Cats are born with certain instincts which are common across the species. They are by nature nocturnal, predatory, territorial, cautious, and in the wild they are solitary (though they often prefer company when domesticated). Of all the cats, only lions live in family groups.
A cats instincts may be dulled by domestication, but even diminished they are survivors and generally do well when individuals escape back to the wild. Often better than dogs do as dogs tend to have to re-establish near normal pack behaviour modified by their pack leader being human
However pampered and protected a pet cat may be, it retains its strong survival instinct based on its keen senses, rapid reactions, and good hunting skills.
A Young Cat’s Instincts
The first instinct of a newborn kitten is to suck. It must take food from its mother within a few hours of birth or it will die. Apart from nutrition, in the first milk the queen passes on antibodies that give her kittens protection from disease. The mother guides her kittens by lying on her side and nuzzling them towards her nipples but what they do when they get there is a matter of instinctive behaviour. Occasionally a queen may reject a particular kitten, sometimes and indication something is wrong with the kitten, though best to get a second opinion from a vet.
The months of kittenhood between two and six are a period of intense learning when the mother imparts to her young the techniques needed for survival. She starts by weaning them off her milk so they are encouraged to eat other food. Owners who see this process for the first time may be surprised by the determination and even harshness that a queen can show to her kittens. She teaches them to test their food using their smell and whiskers before they eat it. As they become stronger and more viable, she teaches them to hunt tempting them at first with morsels of her own hunting trophies.
The Instinct to Clean
The mother cat teaches her kittens to take over the cleaning duties that at first she does for them, and will usually teach them to use a litter tray and cover their faeces. Cat’s cover the faeces to hide their location from predators.
If the kittens get lost they will utter plaintive and repeated cries until she finds and retrieves them by carrying them home by the scruff of the neck. There is conclusive evidence that kittens which miss out on all this early education grow up to be dysfunctional and often aggressive. Such a cat might misinterpret an attempt to stroke it as an attack and unsheathe all its claws, be resistant to grooming, or be unable to happily socially interact either with other pets or people.