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Cat Adoption: Bonded Pairs

By Lynn Buzhardt, DVM

Behavior, Pet Services

When it comes to things you like, if one is good, two is better, right? Like that purse? Get two! Admire that tennis racket? Get two? Love that sports car? Well, maybe you’d better think twice about that one!

The philosophy of “one is good, two is better” doesn’t always apply. Take cats, for instance. If you like them, should you get two? Maybe so, maybe no!

Though doubling up on cats may not be for everyone, many people choose to adopt two at a time especially when the cats are special pals. When cats are adopted as a duo it’s usually because the kitties comprise a single unit called a “bonded pair”.

What are bonded pairs?

In most feline adoption centers, there are lots of adorable cats peeking out of their kennels. Maybe they purr at you or reach out with a paw as you walk down the aisle. Some cages may contain two cats and while dual occupancy saves space, there may be more to this picture. Often two cats are roomies because they are a bonded pair.

A bonded pair contains two cats that have a special relationship and seek a home that will adopt them together. In fact, there may be a sign on their kennel door that reads “Bonded Pair” to clarify the situation. So if you are only in the market for one kitty, move on down the aisle!

"A bonded pair contains two cats that have a special relationship and seek a home that will adopt them together."

Bonded pairs reflect the natural instinct of felines to form a pack. Cats may be known as aloof, but they are basically social creatures. Like their ancestors in the wild, cats thrive in a pack where there is a stable social structure that provides comfort and security. Interestingly, the bond doesn’t have to be familial. Bonded pairs can be siblings, but don’t have to be related at all.

 So how do they end up together? Observant shelter staff members know the cats in their care. They recognize personality differences, likes and dislikes and identify pairs of cats that get along particularly well. Once they note a special bond, care takers work to keep the feline friends together knowing that bonded pairs do better together. In fact, when separated, bonded pairs often fail to thrive. Adoption centers recognize these helpful feline relationships and aim to promote adoption of bonded pairs.

It’s important to understand that even though overcrowding is an issue, well run shelters don’t randomly house cats together to save space. Nor do they insist that potential pet owners adopt two at a time to reduce the shelter population. They recognize bonded pairs and encourage (or require) dual adoption in the best interest of the cats.

PROS and CONS of Adopting Bonded Pairs

Adopting a cat is a potential 20 year commitment. To help you make an informed decision, here are a few Pros and Cons of adopting bonded pairs.

PROS

  1. Improved social development. Cats learn to be cats by imitating each other. Just as young children mimic their parents and siblings, cats mirror their feline family members. They watch each other to learn how to play together, how to use the litter box, and how to interact with humans. Adopting a bonded pair may facilitate the social development of both cats.
  2. Easier transition. Leaving a small kennel for a big house sounds great, but can be frightening. The move may be easier for bonded pairs because there is security in numbers. The cats more readily adjust to their new surroundings as they bring the familiarity of each other to an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people.
  3. Decreased mishaps. Idle minds mean trouble. Bored cats sometimes become destructive: scratching furniture, tearing curtains, soiling rugs. Bonded pairs always have a playmate around and keep each other busy. When boredom decreases, so does destructive behavior. People who are gone for long periods of time often adopt bonded pairs. There is less separation anxiety when the owner is away because the cats are not really alone. They have each other. Friends are good and the best friend for a cat is another cat!
  4. Established social ladder. Cats have a definite social ladder. Introducing a single cat into a home with other cats requires fitting into the existing hierarchy. Sometimes conflicts occur while the cats establish who is Top Cat. If you are a new cat owner and intend to have two cats eventually, you can save yourself and your cats trouble by adopting two at a time. A bonded pair already has a pecking order established so the social ladder is set. Moreover, if you already have cats and want more, adopting a pair eases social restructuring since the new kitties have each other to lean on. They fit in with each other so fitting in with the rest of the household is not as daunting. Either way, bonded pairs may reduce household squabbles.
  5. Enhanced impact on pet population. Adopting a cat is a good deed. Adopting two doubles that goodness. Rescuing two cats means saving two lives. Double good for you!
  6. Discounts. Some shelters offer discounts when people adopt two cats at a time. If your future plans include more than one cat, it may be less expensive overall to take two simultaneously. Save cats and save some money!

CONS

  1. Longer shelter stay. The goal of shelters is to find good homes for cats as quickly as possible. Since many prospective cat owners are shopping for a single cat, bonded pairs may be overlooked. Sometimes it takes longer to find homes for them. If adoption takes too long, staying in the shelter may become stressful for the cats and the staff may make the difficult decision to separate the pair to facilitate quicker adoption. Of course, this may lead to further stress and separation anxiety.
  2. Double expense. Adoption discounts may save money initially but once you are home with a bonded pair, you’ll find that two cats mean twice the financial commitment. You have twice the food, litter, and medical bills. Consider your budget before pledging to take two cats.
  3. Increased time commitment. Although caring for two cats may not take twice as long, it does take more time. You have to clean a litter box that is doubly full. You have to monitor feeding time to make sure each cat eats sufficiently. If one cat dominates the food bowl, she may impede meal time for the partner cat. You have to play with two cats…but that’s a fun commitment!
  4. Unhealthy bond. Sometimes the bonded pair develops a flawed relationship. If one cat is overly dominant, the submissive cat may not thrive. Dealing with this dynamic requires time and effort.
  5. Ultimate separation. If for some reason, the pair is separated, both cats may suffer the consequences. For example, if one cat is ill and hospitalized, both may feel anxious. You’ll be doing double duty worried about both kitties. And eventually the separation will be permanent. Upon the death of one cat, both you and the surviving cat will need to work through the grieving process.

Bottom Line

Although there are pros and cons to adopting a bonded pair of cats, you may determine that the pros tip the balance. For people who love cats, a bonded pair means twice the love and that outweighs any inconvenience.  If you are willing to adopt a bonded pair of cats, you may incur a bigger commitment of time and money, but you may also receive twice the joy.

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