Want to Keep Bonded Pairs Happy? Keep Them Together.

Separating them can cause behavior issues and even illness.

Bonded cats provide company and comfort to each other. By: suetupling
Bonded cats provide company and comfort to each other. By: suetupling

Cricket and Tucker came to Northeast Abyssinian and Somali Rescue (NEAR) as a set. The 7-year-old littermates were extremely bonded, and co-director Kristen Wookey wanted very much to keep them together.

But the siblings were also special needs cats: Cricket had cancer, and Tucker was diabetic. So placing them together was going to be a much trickier proposition.

Eventually, another NEAR member offered to take the female blue Aby mix, giving her “a loving home and a chance for treatment,” Wookey says. As their foster mom, she “had a very hard time” the day that Cricket left for her new home. “In retrospect,” she says, “I may have had a harder time than either cat.”

Love and Friendship, Kitten-Style

We talk a lot about the human–feline bond. It’s important, but so is the feline-to-feline bond. Cats who have these bonds tend to be better adjusted and live longer.

It starts early. Bonding is critical to a kitten’s development, according to Dr. Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, MRCVS. A kitten with an attentive mother grows up confident and secure — he will be a smarter, more balanced kitten, “one that can make its own way in the world.”

Somewhere between 3 and 6 weeks of age, kittens begin focusing less on Mom and more on each other. They begin wrestling and running races together. They sleep together and even go to the litter box together (sometimes they even fall asleep in the litter box together).

In a very real sense, the kittens begin to form their own pride.

This is what I’m seeing with the litter I’m currently working with, where 2 of the kittens have just gone to their forever homes. The 3 left behind were slightly confused at first. Then they regrouped, forming a more tightly knit pride. They now follow each other pretty closely. And if one goes off on his own, he soon scurries back to the others.

That’s why it’s so satisfying to see 2 kittens go to a new home together. They provide each other with company and comfort.

Bonding kittens will often wrestle and play-fight together. By: tambako

Dynamic Duos

Those of us who work with cats know that they’re far more sociable than they’re given credit for.

“The common stereotype of the cat as an anti-social loner is far from universally true, and in fact, cats generally prefer companionship to solitude,” says the Tree House Humane Society. “Strong emotional bonds are often formed between litter mates and cats that have relied upon each other in the wild.”

These friendships can also form, as human friendships do, from sheer happenstance. It’s possible that 2 completely unrelated cats can come together and become so tightly bonded that your inner mush can’t help cheering.

Phoebe, our fluffy stray, bonded with Circe, our blue Abyssinian kitten, within days of coming here as a foster. I didn’t have the heart to separate them, and their friendship lasted till the end of Circe’s life.

These relationships will sometimes fluctuate, as human relationships do, but they generally remain strong.

A Package Deal

People involved in cat rescue work hard to keep bonded pairs together. There’s this strong sense that the cats have already lost enough — their caretakers, their homes and everything that was familiar to them — without having to lose their best buddies, too.

And if the cats bonded as strays or at a shelter, then it feels as though they really do need each other to survive.

With these loving, lazy felines, it’s hard to tell where 1 kitten ends and the other begins:

That’s not anthropomorphizing them — that’s fact.

“Simply put, 2 cats that will be incomplete without each other are a bonded pair,” says Daniel Quagliozzi of the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “In some cases, they are un-adoptable on their own. The pain of being on their own makes their behavior regress, and their life condition take a turn for the worse. Illness, depression and a lack of socialization will soon take over, leaving no inkling of the cats they once were together.”

Sadly, not all rescue groups and shelters have the resources to do this. “Bonded cats are a blessing and joy to foster but frequently difficult and heartbreaking to place,” Wookey remarks.

In Cricket and Tucker’s case, the special needs factor was a big one. The dilemma, as Wookey says, then becomes, “Do we deny both cats a home, or do we break them up so they can be placed in a loving home?”

It’s not exactly Sophie’s Choice, but it’s painful nonetheless and one that cat rescue people must face time and again.

T.J. Banks

View posts by T.J. Banks
T.J. Banks is the author of several books, including Catsong, which received a Merial Human–Animal Bond Award. A contributing editor to laJoie, T.J. has also received writing awards from the Cat Writers’ Association, ByLine and The Writing Self. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including Chicken Soup for the Single Parent’s Soul and A Cup of Comfort for Women in Love, and T.J. has worked as a stringer for the Associated Press, as an instructor for the Writer’s Digest School and as a columnist.

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  1. Rosie
    June 11, 2018

    Help!!! This article is very relatable to an issue I’m facing – took in a litter of 4 abandoned kittens when they were 3-4 weeks old. Since then I have tried very hard to find them homes but for one reason or another nothing has panned out. It’s not for lack of trying – flyers, social media, etc… but nothing. They are now 8-9 months old and are EXTREMELY bonded to each other – the snuggling, cleaning each other, playing… they love each other and are so clearly a family (and they have become apartment of our family as well). They love each other. We are very attached to the kittens as well, but our living situation is not built for 4 cats and we don’t have the financial means to change that right now. We would be so happy to see them in good homes but the thought of splitting them up is heartbreaking. Any advice? Is finding a 4-cat-wanting home impossible? We just wish we could keeep them so we could keep them together.

    1. Melissa Smith
      June 12, 2018

      I know how you feel – and I commend you for trying to do what’s best for them, even though it’s a hardship for you and your family! You may not be able to find someone willing to take on four cats at once, but two may be do-able for some. If you present them as bonded pairs, prospective adopters may not be so intimidated and the cats would have at least one sibling with them in their new homes.

      1. T.J. Banks
        October 15, 2018

        What’s the current status of the kittens, Rosie? Melissa’s suggestion of pairing them off is a good one — especially if you point out to potential adopters that a kitten with a playmate is a happier and less destructive kitten. I fostered 4 kittens once: only 2 of them were able to stay together, but they all went to good homes, and that was the most important thing.


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