Cat Adoption: Bonded Pairs

By Ellen Lindell, VMD, DACVB; Lynn Buzhardt, DVM

When it comes to things you like, if one is good, two is better, right? That philosophy doesn’t always apply when it comes to cats. Many people choose to adopt two cats at a time, especially when the cats are special pals. When cats are adopted as a duo, it’s usually because the kitties comprise a single unit called a “bonded pair”. Adopting a bonded pair has its advantages and disadvantages.

What are bonded pairs?

In most feline adoption centers, there are lots of adorable cats peeking out of their kennels. Maybe they purr at you or reach out with a paw as you walk down the aisle. Some cages may contain two cats because they are a bonded pair.

A bonded pair is two cats that have a special relationship and the adoption center wants to place them in a home together. There may be a sign on their kennel door that reads, “Bonded Pair” to clarify the situation. So, if you are only in the market for one kitty, move on down the aisle!

Bonded pairs reflect the tendency for felines to form a cohesive social group, particularly cats that share a maternal relative. Cats may have a reputation for being aloof, but they are social animals. Free-living cats can thrive when they are part of a stable social group that provides comfort and security. Bonded pairs are often siblings, but unrelated cats that have spent time together may also develop a tight bond.

So how do two cats end up together? Observant shelter staff members know the cats in their care. They recognize personality differences, likes and dislikes, and can identify pairs of cats that get along particularly well. Once they notice a special bond, caretakers work to keep the feline friends together. Cats in a bonded pair provide each other with comfort and companionship and are more likely to thrive if they can remain together in their new home. Adoption centers recognize these helpful feline relationships and aim to promote adoption of bonded pairs.

"Adoption centers recognize these helpful feline relationships and aim to promote adoption of bonded pairs."

It’s important to understand that even though overcrowding is an issue, well-run shelters don’t randomly house cats together to save space. Nor do they insist that potential pet owners adopt two at a time to reduce the shelter population. Rather, dual adoption is encouraged because it is in the best interest of the cats. In some cases, a shelter worker may even insist that a pair of cats remain together for their well-being.

What should I consider in adopting a bonded pair?

Adopting a cat is a potential 20-year commitment. To help you make an informed decision, here are some advantages and disadvantages of adopting bonded pairs.


Improved social development. Cats learn to be cats by imitating each other. Just as young children mimic their parents and siblings, cats mirror their feline family members. They watch each other to learn how to play together, how to use the litter box, and how to interact with humans. Adopting a bonded pair may facilitate the social development of both cats.

Easier transition. Leaving a small kennel for a big house sounds great, but can be frightening. The move may be easier for bonded pairs because there is security in numbers. The cats more readily adjust to their new surroundings as they bring the familiarity of each other to an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people.

Decreased mishaps. Idle minds mean trouble. Bored cats sometimes become destructive: scratching furniture, tearing curtains, soiling rugs. Bonded pairs always have a playmate around and can keep each other busy. When boredom decreases, so does destructive behavior. People who are gone for long periods often adopt bonded pairs so that their cats do not have to be alone. A cat with a companion may be less likely to develop separation-related anxiety or distress.

Reduced inter-cat conflict. Sometimes, unrelated cats in a group form a social hierarchy.   If you already have a cat, then your new cat will need to develop a comfortable relationship with the resident cat. This merging can be stressful for a single newcomer. By adopting a bonded pair, you can reduce some of the social pressure as the new cats will have each other to lean on. If you do not have any resident cats but intend to have two cats eventually, you may save yourself and your cats trouble by adopting two at a time. No introductions or time-consuming transition will be needed.

Enhanced impact on pet population. Adopting a cat is a good deed. Adopting two doubles that goodness. Rescuing two cats means saving two lives. Double good for you!

Discounts. Some shelters offer discounts when people adopt two cats at a time. If your plans include more than one cat, it may be less expensive overall to take two simultaneously. Save two cats and save some money!


Longer shelter stay. Since many prospective cat adopters are shopping for a single cat, bonded pairs may be overlooked. Sometimes it takes longer to find homes for them. Staying in the shelter may become stressful for the cats and if adoption takes too long, the staff may make the difficult decision to separate the pair to facilitate quicker adoption. Of course, this may lead to further stress and separation anxiety.

Double expense. Adoption discounts may save money initially, but once you are home with a bonded pair, two cats means twice the financial commitment. You have twice the food, litter, and medical bills. Consider your budget before pledging to take two cats.

Increased time commitment. Although caring for two cats may not take twice as long, it does take more time. You will have to clean a litter box that is doubly full and monitor feeding time to make sure each cat eats sufficiently. Also, cats do need individual attention. You must play with two cats…but that’s a fun commitment!

Unhealthy bond. Sometimes the relationship between the bonded pair can deteriorate. Bonded pairs are not immune to social conflict or aggression toward each other. Dealing with this dynamic requires time and effort.

Is adopting a bonded pair worth it?

Although there are pros and cons to adopting a bonded pair of cats, you may determine that the pros tip the balance. For people who love cats, a bonded pair means twice the love and that outweighs any inconvenience. If you are willing to adopt a bonded pair of cats, you may incur a bigger commitment of time and money, but you may also receive twice the joy.

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