Most feline species are solitary and territorial, but domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus) can often end up cohabiting in large groups. So how do they support each other?
That’s the question the Japanese researchers are exploring, and they started by looking at the relationship between hormone levels, gut microbiomes, and social behaviors in cats living in high densities.
They found that domestic cats with low levels of cortisol and testosterone are more tolerant in their interactions with other cats than those with high levels of these hormones, according to their new study Posted in PLOS ONE.
And, contrary to what they expected from research on animals that typically live in groups, domestic cats with high levels of oxytocin (the so-called “love hormone”) did not show any bonding behaviors.
“Low levels of testosterone and cortisol in cats enabled them to share space and live together, but the higher the oxytocin, the less affiliative behavior with others and the more solitary they are,” the authors explain. .
For two weeks, the team from the Human-Animal Interaction and Reciprocity Laboratory at Azabu University in Tokyo, Japan, studied three different groups of five domestic cats living together in a shelter.
They used video cameras to observe the cats’ behavior, collected urine samples to measure cortisol, oxytocin and testosterone levels, and collected feces to determine the microbial species composition in the cats’ microbiomes. .
Interestingly, cats with higher testosterone concentrations had a greater tendency to escape from the experiment room than those with lower concentrations. Cats that came into contact with other group members without fear had lower levels of cortisol (the main stress hormone).
Higher levels of oxytocin have already been found be associated with social bonding behavior in group living species, but they found a negative association between oxytocin levels and this behavior.
“Oxytocin typically functions affiliatively within groups, but our results suggest that although typically solitary and territorial animals live at high densities, their oxytocin functions are opposite to those of animals typically living in groups,” explain the authors.
Researchers also found that “even if cats spend time together and share the same space, they might not be able to form tightly connected groups.”
But more research on this is needed, as the two-week experimental period might be too short to form these close relationships.
They also found that cats that had more frequent contact had greater microbiome similarity in their guts. When animals live together and share the same environment, the risks of direct or indirect contact – and transmission of microbes between them – are increased, as is the similarity of their gut microbiome.