How many cats is too many?

A large number of cat owners have more than one cat. There are varying reasons for this, and the reasons will often dictate the dynamic. But how many cats is too many?

Sometimes in a household, even though the pets are nominally a family animal, you will find that a cat (or a dog for that matter) is often referred to as being attached to a specific member of the family. For this reason, sometimes a family will get more pets so that everyone has their “own.” This doesn’t always work out.

Another reason for getting more pets is that people find that a cat will be more content if it has a playmate. This theory works, up to a point, but anyone who has introduced a new cat into a household where one already exists will know that there are some drawbacks to the theory. Namely that if you introduce a new cat onto an older cat’s “turf”, the older one will not willingly give up any of its space.

Usually, though, a cat will eventually welcome a new pet into the house and will begin to form a bond with it. This helps training because – along with the increased contentment of having a “prowling partner” – each cat will be a lot more keen to follow instructions if they see that their fellow cat is doing the same and not having any problems as a result.

Indeed, in many ways you are “leading by example” because a cat who recognizes the right way to act – through witnessing it in another – will be quicker to pick it up.

You may hear of the occasional crazy “hoarder” revealed on the news — 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 cats…). 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 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 hoarders’ beds are soiled with animal feces.
  • 80% of reported cases had dead or sick animals present in the house.
  • 60% of hoarders didn’t 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 don’t read my blog, my general advice to any cat owner is this: I usually recommend no more than four to five cats total. After that, I think it’s medically unhealthy.

If this offends, I’m sorry, but I’m looking out for the welfare of the cats and dogs here. Try finding a veterinarian who has that many. It’s 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.

So what’s 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 I’m a firm believer in having two cats together. When I had one cat, he was more friendly and affectionate to humans (more to the point — me!) as an only child.

When I adopted a second cat, I got less “loving” from my older cat. He wanted to spend all his time playing with his own species instead. Once aquaitances were made and pecking orders established, they played together (constantly), slept together, wrestled together, and loved each other up.

Once they befriended each other, I was officially demoted to the source of food and to litter box duty. The quality of life, social skills, and exercise level for the cats definitely improved. After seeing this, I do firmly believe that cats do benefit from having a companion to play with.

*Note, a companion or two — not six or one hundred.