Cats have big litters, so kittens have lots of brothers and sisters. Their mothers also care for their kittens for a long time. So, related cats spend a great deal of time around each other.
Cats understand that they’re related based on their scent. Mothers treat their kittens differently from other cats’ kittens, and siblings get along well even once they grow up. That’s why adopting littermates is a good idea. But, if the cats are separated, they forget each other.
Cats are solitary creatures. So, even if they know that they’re related, that doesn’t mean that they’ll ‘love’ each other. Also, whether related cats recognize each other once they are separated is unclear.
Do Cats Know They’re Related?
Cats do know that they’re related. As stated, cats can recognize their father and mother, and siblings based on their smell. That’s why cats can live in a group with their siblings and mother while young, even though they’re not pack animals once they become adult cats.
Unfortunately, if these related cats haven’t seen each other for a long time, they may not remember each other. That’s because each cat will smell completely different from how it used to.
Even though cats can know that they’re related, that doesn’t mean that they understand family in the same way humans do. Once they’re fully grown, a cat won’t treat its family any differently from other cats.
The reasons why cats recognize their family when younger are evolutionary in nature. The queen (mother cat) will take better care of her offspring if she recognizes them and has some attachment. The kittens will stay with their mother if they recognize her.
Once they’ve grown up, a cat will treat all other cats the same, regardless of whether they’re related or not. That means that a cat will be protective over its territory and food, whether the other cat is a stranger or sibling.
Do Cats Recognize Siblings?
When all of the siblings are living together with their mother, they will all smell the same. They smell of their mother and living environment.
If a non-related cat that looked the same were to wander in, others would immediately recognize it as a stranger. That’s because it wouldn’t smell like the group’s mother or of their environment.
Again, the reason why groups of siblings recognize each other is that it’s evolutionarily advantageous. By rejecting strangers, they ensure that the group’s collective genetics will be passed on to the next generation.
Accepting a non-related cat would mean that the stranger’s genetics were passed on to the next generation. It’s advantageous for the parents and the sibling group to ensure their survival and not strangers.
However, once they grow up into adult cats, the siblings may not show that they recognize each other. They may act as if they’re complete strangers, fighting like any two cats would over food or space.
Do Cats Treat Siblings Differently?
Cats treat siblings differently from other cats when they’re kittens. They are comfortable in each others’ presence. They play together, groom each other, eat together, and live nearby. If a stranger cat were to sneak into the group, they wouldn’t treat it this way because it doesn’t have a familiar smell.
As the siblings grow up, they may stay close to each other. They may still play and groom each other. This is in contrast to what happens when you introduce two stranger cats to each other as adults. Strangers will usually reject each other.
Domesticated cats aren’t like lions, living in prides. Both male and female house cats are loners and have their own territories. Even siblings may still fight with each other.
There is also limited evidence that siblings remember each other, even if they’re separated. According to Behavior, related cats will mate less frequently than cats that aren’t.
The team behind the study looked at feral cats. Female feral cats mate with multiple males but don’t accept every male that wants to mate with them when they’re in heat. The scientists observed a group of female cats during estrous to see which other cats they mated with.
According to the study, female cats would normally choose not to mate with any males they were related to. This indicates that the pair can smell something about each other, which indicates that they wouldn’t make a successful mating pair. To confuse matters, it seems that siblings will mate with each other.
Will Cats Remember Siblings after Being Separated?
Using smell to recognize other cats has its drawbacks. If you separated one of the siblings from the rest for a while, it might not smell the same as it used to. In that scenario, the others (and the mother) may reject it.
However, this is unlikely to happen. That’s because kittens only rarely get separated from the rest of their siblings. The mother will keep a watchful eye on her kittens for the first parts of their lives. Only once the kittens are old enough to smell, hear and see the world around them properly will they start to go off independently.
As for separating kittens to sell, it’s not common practice to do this before they are old enough to be weaned. Once they’re fully weaned and have had time to experience the world around them, only then are they separated. After this point, the siblings don’t need to remember each other.
When Should You Separate Cat Siblings?
It’s a common misconception that you should separate kittens as soon as they’re weaned. The period after full weaning is just as important. It’s during this time that kittens first learn to socialize with other cats.
Cats learn to socialize with their siblings and parents during this time. In weeks 7-14, kittens learn from observing their mothers. According to the journal Animals, this is also when kittens learn to socialize with humans.
They watch as their mothers play and do the same. They watch as their mothers’ groom and do the same to themselves and each other. If you were to separate a kitten from its siblings during this time, its social development would be stunted. So, after 14 weeks is recommended.
Do Cats Treat Their Offspring Differently?
Cats can recognize which kittens are their own offspring and which aren’t based on their scent. As in the scenario above, a kitten that sneaks into the sibling group can be instantly identified by the mother. The mother will then reject it and not waste her milk on it.
That doesn’t mean that a cat will never help raise the kittens of other cats. This has been known to happen. However, if the mother already has a large litter that she struggles to feed, attempting to take care of another kitten may mean that one of her own offspring dies.
Male tom cats also treat their kittens differently from the kittens of other cats. Unfortunately, a tomcat can kill the kittens of other toms. Again, this behavior stems from seeking an evolutionary advantage. If the tom kills the other cats’ kittens, its own kittens are more likely to survive.
Do Cats Remember Their Kittens Years Later?
The picture changes once the kittens are old enough to leave the litter. Once a kitten leaves the litter in the wild, it goes to live on its own elsewhere. When this happens, the cat and its mother are estranged, and they treat each other as they would any other cat.
This occurs because cats are solitary animals. When you think of a cat’s idea of social structure, you may think of lions. Lions live in prides, large groups of many lions that live and hunt together. According to Current Zoology, even captive-bred lions still understand this social structure when reintroduced to the wild.
However, lions are the outliers of the cat family. Other cat species, whether small or large, are solitary animals. That’s why domestic cats enjoy spending so much time alone, especially compared to other domesticated animals that enjoy forming ‘packs’ with their owners.
When a cat leaves the litter, there’s no need for the pair to treat each other differently. That being said, it is possible that the pair still recognize each other. They may know that they’re related but fight anyway.
If you keep the cat and its grown kitten together in the same home, they may get on, or they may not. They will fight over food and space, just like any two cats would.
Do Cats Recognize Their Parents?
When they are first born, kittens recognize their mothers. They imprint on their mothers soon after birth and then recognize them based primarily on smell but also appearance. Imprinting in this way keeps the kitten safe.
However, kittens wouldn’t recognize their fathers. That’s because the father doesn’t stay to feed or protect his young once the mother gives birth. Kittens feed on their mothers’ milk, so the father can’t help in that way. In truth, the tomcat’s aim is usually to sire another litter.
A cat won’t treat its parents or siblings differently once it grows up and leaves to live independently. It will fight them away from its territory and won’t share food with them.
As for whether that means they ‘recognize’ their parents is unclear. They certainly don’t treat their parents as ‘family’ in the sense that people do.
Should You Adopt Littermates?
Having brothers and sisters living together is a good idea. There are multiple reasons why you should consider adopting more than one cat from the same litter.
They Have Each Other for Support
Moving to a new home is difficult for a cat. The new environment can be challenging: it can contain other pets, loud noises, and new foods. This can be stressful for a cat and lead to fighting and skittishness.
However, if the cat is with its sibling, it has the sibling for support. It will still recognize it from having grown up together and knowing its scent. This will lessen the adverse effects of living in a new house.
Ideally, it would help if you created a safe spot for your new kittens where they can sit and sleep together. This should ease the transition.
They Begin on Good Terms
Kittens begin life close to each other. They groom each other, play with each other, and share food. As they grow older, they may grow apart somewhat. But they at least begin their lives as adult cats on good terms.
The opposite may be true of two cats that are strangers. If you have one cat already and get another to keep it company, the two may not like each other. The original cat will resent the new cat’s sudden appearance and want it out of its ‘territory.’
The new cat will feel stressed because it has to live in another cat’s ‘territory.’ This can lead to fighting. The two cats may get used to each other over time but won’t always. They may dislike each other forever.
This doesn’t prove that cats understand what ‘family’ means. But they do at least get along better than two non-related cats.