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 couldn’t even close the exam door due to my eyes burning from the ammonia smell. When I asked these women some questions about the cat’s environment, they couldn’t answer how many cats they had. I asked, "10? 20? 60? 100?" Their reply? "Over 100."

These two women, who were cat hoarders, didn’t notice that their cat was ill until it was on death’s 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 Purina’s 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 couldn’t 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 — 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 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 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. 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 it’s medically unhealthy.

If this pisses you off, 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; because 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 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. Seamus, my 13-year old, grey and white tabby, was more friendly and affectionate to humans (more to the point — 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. Seamus’ 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 — not six or one hundred.

I’ve 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?

Dr. Justine Lee

References:

Kuehn, B.M. (2002). Animal Hoarding: A Public Health Problem Veterinarians Can Take a Lead Role in Solving. Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, 221(8), 1087-1089.

Patronek, G.J. (1999). Hoarding of Animals: An Under-recognized Public Health Problem in a Difficult-to-Study Population. Public Health Reports, 114(1), 81-87.

Image: Eric Isselée / via Shutterstock