Single Kitten Syndrome: What Is It?

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Will adopting one and only kitten guarantee loneliness and a poorly behaved kitty?

“Single kitten syndrome” has really intrigued me since it’s something I haven’t encountered during my practice in feline behaviour, so I decided to do some research into “single kitten and littermate syndrome in cats” which yielded interesting results, however not from the scientific community.

Since cats are individual creatures, labelling won’t solve any behavioural problems. Instead we should focus on each kitten’s early experiences and distinct needs. Cat education is essential to help owners build a powerful relationship through environmental enrichment and training to make sure kittens are well-socialized within their first two to four months of existence to ‘install life skills’ and create resilient cats.

If you’re thinking of getting a kitten, then this article is for you!

What Is Single Kitten Syndrome?

Although there’s no scientific evidence of a “single kitten syndrome” also known as “Tarzan Syndrome”, many homing centres together with several feline behaviourists believe that if a kitten aged below 12 weeks is adopted by themselves without a sibling or additional cat of the same age, they’ll be bored, become stressed, won’t learn bite inhibition and exhibit behavioural problems like chewing or scratching objects then presumably urinate or defecate outside the litter-tray.

Also Read: How To Take Care Of A Kitten: The Complete Guide

Are Single Kitten Syndrome And Littermate Syndrome Real?

Many people with widespread experience of hand-rearing kittens find that the kitten’s behaviour (also as an adult cat) is different to a kitty that’s been raised by a queen.

Well it depends on who you ask and the individual cat!

“Single kitten syndrome” is real for countless animal organizations and foster carers based on the notion that one kitten is going to be lonely, clingy, anxious, destructive and aggressive towards their owner while two kittens will prosper into happy, healthy cats. Anecdotally many of my cat sitting clients are social, happy single household cats.

Many people with widespread experience of hand-rearing kittens find that the kitten’s behaviour (also as an adult cat) is different to a kitty that’s been raised by a queen. Several noted that hand-reared cats find it difficult to read other cat’s actions, don’t know when to stop playing or unable to graps when to leave another cat alone.

Such reports tend to be more frequent when a single kitten has been hand-reared as opposed to a littler. This can be likely since the kitten has neither the social interactions with its mother or siblings, therefore where possible a single kitten who lost its mum should be nurtured by a lactating foster mom.

On the other side “Littermate syndrome in cats” is a term depicted by an extreme bond between two siblings. It’s described as a social disorder that may cause severe anxiety or panic if both offspring are separated for a particular period, fortunately this doesn’t happen in felines.

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been any research to substantiate the existence of either a “single kitten syndrome or littermate syndrome”. One recent study concluded no links between aggression and early social exposure (bottle-reared, early rehoming, singleton) rather, majority of the factors were associated to the cat’s personality, the home environment and training methods applied by owners.

Also Read: The 8 Best Kitten Foods Of 2022

About Sibling Bonding In Cats

Littermates form a powerful connection through play and predatory behaviour

Sibling bonding is especially important to cats since it plays a significant role within the development of social skills. Social play is particularly crucial between 4 – 12 weeks old. Littermates form a powerful connection through play and predatory behaviour

Kittens watch their mom and littermates catch live prey and begin to achieve eye-paw coordination that permits them to catch fast, small moving objects. Siblings also pounce, bat, and chase each other which are all produced by both predatory and combative social behaviour.

Kittens without siblings eventually form social attachments, however generally slower to learn social skills than typically reared kittens. Solitary kittens don’t learn bite inhibition during agonistic play behaviour if they target human flesh instead of siblings. Sadly, a human can’t teach boundaries of appropriate physical strength like another kitten.

Lastly, this might come as a shock to some owners, siblings don’t always form lifelong bonds. Once a cat reaches social maturity (adult social behaviour development) between 2 – 4 years, they may grow apart as they mature. Related cats can even become aggressive towards one another with different tolerance levels towards other pets.

Also Read: Sexing Kittens: How To Determine The Sex Of Your Kitten?

Should You Adopt Littermates?

Yes, you should adopt littermates together since they’re going to adapt to brand new home environment much quicker.

Yes, you should adopt littermates together since they’re going to adapt to brand new home environment much quicker.

Littermates are far more receptive to forming social attachments and learning from one another as long as they groom each other, sleep, eat and play together during the socialisation period.

Certain pedigree cats are more human-oriented and won’t like to be left alone for extended periods. If you’re employed full-time, it will be worth acquiring two littermates for companionship.

Before adopting two kittens, do some research to ensure your current environment is suitable for two cats. You’ve got to consider ongoing health care costs and lifestyle suitability to nurture siblings.

Also Read: 22 Fun Facts About Kittens

Tips For Ensuring Well-Socialized Kittens

If you’re employed full-time, it will be worth acquiring two littermates for companionship.

The early socialization period in cats is between 2-7 weeks, during this time, a kitten’s brain and sensory system will develop. A well-socialized kitten needs to be exposed to new people and variety of experiences post the early socialized phase. Segregating kitties may result in nervousness and fearfulness.

Also Read: Fading Kitten Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

Our top tips for kitten socialization continuum:

1. Teach Kittens To Associate Owner Handling With Positive Consequences

Encourage your kitten to approach you for interaction instead of picking it up.

To prevent aggression towards people that’s motivated by anxiety or fear help kittens to associate handling with positive consequences. Encourage your kitten to approach you for interaction instead of picking it up. If a kitten shows signs of tension and won’t approach, follow a program of desensitisation and counterconditioning instead.

Also Read: When Do Kittens Open Their Eyes?

2. Encourage Positive Interactions With Strangers

Introduce handling by various people (different ages, and sexes, including kids) once your kitten copes with stroking and touch by familiar people. Continually end handling sessions on a positive note so kitty recalls it as a positive feel-good experience.

Also Read: Eye Diseases In Neonatal Kittens: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

3. Introduce Novel Objects In A Gradual Manner

Another important aspect is familiarising kittens to novel objects in a gradual manner.

Another important aspect is familiarising kittens to novel objects in a gradual manner. This process is known as ‘social referencing’, you can do this by providing the kitten variety of safe floor textures to walk on or offer new size and shape objects for investigation.

Also Read: How To Introduce A New Kitten To An Older Cat

4. Habituate To Household Sounds And Variety Of Noises

Similarly to habituation to novel objects, social referencing should also include experiences that involve all the kitten’s senses that he/she will experience in an average home.

Similarly to habituation to novel objects, social referencing should also include experiences that involve all the kitten’s senses that he/she will experience in an average home. New sounds can be introduced by playing kitten socialization sounds of household noises like pots/pans, mobile phones, door buzzer, hairdryer, washer and vacuum.

Also Read: The Complete Feeding Guide From Kittens To Seniors

5. Familiarize The Kitten To Future Household Pets

How do animals become infected with toxoplasmosis

Slowly while supervised introduce your kitten to other species like pocket pets, birds and dogs it may encounter later in life. To introduce a dog; initially rub a cloth over a dog and place in the kitten’s environment. Next, introduce at a distance (choose a calm/friendly dog), then approach closer as the dog is on harness and leash while in resting position to minimize scaring the kitten.

Also Read: The Complete Guide to Bottle Feeding Kittens

6. Teach Kittens How To Play Nice

Although it’s irresistible to play with kittens by wriggling your fingers or toes, this isn’t appropriate method of play.

Although it’s irresistible to play with kittens by wriggling your fingers or toes, this isn’t appropriate method of play. From day one, direct play onto lifeless objects like ping pong balls, scrunched up paper, catnip mice, fishing pole type toys, where a person moves a wand while the kitty pursues the toy at the tip of the wand. Always supervise kittens with such toys to reduce the entanglement risk if left alone.

Also Read: Can Kittens Eat Adult Cat Food? A Vet Explains

Last Thoughts

There are no set rules, some kittens will prefer to be solo cats, while others remain bonded to their siblings.

Pet professionals and animal organizations have a duty of care to provide the most appropriate home for every kitten based on their genetics, health condition, early experiences (or lack of experiences) and inherent temperament. There are no set rules, some kittens will prefer to be solo cats, while others remain bonded to their siblings.

Ultimately this article highlights the necessity for scientific research into behavioural outcomes of kittens acquired as solo cats.

Also Read: Why Does My Cat Steal My Other Cat’s Food?

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it better to get 2 kittens from the same litter?

Yes, it’s better to get two kittens from the identical litter since they’re going learn from each other, provide security and comfort to one another, guarantee constant playmate, reduce feelings of anxiety furthermore potentially prevent behavioural problems.

Can brother and sister cats live together?

Brother and sister cats can live happily together as I can attest to it having a male and female sibling who enjoy spending time and playing together aside from few occasional disagreements. Certain siblings can have a tight bond for life, while others won’t have this connection once they reach social maturity and will just tolerate each other.

Do cats get sibling syndrome?

Cats don’t get sibling syndrome since they’re capable of spending time alone. Adopting siblings is beneficial if you wish to acquire two cats at once since they’ll integrate into a brand new household with ease, however their relationship can change during social maturity given that each sibling is genetically unique.

Do cats get littermate syndrome?   

There’s no such thing as a littermate syndrome in cats. This is a common phenomenon amongst dogs that hasn’t been substantiated by science either.

View Sources

Care, I. C. (2020, Septmeber 15). Advanced Feline Behaviour for Vet Professionals, Module 3 Reproduction and Behavioural development in kittens. (ISFM, Compiler) UK. Retrieved September 11, 2022

Heath, A. G. (2016). Normal Social Behaviour. In I. R. Heath, Feline Behavioural Health and Welfare (pp. 38-39). St Louis: Elsevier Inc. Retrieved September 09, 2022

L.PearlLeeNiel, K. A. (2021, March). Risk factors for aggression in adult cats that were fostered through a shelter program as kittens. Science Direct, 236. Retrieved September 14, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0168159121000381

Trevorrow, N. (2012, Summer). Kitten Socialisation. UK. Retrieved September 13, 2022

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About Melina Grin

Melina’s love of animals began in childhood, when she would care for sick or stray dogs and cats while dreaming of becoming a Vet. While working in the Veterinary field she found a distinct interest and passion in Feline Behaviour and Small Animal Rehabilitation. Melina is the proud director of Pet Nurture in Sydney, Australia (Unique Mobile Animal Wellness Centre specializing in Cats). Melina contributes to various animal publications in the United States, Australia & NZ and also the founder and admin of the Facebook group: Feline Courses, Seminars, Webinars & Events.

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