: a mutual benefit!

It is thought that in ancient times, the cat first approached man because it was attracted by “food remains” found close to human settlements, but at the same time, the feline was useful to man too, by protecting against mice and snakes that threatened the harvest.

Today, the terms of this mutual agreement have changed: man can count on a discreet companion who is less ‘trouble’ than a dog to keep as it can be left alone without suffering separation anxiety and it doesn’t need to be taken for a walk or be socialised with other cats – all the feline needs is food, water and a quiet place to rest.

So, are cats opportunists? Apparently not: contrary to other species, humans included, cats never give up their principles or character to benefit from situations. For example, if a cat finds itself in a situation of social stress, it won’t change his solitary nature in order to have food. More likely, it will move away in search of a better situation. On the other hand, if an opportunity came our way, wouldn’t we take it?