After historical periods oscillating from being appreciated to persecuted, domestic cats have come to occupy a privileged position within many modern societies: they are now becoming the most popular of the companion animals. In several countries, the number of cats is greater than dogs. In other countries such as Brazil where the dog population is bigger and more dogs than cats are acquired annually as pets, the cat acquisition rate is growing faster. Therefore, even in such places, forecasts are that cats will probably outnumber dogs in the near future.
To the casual observer, domestic cats seem to adapt very well to the contemporary human lifestyle of rushing around, information overload and individualism, which lead a lack of time to spend with others, including pets. Cats seem to accept better small houses and long hours on their own; they do not demand daily walks and, with just a few exceptions, they are “naturally” toilet trained. The hard work of training an animal, which forms the basics of living with such closeness to animals is generally not a need when you own a cat. Furthermore, domestic cats have certain characteristics such as rubbing against people´s body, a relative easiness for being picked up onto a lap and climbing skills, which allow them to reach the human´s face, which helps to build a unique relationship with people. Cats do not seem to be as mysterious and distrustful to humans as in the past and part of this is certainly the result of scientific advances in the field of animal behavior.
Independence and resilience are probably the key features of the cats´ nature, responsible for fitting them so well into modern society; their welfare and its impact on the harmony of the human-cat relationship depends upon the care and attention provided by humans though. In fact, in spite of the apparent suitability of cats for living with people, the current human-cat relationship has been shown not to be perfect. According to Voith (1985), 47% of 800 surveyed American cat owners complained about undesirable behavior shown by their cat. The number of owners identifying a cat behavioral problem reached 82% in another similar survey in the USA. One could argue that these figures represent a mere observation by the owners about a behavior shown by their cats. However, the fact that owners´ complaints about inappropriate behaviors also appear in many cases of feline relinquishment suggests that they are likely to reflect a true dissatisfaction on the owners´ part.
From a feline perspective, the chances are that cats are equally unsatisfied. People are responsible for providing cats with food, play, exercise, health care, for composing the cat groups within multi-cat houses, for deciding about their reproductive availability, their access to the outside world, etc. Among these, housing conditions seem to be what most impacts their welfare. Beyond this, cat behavior and emotional predispositions have shown to be influenced by a range of human factors. The question which arises then is whether owners are good at offering what a cat needs. The growth of feline obesity worldwide, for instance, as a result of owners overfeeding their cats is an example where the answer is no. Thus, despite their behavioral plasticity (notorious for their flexibility to adjust to the different personalities, moods and interaction styles of people), cats certainly face challenges in their day to day lives as a popular companion. This may lead to stress, which can pass unnoticed or manifested in the form of “mimicking diseases” and undesired behaviors, such as inappropriate urination. Feline behavior suggests, at least in part, dissatisfaction too on the cat´s side.
Changes in people´s life brought about by modern demands have encouraged individuals to acquire pets for social support, at least in some circumstances. However, with a long history and closer proximity with dogs, it is important for humans to learn what it is to be a cat and what is necessary for a happy feline. Lack of knowledge of the characteristics and requirements of pet cats has appeared prominently among cat owners who relinquished their cats to an animal shelter. For instance, these owners often reported they had never read a book about feline behavior and had inappropriate care expectations. Thus, understanding cat behavior before owning a cat might be one of the requirements of a harmonious human-cat relationship.