Recently adopted bonded pair doesn't seem too bonded

jersharocks

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I recently adopted two female cats who were listed as a bonded pair who had lived together for 5 years. Their former owners got divorced and surrendered the cats to a rescue. They didn't stay in the shelter long, they went to a foster home for at least a week or two. That's all I know of their history.

I've had them for 2 weeks and they seem fairly confident and lovable towards me (they seem scared of my husband at times so I wonder if the male in their former home was loud, angry, or abusive in some way) but they do not seem bonded to one another at all. They don't snuggle together, play together (Contessa rarely plays at all but Juliet loves to play), groom each other, etc. The bigger cat (Contessa) seems to bully the smaller cat (Juliet) and forces her away from her food bowl or favorite sleeping spot.

I'm taking steps to prevent that like feeding them separately and distracting Contessa if she tries to take something from Juliet. That seems to help a little bit. Juliet is a very slow eater though so I'll have to come up with a longer term solution so I don't have to stand guard by the food bowl 3 times a day lol.

We had them both groomed yesterday by a mobile groomer since they had some matting and tangles that needed taken care of. They seemed okay afterwards but today Contessa is hissing at Juliet which makes me feel so bad. I don't know if yesterday was just really traumatic (they had to be in their carriers for a long time since the groomer showed up late) or if something happened while we were sleeping. Or maybe it's because Juliet smells different but as far as I know, they were bathed in the exact same thing so wouldn't Contessa smell like that herself?

Am I just expecting too much too soon? Will they settle in together in the future? I love these girls so much already and I want them to be happy. Maybe they are happy not being attached at the hip and I'm just being silly?
 

Hellenww

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2 weeks is a very short time and it sounds like they are doing wonderfully for their age and all of the recent changes in their lives. Bonded doesn't always mean cuddly with each other. It's also possible they aren't comfortable (or cold) enough yet to cuddle.

I have a gobbler, Yoshi, and a grazer, Sqeeker, so feel your pain about doing guard duty. We use a locking cake box to keep Yoshi out of Sqeekers food so Sqeeker can come back later. Sqeeker learned quickly to let us know when he wants his food. I still stand guard while he is at the dish. Yoshi is also an extremely hydrated kitty because one of the distractions that works is to have him play at the sink while Sqeeker is eating. They are 14 and 15 yrs and I'm sorry to say it is a life long battle.

Congratulations on adopting these sweet girls.
 

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Elphaba09

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They have been through a lot. Who knows what the house was like before they were surrendered to the shelter. Even if there was no domestic violence in the house, there was likely a great deal of stress that they picked up on while there. Then they were taken to a shelter and then to a foster home before coming to you. All that seems to have happened in rather a quick succession. All that stress and all those smells have followed them. The extra time in the carrier likely reminded them both of being transported to unknown places, especially since they have not had enough time to really settle into your home.

You can try clicker (or even finger snapping) training with Contessa, who seems to be displaying misplaced aggression. When she hisses or go for Juliet's food or sleep spot, say her name, click (snap), and then give some form of positive reinforcement to distract her. This worked well with my cat Tara who stalked our cat Astrid. One would have thought that Tara was a mean cat. The truth is, though, she was scared and has a nervous disposition that comes out as aggression towards the weakest cat, which, in our case, is Astrid.

Contessa and Juliet are both likely afraid and stressed and showing it differently. Have you tried calming sprays or plug-ins? Some work better on different cats, so you might want to get two or three different brands and see what works. We currently have 12 cats, and I keep three different brands on hand so if something stresses them, I have it ready. (We also used to foster on top of having a lot of cats in our home. The sprays helped with most of the cats.)

As for your concerns about them not behaving like a bonded pair, it can be several factors. I would wait until the stress is lessened to see just how their relationship is normally. They likely are bonded. You just have not seen the extent of it due to stress or because their bond manifests differently. To give you an example of a strangely bonded pair, the above mentioned Tara was found taking care of a very sick Simon. Simon, who does not seem to be related to Tara and is roughly eight/nine years older than her, was near death in some bushes. Tara had been seen taking food from a bowl and running off, but no one knew why. When she was trapped, she eventually got loose and led my friend's mother to Simon. While he got better at the vet, Tara paced the house the whole time he was gone. Once he was returned, she snuggled him for a moment and that was it. You would not think these two are bonded. However, Tara has a chronic medical condition. When it acts up, Simon always is near her. Fennimore will sometimes become aggressive towards her when she is sick, which is pretty normal in cats, and Simon will guard her. When Simon is feeling his age--he is pushing 17 now!--Tara will sleep near him and bring him food. She does not cuddle with him. She just stays within a foot or so from him. As I said, they are strangely bonded.

Three of our kittens seem to have come from a hoarding situation where they were kept in a small cage together. (There may have been more in the cage.) One is slightly older than the other two, yet they act like bonded siblings. For the first two or three weeks we had them, they would sleep in a heap inside the litter box. They still sleep on each other; however, they have taken my 20-lbs, 8-year-old male tabby named Fennimore as their momma. When they sleep in a heap, it is on or near him instead of the litter box!
 
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jersharocks

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2 weeks is a very short time and it sounds like they are doing wonderfully for their age and all of the recent changes in their lives. Bonded doesn't always mean cuddly with each other. It's also possible they aren't comfortable (or cold) enough yet to cuddle.

I have a gobbler, Yoshi, and a grazer, Sqeeker, so feel your pain about doing guard duty. We use a locking cake box to keep Yoshi out of Sqeekers food so Sqeeker can come back later. Sqeeker learned quickly to let us know when he wants his food. I still stand guard while he is at the dish. Yoshi is also an extremely hydrated kitty because one of the distractions that works is to have him play at the sink while Sqeeker is eating. They are 14 and 15 yrs and I'm sorry to say it is a life long battle.

Congratulations on adopting these sweet girls.
Thank you! I had a feeling that it was too early to be concerned. I think it just scared me that all of the sudden Contessa was hissing at her sister.

Maybe they only cuddle when I'm not looking but apparently they do cuddle sometimes, their adoption profile had this picture of them laying next to each other on a bed, not sure if it was at the foster's house or at their former home.

download (1).jpg


I am thinking we might get one of those microchip feeders or maybe rig one up ourselves somehow. Or maybe we can make a slim opening into a room or something that only Juliet can get into. Contessa is much wider (she's a ragdoll, she's a big girl haha) than Juliet so we have some options there.
 
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jersharocks

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They have been through a lot. Who knows what the house was like before they were surrendered to the shelter. Even if there was no domestic violence in the house, there was likely a great deal of stress that they picked up on while there. Then they were taken to a shelter and then to a foster home before coming to you. All that seems to have happened in rather a quick succession. All that stress and all those smells have followed them. The extra time in the carrier likely reminded them both of being transported to unknown places, especially since they have not had enough time to really settle into your home.

You can try clicker (or even finger snapping) training with Contessa, who seems to be displaying misplaced aggression. When she hisses or go for Juliet's food or sleep spot, say her name, click (snap), and then give some form of positive reinforcement to distract her. This worked well with my cat Tara who stalked our cat Astrid. One would have thought that Tara was a mean cat. The truth is, though, she was scared and has a nervous disposition that comes out as aggression towards the weakest cat, which, in our case, is Astrid.

Contessa and Juliet are both likely afraid and stressed and showing it differently. Have you tried calming sprays or plug-ins? Some work better on different cats, so you might want to get two or three different brands and see what works. We currently have 12 cats, and I keep three different brands on hand so if something stresses them, I have it ready. (We also used to foster on top of having a lot of cats in our home. The sprays helped with most of the cats.)

As for your concerns about them not behaving like a bonded pair, it can be several factors. I would wait until the stress is lessened to see just how their relationship is normally. They likely are bonded. You just have not seen the extent of it due to stress or because their bond manifests differently. To give you an example of a strangely bonded pair, the above mentioned Tara was found taking care of a very sick Simon. Simon, who does not seem to be related to Tara and is roughly eight/nine years older than her, was near death in some bushes. Tara had been seen taking food from a bowl and running off, but no one knew why. When she was trapped, she eventually got loose and led my friend's mother to Simon. While he got better at the vet, Tara paced the house the whole time he was gone. Once he was returned, she snuggled him for a moment and that was it. You would not think these two are bonded. However, Tara has a chronic medical condition. When it acts up, Simon always is near her. Fennimore will sometimes become aggressive towards her when she is sick, which is pretty normal in cats, and Simon will guard her. When Simon is feeling his age--he is pushing 17 now!--Tara will sleep near him and bring him food. She does not cuddle with him. She just stays within a foot or so from him. As I said, they are strangely bonded.

Three of our kittens seem to have come from a hoarding situation where they were kept in a small cage together. (There may have been more in the cage.) One is slightly older than the other two, yet they act like bonded siblings. For the first two or three weeks we had them, they would sleep in a heap inside the litter box. They still sleep on each other; however, they have taken my 20-lbs, 8-year-old male tabby named Fennimore as their momma. When they sleep in a heap, it is on or near him instead of the litter box!
Thank you! You're absolutely right, they've been through a lot in a very short period of time. They also went to vet last week and I'm sure that was stressful too. The vet says Contessa has gingivitis and might need some teeth removed so she'll be going back to the vet again in the next few weeks too. Poor girl! :(

Clicker training sounds like a great idea. It's cheap and definitely worth a try. Maybe I can even use it to teach them some tricks haha.

I haven't tried calming sprays or plug-ins yet but I'll definitely give them a shot! I think I might have some Feliway wipes samples around here somewhere.
 

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I have 5 cats and ... cats have a very complex social structure and as a general rule ... any change in routine, new cats, other pets or people will affect the social interaction ... my bonded sibling pair - two girls ... tend to get pesky with each other when they are upset about other cat, their people or sick... it is a kind of re-directed aggression ... They are over 3 years old and snuggle less with each other than they used to which is normal but ... if one of them isn't there ...the other gets quite upset and calls for the missing sister ... and as much as they push each other away from petting hands or even shoo each other from my lap ... they are very in tune with each other and I cannot imagine them apart ... I compare cat relationships to those of humans. I have to be very careful to treat my cats exactly the same ... I swear they keep track of who gets how many pets, brushings, treats ... Playing also helps - Dabird is great for stress relief ... and when we have new cats or fosters ... I free feed for a while or ... at the very least feed the cats apart from each other and make sure they don't get " hangry " - hungry cats can be more territorial even within their own usually harmonic group . Also make sure that there are always more litterboxes than cats in different locations, more water dishes than cats and lots of hiding spots and elevated sleeping areas available ( cardboard boxes with two entries cut in are my favorite for new cats regardless of how brave they act - it dispels aggression )
 
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jersharocks

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I have to be very careful to treat my cats exactly the same ... I swear they keep track of who gets how many pets, brushings, treats
I just started to notice that, they do seem to keep track of who is getting attention, treats, etc. I gave Contessa treats for going into her carrier yesterday. Juliet had gone in no problem but was very upset that Contessa got some treats so I had to unzip the carrier and toss some treats in lol. I'll definitely try to keep things as far as possible.

... Playing also helps - Dabird is great for stress relief ...
Contessa never seems to want to play. I have a lot of options - Cat Dancer, crinkle balls, kicker toys, a couple fishing pole toys with various attachments, little mouse toys, etc. She loves to watch but doesn't really interact much. I don't push it though because I don't want to stress them out. I leave out a few toys and then if they don't play with them after 3 or 4 days, I put those away and pull new toys out and try those.

The closest I've gotten Contessa to playing was with the fishing pole with a feather attachment and I wiggled it around on top of a cardboard house. She went after it a bit but then walked away. I ordered the Cat Dancer wand because I think she'll like that and it has a lot of reach so she can play further away from me. I have a feeling that she doesn't want to play super close to me, like she's afraid I'll get her or pick her up or something. She also shows interest in playing under things so I may try playing under a door. Our last cat really loved that, maybe she will too.

Juliet LOVES the Cat Dancer, she'll play with that for a long time, jumping and twisting and everything. She also loves the fishing pole toys. Neither of them seem at all interested in kicker toys, balls, or mice. Neither one seems interested in catnip or the catnip/silvervine/valerian root blend I have (it's been in the freezer for a year though so maybe it's stale).

and when we have new cats or fosters ... I free feed for a while or ... at the very least feed the cats apart from each other and make sure they don't get " hangry " - hungry cats can be more territorial even within their own usually harmonic group.
I free fed for the first few days but I wanted to transition to wet food so they get 1/4 cup of dry food each in the morning and then 2 meals of wet food (one around 3pm and one at bedtime). They usually eat all the dry food by noon but they have barely touched it today which definitely signals to me that they're stressed. They've just been sleeping all day so far.


Also make sure that there are always more litterboxes than cats in different locations, more water dishes than cats and lots of hiding spots and elevated sleeping areas available ( cardboard boxes with two entries cut in are my favorite for new cats regardless of how brave they act - it dispels aggression )
They have 2 litterboxes, I need to get a 3rd, I've been waiting to see which type of litterbox they prefer (I have two types) so I can get another of that kind. One is really big with high sides, the other is just a large pan with lower sides. They seem to use both equally so I'll probably just grab whichever is cheaper.

They have lots and lots of places to sleep and hide. We have 3 cat trees of varying heights (and another in a box waiting to be put together), 3 uncovered beds, 1 covered bed, 3 cardboard "houses" (they love those), and I leave their carriers out all the time and they go in there sometimes, they're the soft sherpa ones. They can get on our bed, the couch and there's a "window seat" which is a tall cushioned bench made out of an old bed frame that we put up against the front window so they can look out.

We have the underside of our bed blocked so they can't hide there but they can hide under our bookshelves and shelving units if they really want a dark space to hide in.
 

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I think your cats are very lucky to have found themselves such a good and caring home - cats just need time ... weirdly ... most fosters I get like to be ignored for a while ... it seems to give them security to bond on their terms ... we adopted two kittens from a breeder who had too many cats and nit enough socialization and it took these babies about 3 months to finally decide that ... they want to be my friends - some cats are “in your face - love everyone- love change “ - some take time ... one of my cats never comes out when there are strangers around but with us she is Mrs cuddle bug ... you are doing great and I bet that your two new babies will defrost soon and feel more secure every week ...
 

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I think it's still too early to judge how they are feeling and I agree with what everyone else has said. I do think they are very lucky to have you because you seem very committed to their wellbeing, so I think with time they will start to warm up to their new environment and each other.
 
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jersharocks

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Thank you so much everyone! My cats are my babies, I don't have kids but I treat my cats like they're my kids lol. :)
 

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It can take adult cats months to settle into a new home. It's scary, very scary and they have to learn to live with someone new and new schedules. It can be alot. I would add feliway if you haven't yet, that might help with the stress levels and just go slow. Spend time in the room with them just reading a book so they get used to your scent. Cats are very sensitive souls lol. My boys werent bonded when foster failed but they sure are now. Even though they do get into hiss fights when Fynn plays too rough, if Fynn is put away in a room to cool off a bit (just for a few minutes) Jethro is at the door waiting for him lol.
 
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jersharocks

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Since it's been a couple months, I wanted to give a little update on the girls. They still don't seem to snuggle much (although I've seen them snuggle together twice) but they are getting along quite well. They have little spats sometimes but nothing abnormal. Usually it's just one of them stealing the other's favorite spot and then they bat their paws at each other and maybe hiss a little but even that is rare.

Juliet definitely grooms Contessa fairly often because sometimes I'll come into a room and Contessa has kitty bedhead from Juliet grooming her. It's adorable but she looks so goofy lol. Here's a double whammy of them sharing a bed/cat tree and the bedhead:

PXL_20201231_210648198.jpg


We solved the food problem by simply feeding Contessa in another room. Juliet is fed in my office. We put her food bowl on one platform of the cat tree (she prefers to eat up there for some reason). Contessa is fed in our bedroom. Contessa is learning how to sit before we feed her. We have a little cardboard tray that their food came in from Chewy and she has to go to the box and then sit before we give her the food. We usually say sit and then wait for her to sit but if we come in there and she's already sitting we'll give her the food anyway that way she makes the connection that sitting in her box = food even if we don't say it.

We feed Juliet first and then feed Contessa so Juliet always gets a little head start on eating. We close the bedroom door until Juliet is done eating and then let Contessa out of the bedroom, sometimes she gets a little stressed and meows to be let out early but she's never in there alone for more than 10 minutes so I don't give in.

Contessa still doesn't really play much but she's getting there. She doesn't seem to react to catnip in a playful way, all she does it lick toys that have catnip in them lol. She likes the Cat Dancer wand toy but not much else that I can find yet. I might pick up a laser light and see if she likes that. She's skittish at times and doesn't like toys that make much noise.

Juliet, on the other hand, will play with just about anything and has boundless energy. She just doesn't like to play alone, she requires human input on her toys. I've tried mechanical toys and both of them just watch but don't play. I think Juliet is the type of cat that would do well with an exercise wheel. I'd have to figure out a way to get her to eat more though, she's so skinny as it is (not too skinny though per the vet) and more exercise would probably just exacerbate that.

All in all, they seem to be settling in nicely and I'm sure within a couple more months, they'll be as settled as they can possibly be. They're not as bonded as I thought they'd be but that's OK too. I just had weird expectations. They obviously care about each other and want to be near each other. I'm so glad we were able to adopt both of them so they could stay together.
 
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