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Feline bonded pairs

  • 1.  Feline bonded pairs

    Posted 07-03-2020 09:35 AM

    We currently have a large number of bonded cats at our shelter- more pairs than we have single cats, at the moment.  Our shelter manager would like us to asses the pairs and determine 1) if they are truly bonded, and 2) which pairs we can separate.  Do any of you have protocol for determining who needs to stay together that you'd be willing to share?  

    At this point we tend to take the word of the previous guardian that they are bonded to start and house them together.  Then we observe how they act when they are out and about for floor time- do they stick together?  Do they separate to explore on their own?  Do either of the cats act stressed if the other gets out of sight?  It is all very subjective though, and we end up with some staff saying they are too bonded to separate and other staff saying they would be fine apart.  

    I've spent some time trying to find studies that address bonded cats and haven't had any luck, nor have I been able to find any strategies for objectively determining which pairs can be separated.  I would love any input you folks have!


  • 2.  RE: Feline bonded pairs

    Posted 07-04-2020 06:27 AM

    Good Morning Michelle, 

    My kennel staff does daily evals on each animal in our care.  We track eating habits, urine and stool production, and behavior ( Including signs of stress ).  This gives our medical team and veterinarian an ongoing history and only takes a couple of minutes per animal to complete.  One of the strategies we use when we get a bonded pairs is to work through our veterinarian so she has full knowledge and track a day or two for a baseline for them.  After we have a baseline we go ahead and separate them into separate housing and observe and track their habits and behaviors.  If they stop eating or drastically change eating habits or show signs of stress we put them back together and consider them a bonded pair.  Note that we only do this if we are unsure of that status since sometimes they show signs right away of needing to be together, i.e don't want to take separate walks or show signs of stress if partner is taken for exams, etc.  Hope that helps


  • 3.  RE: Feline bonded pairs

    Posted 07-05-2020 12:13 AM

    My shelter has this problem as well, and we don't have any easy solutions. Often bonded pairs are flagged to go to foster care earlier than single cats because we know they're less likely to be adopted, and sometimes once they're in foster care we receive more detailed information about how they behave in a home together. Owners are often very sentimental and will anthropomorphize these cats and say they're bonded to make themselves feel better, but then when we see them attacking one another in a foster home or not spending time together at all, we know we can safely unbond them.

    Having said that, we still struggle with staff feeling that cats are bonded just because they came from the same home, or because they were housed together for an extended period of time. It's a common source of friction, particularly as unnecessary bonding can really extend length of stay.

    I like David's suggestion of letting them settle in together and then housing them separately for a time to see if being apart impacts their eating/toileting habits. Have said that, we often have bonded pairs where one is fat and the other is slim, so it wouldn't surprise me if the data were skewed (like if the fat cat was eating ALL of the food the first few days, it would make it seem that the shy cat was on hunger strike once they were separated when she hadn't actually eaten at all since arriving at the shelter).

    I feel like the best solution is to send them to foster homes early and often for better data, and to perform probing surrender interviews when an owner/agent for owner insists that a pair (or trio) of cats are bonded. We also offer a two for one discount on bonded cats, we do NOT bond kittens under 6 months, and if we become overwhelmed with bonded pairs we'll feature them heavily on social media and advertisements.

    Ultimately, having data to work with is essential. If your data shows you that bonded pairs have a significantly longer length of stay, that they're more likely to become sick, and that they cost the shelter more money on average, then you'll want to use that data to show staff/volunteers that it's better for the cats to be separated so they can go home faster.


  • 4.  RE: Feline bonded pairs

    Posted 07-06-2020 09:46 AM

    I really like David's answer as well; otherwise, I like to put 'bonded pairs' in the free-reign cat room if you have one (with other cats too). With more space to move around and other cats to interact with, I feel like it becomes pretty clear how attached those specific two actually are. 


  • 5.  RE: Feline bonded pairs

    Posted 07-06-2020 01:23 PM

    Our shelter bonds cats who are one year old or older only. We do not bond anything under one year of age.

    We bond them for the first 30 days and heavily market them in hopes that they get adopted. Our bonded pairs take longer to adopt than cats who are not bonded.

    We try to move them into a community room as soon as it is safe. If they get along with other cats well then we will unbond them at 30 days in hopes of increasing their chances for adoption.

    If there is one cat that is really shy or hard to place, we may keep them bonded longer in hopes that the one that is highly desirable will help the other get adopted.


  • 6.  RE: Feline bonded pairs

    Posted 12-12-2022 11:26 AM
    oh that is interesting! Is there a method behind the one year bonding?

    We have bonded kitten pairs that we believe would do much better sticking with their sibling or friend that they spend all of their time with.

    Amanda Gray
    Truly All Cats Trapping and Rescue

  • 7.  RE: Feline bonded pairs

    Posted 12-12-2022 11:26 AM
    We did not have an age limit on bonding.

    Much Like Kristi's post, I've helmed programs where we set a time limit on requiring that a "bonded pair" be adopted together. We had great luck with bonded pairs: most went home before we reached the time limit for separating them. When I was at a shelter with community rooms, we followed a similar pattern of moving them to a free-roaming room with other cats and observing them there. And we would err on the side of keeping pairs together if one was very shy or shut-down in the shelter.

    We had one pair that we separated for health concerns. While both continued to eat and recovered, one was so much easier to handle in the shelter when her partner was housed in the same cage with her.

    Brett Kruger

  • 8.  RE: Feline bonded pairs

    Posted 04-26-2022 09:55 AM
      |   view attached
    sharing the attached bonded pairs protocol from APA!

    Thank you all for all you do!

    Amber Freiwald
    Maddie's Fund


  • 9.  RE: Feline bonded pairs

    Posted 12-12-2022 08:24 AM
    The math is interesting, but the age requirements, I respectfully say, are just wrong. Cats under a year old can absolutely be bonded. Ther are all kinds of reasons that cats can be bonded that math can't be a part of. they may have been serious danger together and survived, One could have been very sick and  the other comforted them and go them through it. They could also just have personalities that are more likely to be very attached to another particular cat. They may do ok without the other cat, but with they thrive? It's common in bonded pairs that one is more outgoing, the other shyer. The outgoing one may take much of their confidence from the other one's presence. The shyer one may be even more shy and scared without the bolder cat present. I've seen cats that we were not sure if they were bonded, one gets adopted before that can be determined, and the one left behind struggles greatly.  Sometimes the first one to go doesn't get along with the adopter's other cat, and gets returned; the one that was struggling has gone to foster, and getting them back together can be challenging. If possible to reunite, frequently the problems are solved, they need to be bonded.

    Separating to see how they do apart can be a good way to see if cats are truly bonded, but I really don't think age should be a factor, unless you want to say maybe not under 8 months or something like that. But even then, you need to consider the life experiences they've been through (mentioned above) and test to see how they do apart. Is the bolder one now shyer, the same, or even bolder? Is the shyer one scared, the same , or now more outgoing?

    We do get cats from the same home and the previous owner insists they are bonded, but then they don't get along. In that case, we may only be able to tell if bonded by sending to foster. The shelter is a stressful place and can test the nerves of even the most chill and bonded cats.  Just being brought to the shelter can (usually is) traumatic and that shared trauma can push very attached cats apart - or closer together.  We should not anthropomorphize cats, but they are living creatures with the capacity to love us and each other; we owe it to them to do our best to get it right for them , at every age and circumstance.

    Vicky DeGroote
    Adoptions Services Manager
    SAFEH Haven for Cats

  • 10.  RE: Feline bonded pairs

    Posted 12-13-2022 11:15 AM

    We are pretty much the same way. If the foster home states they are a bonded pair, we will do our best to adopt them out together. Many of the times they are absolutely right and we agree the kittens should go together. 

    Occasionally, we'll have a pair of kittens come in and the foster family states they should go together because they don't want them to be alone, which we explain we do our best to encourage kittens to be adopted in pairs, but sometimes its just not possible if an interested family is only allowed one animal. 

    What can work for us sometimes if a kitten(s) is timid and looks to the other for security,  is requiring said kitten(s) to be adopted into a home with other cats, so they will still have that companionship but the adopter doesn't have to take two cats and the confident kitten who usually doesn't care about the sibling is free to find his/her own home. 

    Abby Seward
    Lewis Clark Animal Shelter

  • 11.  RE: Feline bonded pairs

    Posted 12-15-2022 04:54 PM
    This thread really got me to think about the felines at the facility I work for.  After reading everyone's replies, I asked my supervisor if we have a policy for bonded cat pairs; come to find out we do not, only bonded dog pairs. I'll probably get to work on that after reading everyone's suggestions.

    All cat adoptions at my facility are "adopt one get one free", kittens to seniors. We have never bonded kittens but highly recommend getting two, either littermates or of similar age, to keep them company and avoid common kitten behavior concerns. I would say our facility doesn't enjoy bonded pairs of any kind. Especially our adoption department because an adopter will normally show interest in one cat, but maybe doesn't want two cats or already has a cat at home.

    Typically, if two older cats or cats have been together since kittenhood,  with a good history together, we're more likely to bond them together.  As mentioned by Vicky, pairs are normally behaviorally different, one is more confident/social than the other. We take that into account for our adopters. If one cat is more fearful, not able to be touched, and has a history of being less social, I'd say we feel it's unfair for an adopter to be "burdened" with a cat that they would not get to enjoy.  If the social cat has a better chance of getting a home more quickly, we wouldn't want to hold that back from an opportunity. For the fearful cat, we'd highly recommend other social cats in the home to help them be comfortable if they enjoy other cats. Medically, if one will need a special diet or daily medication, we'd be less likely to bond them. 

    A recent bonded pair example. Two older gentlemen, 12 years old, surrendered, and littermates were bonded after intake. Come to find out both boys have hyperthyroid disease and are vision impaired. Their medical needs and age have made it even more difficult to get them adopted. They were with us for about two months, when we tested some separation. As others mentioned, medically looking for diet change, grooming, and overall attitude. Sometime after being placed back together, one started bullying the other when food was involved. We're these cats truly bonded? We sent them to foster to give them a break from shelter life, which also helped us learn more about them in a home. They are still looking for a home that can manage their medical needs but the foster is thankfully in no rush to send them off.  Overall it's been 7 months since their intake, but for their golden years, we'd like to see them in the same home.

    It'll be nice to take everyone's input to create a structured plan for our cats so we aren't winging it or overlooking the cat's needs.

    Alexsis Studer
    Behavior Coordinator
    Capital Area Humane Society

  • 12.  RE: Feline bonded pairs

    Posted 12-15-2022 11:05 PM
    Hi everyone,

    My two cents on this revived topic, which i've talked to people about frequently in the past.

    I'd want more information about the cats' behavior: specifically are they sleeping together, grooming each other?  Things like appetite and activity (separated vs. together) are good too. Because these tend to be long stay cats, I want to know more about their behavior together in a foster home. I know that sounds like a lot of work, but in reality, it helps to determine if they're bonded. In the foster home,  i'd be looking at things like whether they sleep together,  groom each other, spend time near each other. Do they play together? Do they fight??  By focusing on 'severe' behaviors like anorexia in the shelter, i don't know that that tells us bonding? Cos the other cat might be good emotional support in the shelter, but in a home environment, once they've had time to settle, they don't really care for each other. 


    Sheila Segurson, DVM
    Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists
    Director of Outreach and Research
    Maddie's Fund

  • 13.  RE: Feline bonded pairs

    Posted 12-16-2022 04:44 AM
    I agree with that two cents. 

    I will list cats as bonded if they are spending most of their time near each other, grooming each other and sleeping together. If they stop and become more independent, I will un-bond them

    Amanda Gray
    Truly All Cats Trapping and Rescue