Growing up alongside the loving – and unavoidably annoying – siblings is a priceless experience. Cat siblings are each other’s prized companions during the early weeks of kittenhood. The relationship between cat littermates can be puzzling, though. Here are some of the most important facts you should know about cat siblings.
Did you know?
To honor and celebrate the precious relationships between siblings, in USA we recognize the National Siblings Day every year on April 10th. Did you already wish your sibling(s) a Happy Siblings Day? Don’t forget to give them an extra hug for the occasion! #NationalSiblingsDay
“The smallest feline is a masterpiece.” ― Leonardo da Vinci
1. Why having littermates is so important during kittenhood
The early interactions between kittens and their mom are vitally important for the development of learning abilities, social skills and personalities of the kittens. It is a common misconception that kittens are ready to be separated from their mom and littermates as soon as they are weaned and start eating on their own (between the 4th and 8th week of age).
The truth is, however, that it is generally recommended to keep the kittens with their littermates for at least 12 weeks. The first 7 weeks of kittenhood are marked as the period of socialization and it is during this period when the kittens start grooming each other (and themselves) and interacting. But the period between the 7th and 14th week is the most active play period, and this is when the kittens start more actively interacting.
Kittens observe their mom and siblings and start playing with objects and animals around them. Through this play, they practice their physical coordination and social skills. They chase each other, pounce, ambush, leap, hug and lick. They behind scooping, tossing, pawing and holding objects. This is the crucial learning period when the kittens are learning how to be a cat and when they’re exploring the ranking process (who’s in charge).
Kittens who are more playful and curious often make for better learners, thus are more likely to develop larger brains. These kittens can also help and motivate the shier and more careful kittens to blossom too. Kittens who are separated from their mother and littermates too early often fail to develop ‘appropriate’ social skills (i.e. they may not learn to inhibit the bite strength) and are more likely to suffer from anxiety, aggression, temperament problems or poor learning skills later in life.
2. Adopting two (or more) littermates
When you first bring a kitten into your home, they will often be scared of the new, unknown, environment and they won’t have their littermates to confide to. This is why it can actually be helpful if you’re bringing home two or more cat littermates together.
This way your new kittens will have each other for support and they will always have company they can trust around them. It is recommended to, when possible, bring the kittens to the new home before the weekend (or any other day you don’t have to work). This is how you can ensure to spend as much as time with new kittens as possible.
Make sure to create a safe spot for them and to interact with them as soon as possible and as much as possible. This will help you ensure that they will accept you (and other people) in the social circle. If you’re trying to decide whether to bring one or more kittens home, check out all the benefits and drawbacks of choosing one or more kittens summoned up by Catster. For more tips on getting a new kitten read this post by Purina.
3. Littermate syndrome
Littermate syndrome is a social ‘disorder’ characterized by intensive bonding of two littermates to the extent of excluding most animals and people out of their own social circle. These littermates are dependent on each other and suffer severe separation anxiety.
They are typically very fearful and have poor social and learning skills. While this is a relatively common phenomenon among dog littermates, luckily, it doesn’t actually occur in cats! Cats, unlike dogs, are not pack animals. While some cats are friendlier than others and do seek companionship and attention of other cats, most prefer being the only cat of the house.
This is why keeping littermates together can provide the kittens with support during stressful situations and friendship during the lonely times of the day, but it typically won’t interfere with their social development and the cats are still capable of becoming independent. So, choosing two cats may just be better than choosing one!
“Siblings teach us about fairness, cooperation, kindness and caring – quite often the hard way.” – Pamela Dugdale.
4. How will the littermates get along once they grow up?
a) Kittens who have been separated during the early weeks of life will forget each other. Young kittens often miss their mom and siblings and show signs of separation anxiety after being taken into the new home. However, it doesn’t take them too long to adapt to the new home and reattach to the new family. And once this happens, they typically forget their mom, brothers and sisters and adopt their new family.
This is because cats recognize each other via scent, and the cat which smells unfamiliar is considered to be a stranger. Two littermates who have spent a longer period of time separated will develop completely distinct smells, and when reunited, will act as they’ve never met before. From here on, their relationship is developed just like it would be with any other cat. They can get along well, not so well or simply and respectfully ignore each other.
b) Kittens who grow up together can remain friends or… not. A lot of times kittens bond very tightly during the early weeks of life. Some sibling pairs carry this bond into adulthood, while others, sadly, don’t. It is nearly impossible to predict whether a littermate pair will remain friends once grown up.
The dynamics of the littermate duo can change greatly and quickly, often due to competition for your attention or territorial conflict. If you have a sibling duo who are not purrfectly peaceful and synchronized with each other, we recommend this article by WebMD on Aggression Between Cats in Your Household.
5. DNA tests for cat siblings: how genetically similar are littermates?
Cat siblings are generally genetically very different. Unless the breeding occurred in a controlled environment, kittens of the same litter can actually have different fathers. And even those kittens who have both of the same parents, have likely randomly inherited a number of different gene combinations. This means that while certain genetic traits will be shared by the siblings, every sibling will be genetically unique. This remains untrue only for identical twin cats.
Identical twins are cats who have developed from the same initial egg fertilized by one sperm. This happens when a fertilized egg divides early in the development and results in two different lineages of cells who will ultimately form the whole organisms. This means that the two identical cats will carry the same genetic information. Unlike human identical twins, it can be rather difficult to recognize cat twins though, because the color pattern genes can be expressed differently in two cats even when the genetic information is identical.
With that being said, unless two cats are identical twins (which cannot be determined based off appearance), the DNA test results of two cat littermates are expected to be different. While siblings will have a certain amount of DNA in common, the combination of all the possible genetic variants given by the parents will be unique for each individual. And again, multiple fathers are very common in cats (particularly stray cats), which increases genetic diversity in the litter.
Kitten. Just the word warms our hearts. And what’s cuter than a kitten? A kindle of kittens of course! Are you a proud fur parent of cat siblings? Share your photos with us on Facebook and Instagram, we would love to meet your bundles of joy. Happy National Siblings Day everybody! #NationalSiblingsDay
Related: Cat pregnancy