Litter Syndrome in Cats: Signs, Causes and Care Reviewed by a Veterinarian

If you’re looking to add a new cat to your family, you may be wondering if two kittens are better than one. When adopting kittens, for example, it is often suggested that the ideal is to bring home a pair of baby cats. However, you may be concerned that related cats may develop a behavioral disorder known as litter syndrome.

In this article, you will learn what littermate syndrome is, including the signs of the condition. We’ll also cover the causes of sibling syndrome, why it’s not recognized in cats, and other problems that can resemble those of sibling kittens.

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What is littermate syndrome?

The term littermate syndrome is used to describe problematic behaviors that typically occur in two dogs raised together from a young age. This is also known as littermate dependence, but the two animals do not have to be bonded for this to occur. Any pair of young animals raised together can develop littermate syndrome.

Animals with littermate syndrome are thought to form closer bonds with each other than with the humans in their lives, leading to behavioral problems as adults. For example, they may develop anxiety if separated from each other or have difficulty learning independently.

Veterinary behaviorists agree that littermate syndrome does not automatically occur when two young dogs are raised together. Instead, they believe that the difficulty and challenges of owners trying to do double duty when training and socializing animals lead to inappropriate behaviors associated with littermate syndrome.

The good news for cat owners is that littermate syndrome is not currently recognized in cats. Cats are naturally more independent than dogs and generally don’t have problems socializing or bonding like puppy pairs do.

In fact, adopting a pair of kittens can sometimes make your life easier since energetic animals can entertain themselves and get exercise.

two kittens playing outside
Image credit: CebotariN, Shutterstock

What are the signs of reach syndrome?

Animals with litter syndrome may exhibit a variety of behavioral signs. They are often extremely attached to each other, ignoring other humans or animals when the other is around. This attachment can cause them to have difficulty bonding with people and lead to poor socialization and training difficulties.

Poorly socialized animals may have problems with aggression or fear because they have never learned how to react appropriately to unfamiliar situations. Litter syndrome can also lead to separation anxiety in adult pets.

What causes litter syndrome?

As we’ve mentioned, experts believe that it’s not just the fact that two animals are raised together that causes littermate syndrome, but also the specific experiences and challenges that come with it. For example, because training and socializing a puppy takes a lot of time, owners of two puppies may try working with both animals at the same time.

However, because animals are individuals, the same socialization and training methods may not work for both puppies. Additionally, puppies may not have the time they need to evolve and develop at their own pace. Potty training can be frustrating because the most effective methods rely on routines and positive reinforcement, which can be difficult to achieve with two dogs.

Behaviors like chewing, scratching, or playful biting are doubly frustrating when trying to redirect two animals. You may miss opportunities to reward the behavior you’re trying to encourage or accidentally reinforce those you’re not.

In summary, young animals that do not have the chance to experience training and socialization as individuals are more likely to develop behaviors associated with litter syndrome. Again, these problems usually occur in dogs rather than cats.

Image credit: Kutikova Ekaterina, Shuterstock

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is it better to adopt two kittens?

As we have discussed, two kittens raised together are unlikely to develop the behavioral problems summarized by littermate syndrome, as puppies do. Adopting two kittens at once certainly has its advantages. Kittens often form a strong bond and get along well, although this is not always the case.

Kittens can help each other by playing together rather than pestering you or another animal for attention. Interesting way, research suggests that owners who adopt two kittens from a litter are more likely to keep them long term. However, kittens don’t necessarily need to be adopted together to thrive.

Adopting two kittens is a good option if you have space and money, but it’s not always necessary. With proper attention and environmental enrichment, a kitten can be perfectly happy at home with its humans.

My cat seems lonely. Should I get a second cat?

Unrelated adult cats don’t always have the easiest time bonding with each other. Before have a second cat, consider the personality of your existing pet. Calm, friendly cats may feel comfortable with a new friend, while shy cats may think the world is ending.

As we’ve seen, cats can get their social and emotional needs met in other ways, like human attention or even a dog friend. If you want a second cat, you may have better luck introducing a kitten into the home than another adult.

Plan to introduce the new cat gradually, and don’t be surprised if it takes months for the animals to get along. It’s also possible that they never do.

man holding two cute canadian sphynx kittens
Image credit: Mariia Boiko, Shutterstock

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Because cats are not generally recognized as suffering from littermate syndrome, the question of whether to adopt two kittens it will depend on other factors. Remember, two cats require twice as much food, supplies and veterinary care. They also need more time and attention than a single pet. Consider your budget and downtime when deciding whether or not to adopt more than one kitten. For the cat’s sake, don’t feel obligated to take on more animals than you can afford or care for them successfully.

Featured image credit: ANURAK PONGPATIMET, Shutterstock


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