Melanie DeFazio / Stocksy
If you adopted a single kitten under the age of six months, you may begin to notice some troubling behavior over time. If your kitten is excessively vocal, destructive, and/or aggressive, they are likely experiencing “single kitten syndrome,” a condition that can develop in kittens who are not raised with other kittens or cats.
Though it’s not a recognized medical condition, “single kitten syndrome” is an anecdotal grouping of behaviors that can be detrimental to both a cat and their pet parents. In fact, it’s the main reason that many shelters and rescue organizations encourage or even require adopters to bring home kittens in pairs.
Not every single kitten adopted alone will experience this syndrome, but if your lone kitten is exhibiting signs of it, there’s hope for help. Read on to learn more about single kitten syndrome and how you can help a cat experiencing it.
What is single kitten syndrome?
Single kitten syndrome, also known as “only kitten syndrome” or “single cat syndrome,” is a condition that can develop in kittens who are not raised with other kittens or cats. Kittens are almost always born in a litter with multiple siblings, and along with their mom’s care, those litter dynamics play an important role in kittens’ social development.
Essentially, lone kittens grow up without the benefit of socializing with their littermates and don’t receive the kind of feedback from their fellow kittens that helps teach them which behaviors are appropriate and which are not.
“If a kitten from a litter of one is introduced to a kitten that has grown up with other kittens, [the lone kitten] will play more roughly than normal. Hand-raised kittens are even more inept: some turn out to be so aggressive that other kittens actively avoid them,” says renowned anthrozoologist John Bradshaw in his book Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet. Other kittens may become “excessively bonded” to their pet parents.
Symptoms of Single Kitten Syndrome
Symptoms of single kitten syndrome can include:
How can I recognize if my kitten has single kitten syndrome?
If you have adopted a kitten and they start exhibiting the above symptoms, they may have single kitten syndrome.
What are the long-term effects of single kitten syndrome?
Without intervention from their pet parent, a veterinarian, or a behaviorist, cats with single kitten syndrome will continue to engage in destructive behaviors. What’s more, cats experiencing single kitten syndrome are all too often returned to the shelters or rescues from which they were adopted or otherwise surrendered by their families because of their behaviors.
“Hand-reared kittens may develop extreme personalities because they miss out on these interactions due to their lack of contact with other cats,” says Bradshaw. But providing socialization during the third and fourth months of age, even if it’s late, can be beneficial. “…it seems possible that continued interactions with their peer group during adolescence could make a major contribution to cats’ development as social animals.”
How to treat only kitten syndrome.
The best treatment for single kitten syndrome is often to adopt another cat. While bringing home one new family member can (understandably) feel like a big step and commitment in and of itself, it may actually make your life easier, and benefit your cat, to bring home another.
If you go this route, it’s best to choose a cat who is as close in age, size, and energy level as your resident cat as possible. Some cat experts recommend having cats of opposite sexes, too (but be sure to spay and neuter them both!).
If you decide to adopt a new cat, however, make sure to introduce your resident cat and new family member carefully and slowly. You’ll want to follow a multi-step process that involves isolating your cats in their own environments and then introducing each one to the other’s scent. Only when both cats seem ready, introduce them face to face.
Provide your kitten with plenty of toys and activities.
If you can only adopt one kitten, it is important to provide them with plenty of stimulation and attention. Play with your kitten at least three times a day or until they are so tired they don’t want to play anymore.
It’s also often beneficial to provide your kitten a secure “room with a view” with a cat tree or sofa backed up against a window with a view of trees and birds. Bonus points if you can hang up a bird feeder and let your cat observe from the inside.
You can also bring home new objects for your kitten to hide in, such as big cardboard boxes or paper shopping bags (with the handles safely cut off) and tall objects on which they can safely climb. You may also want to buy or make enough toys to hide some and do a daily rotation. Essentially, you want to make your kitten’s life as fun and stimulating as possible.
Provide your kitten with a secure, cozy place to sleep.
You can recreate the comforting environment a kitten would experience with their mother and littermates by providing them with a covered, heated cat bed (one specifically designed for cats — a human heating pad will get too hot) on your bed if possible, or on a chair right next to your bed. You can also give them a stuffed animal the size of another kitten or cat for company.
Consult with a veterinarian or certified cat behaviorist.
Kittens should see a veterinarian within the first week of coming to a new home for routine care, and a vet you’ve already established a relationship with is a great resource to turn to if you begin to notice symptoms of single kitten syndrome. It’s important to rule out any underlying medical issues that could be causing the behavioral symptoms that also come with single kitten syndrome.
You may also consider enlisting the help of a certified cat behaviorist, who can help you address your cat’s behavioral issues. Before hiring a behaviorist, however, make sure you ask a few key questions, such as if they’ve worked with clients with similar issues (and, if so, what the outcome was) and if they can provide references.
What if none of this works?
What if you sought out a professional and it did not help, or you are unable to make the investment in helping your cat with their behavior problems? Rehoming your cat to a family that can better address these needs may be a very kind and responsible choice. Rehome is a peer-to-peer adoption service that allows pet parents to post their pets on adoptapet.com to be seen by millions of potential adopters. If you’re in the difficult position of considering whether to rehome your pet, it’s important to take an honest look at the situation and do your homework. Rehome can help make the process easy and as safe as possible. When you’ve done all you can, it’s important to remember that pets are individuals, and sometimes your home might not be the right fit.
Can single kitten syndrome be prevented?
The best way to prevent single kitten syndrome is to adopt two kittens at the same time. Being raised with another kitten offers cats many benefits, including keeping each other occupied (and, therefore, out of trouble) and physically and mentally engaged. Many kittens are available for adoption at local shelters and rescue groups across the United States. Start your search for a friendly cat or kitten at adoptapet.com
FAQ (People Also Ask)
How is single kitten syndrome different from fading kitten syndrome?
Fading kitten syndrome threatens a kitten’s physical well-being and involves health-related symptoms, whereas single kitten syndrome primarily affects their mental well-being and is exhibited through behavioral symptoms.
Fading kitten syndrome occurs when a kitten fails to thrive between birth and when they wean from their mother (or from a bottle, in the case of hand-fed kittens) and is evidenced by the kitten failing to meet developmental milestones and other symptoms, such as labored breathing, lack of appetite, weakness, and an inability to gain weight. This syndrome usually occurs during a period of four to five weeks and is usually fatal.
Julie Zeilinger is a NYC-based writer and editor whose writing has been published in Marie Claire, Vox, HuffPost, Forbes, and other publications. She is also the author of two books: College 101: A Girl’s Guide to Freshman Year (2014) and A Little F’d Up: Why Feminism Is Not a Dirty Word (2012). She is the mom to Baloo, a two-year-old Bichpoo and foster mom to dogs via Badass Animal Rescue.