Can You Have Too Many Cats?

By Dr. Justine Lee, PetMD

Do I really need to answer this question? (And yes, I realize this blog will piss off people who own more than 6 cats!)

Unfortunately, I do.

Years ago, I had two women who brought their cat into the emergency room at the University of Pennsylvania. Both women reeked so badly of cat urine, I couldnít even close the exam door due to my eyes burning from the ammonia smell. When I asked these women some questions about the catís environment, they couldnít answer how many cats they had. I asked, “10? 20? 60? 100?” Their reply? “Over 100.”

These two women, who were cat hoarders, didnít notice that their cat was ill until it was on deathís door, since they had so many in their “environment.” This cat was severely dehydrated, emaciated, and had a body condition score of 1 out of 9 (See†Purinaís body scoring system that we veterinarians use to evaluate weight). This cat weighed just under five pounds (instead of nine), and was so lethargic it couldnít even lift its head. (It ultimately died despite several days of hospitalization and life-saving care.)

So, can you imagine having so many cats that it prevents you from adequately being able to care for your pets?

You may hear of the occasional crazy “hoarder” revealed on the news ó people with underlying mental disorders who live with a hundred cats hidden in their house (hopefully nowhere near your neighborhood). Sadly for the cats, the m.o. of your cat lovin’, urine-smelling, disheveled animal hoarder is quite sad. Most hoarders are unmarried and live alone (and you thought it was hard to find a date with just two catsÖ). Hoarders also come from all different socioeconomic backgrounds and typically are over sixty years of age. To top it off, over three-fourths of hoarders are females, once again giving the single white female a bad rap. Some more scary numbers?

  • In 69% percent of hoarding cases, animal urine and feces was found accumulated in living areas.
  • More than one in four (> 25%) of hoardersí beds are soiled with animal feces.
  • 80% of reported cases had dead or sick animals present in the house.
  • 60% of hoarders didnít acknowledge that they had dead or sick animals in the house.
  • Over 65% of hoarding cases involve cats (although some also hoard small dogs and rabbits).

While most hoarders donít read my blog, my general advice to†any cat owner is this: I usually recommend no more than four to five cats total. Sometimes I offend my fellow veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and friends when I tell them my cut-off for crazy is six cats. After that, I think itís medically unhealthy.

If this pisses you off, Iím sorry, but Iím looking out for the welfare of the cats and dogs here. Try finding a veterinarian who has that many. Itís rare — we know that having this many cats can result in severe behavioral problems. Of course, if you ask ten different vets, you may get ten different answers. That said, until those nine other vets write an opinionated blog about it, I still recommend no more than four or five cats per household.

So whatís the problem with having so many cats? Animal behavior specialists often see more problems in multicat households. Having too many cats may result in urination problems (i.e., not in the litter box!), intercat fighting and attacking, and difficulty in monitoring general health. For example, checking the litter box to see if one cat has a urinary tract infection is more difficult when you have six cats.

So how many cats should you get? I have to say that I initially enjoyed having a one cat household. That is, until I experienced a†two-cat household. Now Iím a firm believer in having two cats together. Seamus, my 13-year old, grey and white tabby, was more friendly and affectionate to humans (more to the point ó me!) as an only child. When I adopted Echo (who sadly, passed away in April from severe heart disease), I got less “loving” from Seamus. He wanted to spend all his time playing with Echo instead. Echo and Seamus played together (constantly), slept together, wrestled together, and loved each other up. Once Seamus and Echo befriended each other, I was officially demoted to the source of food and to litter box duty. Seamusí quality of life, social skills, and exercise level definitely improved while he had Echo in his life. After seeing this, I do firmly believe that cats do benefit from having a companion to play with. *Note, a companion or two ó†not six or one hundred.

Iíve been fortunate to have cats that get along (despite the first few tumultuous days of hissing and cat introductions). For that reason, yes, I support having a†few feline friends together.

Do you have any long-term cat companions who hate each other? What behavioral problems have you noticed?

Related:
Should I Keep My Cat Indoors?
Test Your Cat Knowledge
Cat Behavior 101 (Slideshow)

How Many Cats Are Too Many? originally appeared on petMD.com

939 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 days ago

thanks for sharing.

JT Smith
JT Smith4 days ago

Forgot to mention that animal control had been impressed with my mother and the critters.

JT Smith
JT Smith4 days ago

My mother (yes the one who used to train dogs for show) had six cats (this was years before Mrlyn adopted me) along with a few birds and a dog. One person who came by the house decided we had too many critters. Animal control came out to investigate. They saw that all of our critter friends were in fact healthy and happy. My best friend currently has 9 cats living with her, and for a little while Mrlyn ended up staying with my friend as my living situation changed, and I could not ask for better care. All of these cats literally adopted my friend. What's more, my friend has tried to find homes for many of them (not Mrlyn), but that so far hasn't met with success and the local shelters don't take in cats due to their own limitations. We need to stop freaking out over the numbers and realize that there's more involved. Yes, having so many that you can't keep track of them or monitor their health is obviously a problem. My friend with the nine has definitely been keeping track ad taking excellent care of all of them. All nine of them are sweethearts once they get to know you.

Jen S.
Jen S.9 days ago

It is less about quantity than quality of care and there seems to be an inverse correlation wherein quality of care and socialization declines as the number of cats rises beyond a certain point. Whether it is six or four or more cats varies, I think, by caretaker. I find myself most comfortable wth three, when I consider grooming, litter pan maintenance, nail trimming and ear inspections, catnip cultivation, the cost of healthy foods, toys and things for play.

Brenda Towers
Brenda Towers11 days ago

yes! if you really care for them!

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus12 days ago

Thank you for sharing.

Fi T.
Fi T.12 days ago

It's quality not quantity that counts

Janet B.
Janet B.13 days ago

Thanks

Roslyn McBride
Roslyn McBride13 days ago

I completely agree with this article.

Sandra Jull
Sandra Jull14 days ago

At one time we had 18 cats, all rescues. And that is the problem. An animal rescuer does not sit and mentally pledge to take or not to take hundreds of homeless cats. Stray cats, frequently pregnant, showed up on my doorstep in great abundance. That's how you get too many. And of course cat rescuers are usually poor and have a difficult time spaying and neutering. Unfortunately God or evolution devised a system to provide us cat lovers with an abundance of felines to love. Whatever your belief, you end upt a plethora of cats. By the way, the best cat I ever had jumped in my car that was parked at a convent on a very cold day. He was a beautiful smoky grey cat with a really sweet personality. I hate reading about maligned geriatric cat rescuers. Blame God or evolution.