Maxx and Jasper came from the same litter. “The boys are together much of the time but are not attached together at the hips,” reflects their human, Amy Teidemann. The young brothers do, however, “love to chase one another up the stairs, down the stairs … up, through and down the kitty condos” and play with their electronic-motion cat toy together.
Milan and Zula are littermates, too. The 2-year-old Abyssinians are, their human, Michelle Barr says, “inseparable. They are together constantly. They play together, eat together and, if not sleeping with me, they find a place to sleep with each other.”
The bond between feline siblings is a wonderful thing to watch. We’ve had 3 sets of littermates over the years, and the affection between them was almost tangible.
Together Is Better
This much is true: If you’re going to bring a kitten into your life, you’re better off adopting 2. They’ll keep each other company, and if they’re feral, they’ll help one another tame down.
Our first set of littermates, Cricket and Kilah, came to us from my uncle’s dairy barn and wanted nothing to do with us. After 3 hours, we caught both of them. We knew that if we didn’t get the second kitten, it was going to take forever to socialize Kilah. As it turned out, Cricket, the runt, caved first, and Kilah, seeing her sister getting attention and treats, surrendered afterward.
Kittens “learn by observation,” cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett points out. They help each other get the lay of their new home — since Mom isn’t there, they have to figure it out on their own. “This applies to everything from using the litter box to what objects are safe to land on and what ones aren’t. A more inquisitive kitten may help a more reluctant kitten to blossom.”
John Bradshaw at the University of Bristol seconds this idea: “Littermates that are homed together usually form a stronger bond with one another than two unrelated cats.” He describes a study that he and Suzanne L. Hall did of cats in boarding catteries back in 1998: it involved “fourteen pairs of littermates that had lived together since birth with eleven pairs of unrelated individuals that had not met each other until at least one of the pair was more than a year old.”
Bradshaw and Hall discovered the following:
- All of the littermates slept together despite the heat. Only a few of the unrelated pairs did this, “and even those only occasionally.”
- Littermates were apt to groom each other. The unrelated felines did not.
- Most of the littermates were fine with eating next to each other. The non-littermates had to be fed separately.
The Closest of Bonds
Johnson-Bennett considers the littermate bond to be critical, especially in a rescue situation. The kittens have often lost their moms and “are even too young to be away from their littermates…. If you adopt a pair, the socialization can continue and they can create security and comfort for each other.”
Thumbs and General Tsao lost their mom early, making the two littermates even more dependent on each other. “We were only going to keep Tsao,” explains their human, Kathie Cote, “and find a home for Thumbs. But they were lying on the sofa together — they were hugging each other, as a matter of fact — and [her husband] Don said, ‘We can’t split them. We can’t do it.’”
Separation Anxieties and Loss
Some littermate pairs can’t cope with any kind of separation. When Maxx went on a solo vet visit, “Jasper was so sad and didn’t seem to know what to do with himself,” Tiedemann recalls. “He sat by the door until Maxx came home. When they were neutered last year, they cried for one another. The vet techs put them in the same cage, and they calmed right down.”
This brother-and-sister pair adore each other:
Milan wouldn’t eat when Zula had to spend 5 days at the veterinary clinic; on her return, he snubbed her for a couple of days “as if he was mad at her,” says Barr. “Once Zula was home a few days, Milan then began sitting near her, licking her, and playtime began again.”
When 2 littermates have spent their lives together, the death of 1 can be devastating to the survivor. Kilah went into a deep depression when Cricket died.“Cat behavior mirrors human behavior in a lot of ways,” observes writer BJ Bangs.
Maybe being littermates doesn’t guarantee that 2 cats will be lifelong friends. But most of the ones that I’ve observed have remained extremely strong in their affection.