Posted July 03, 2020 at 09:35 AM Under "Animal Behavior, Training & Enrichment"
Feline bonded pairs

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!

  • July 06, 2020 at 01:22 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.

  • July 06, 2020 at 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.

  • July 05, 2020 at 12:12 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.

  • July 04, 2020 at 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



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