Animal Planet’s 2010 series Confessions: Animal Hoarding offered a previously unseen glimpse into owning “too many” critters. Those gut-wrenching scenes featured dozens of cats roaming tiny apartments, crusty carpeting with thick woven-in hair, and a litter box around every corner. You’re nowhere near that dreaded hoarding territory, but how many cats can you own?
You can own up to four cats in most cities, though this varies from one town to the next (Los Angeles permits five). In most places, owning more than five adult cats makes your home technically a “kennel,” facing stricter zoning laws and perhaps only being able to operate in an industrial area.
This cat ownership issue is two-fold: “How many cats can you house legally?” and “How many should you own for your kitties’ sake?” The answer isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. To learn about how many cats you can own, read on!
Cat Ownership Laws: What You Need To Know
One of the biggest debacles in the cat community is that there’s no single rulebook detailing ownership laws. For example, many cities have a four-cat cap, but the neighboring town might allow only two cats or five pets total (divided near-equally between both dogs and cats).
Now, here’s what you need to know about America’s ultra-complex cat ownership laws:
How Many Cats Can You Own?
The answer depends on your local municipal ordinances (and there are more than 19,495 unique legal code sets spanning coast to coast). Generally, local governments set a 2-5 cat limit per household. But take a look at how some areas define their guidelines in greater detail:
- In Dallas, Texas: Apartments and townhomes (4), a sub-half acre land plot (6), a half-acre or larger property (8)
- In Los Angeles (proposed to lower shelter euthanasia rates): Up to five per household at no extra cost, more causing extra fees ($55 for 6-9, $85 for 10-15, and $150 for 16+)
- In Washoe County, Nevada: Seven cats and three dogs
- In Atlanta, Georgia: No more than six pets total (cats or dogs)
Some lawmakers drafted regulations capping pet ownership by species, while other local governments enforce a “per household” limit (i.e., five pets total or no more than two each). The best way to stay within the legal guidelines is by researching your city’s animal ordinance codes or phoning city hall.
If you own more cats (or dogs) than your city legally allows, then you’re breaching into “kennel” territory, which is a legal “roll of the dice.” On top of purchasing a private kennel permit or multi-pet premises permit (usually about $100/year for five pets), you’ll also face stricter guidelines — like an annual animal control inspection to detect sanitary issues.
Kennel-status is your only legal avenue if you insist on owning more than four cats. But it may not be possible if your city bans residential-zoned kennels (allowing industrial instead) or if you live within an HOA’s boundaries. Remember: You agreed to specific rules when you signed your lease or HOA agreement, and these guidelines come before your local laws.
Adults vs. Kittens
While scouring your city or county’s robust animal ordinance laws, you’ll notice a trend: The verbiage always mentions animal age. Most local governments don’t count pets aged 3-6 months toward their household caps. So, if your pregnant queen gives birth to an eight-kitten litter, you aren’t breaking the law or facing misdemeanor charges — you own one cat.
This rule is not only for your benefit but also for your cat(s). It allows a newborn litter more than enough time to bond with their mother and nurse (4-6 weeks suggested), socializes with their littermates (12 weeks is ideal), and find a loving home! It’s also worth noting that foster cats that you’re caring for temporarily won’t violate these limits either.
Four full-grown cats in a single-story home could be too much of a crowd, not to mention breaking the bank in monthly costs. Japan’s Aoshima Island can soothe your cat fix half a world away!
Watch this video about Japan’s cat island:
Even if your county restricts cats to five per household, that doesn’t mean your landlord will be quite so forgiving. Apartment complexes, home rentals, and even some townhouses allow renters just 1-2 cats per unit. And some don’t allow pets at all. This is where the “cat” filter on sites like Apartments.com or Zillow comes in handy for the nomads out there.
Of course, there are caveats to this convenience, like a one-time deposit and a monthly pet rent lumped in your bill. Expect to spend about $25 to $100 per month per cat.
But welcoming those adorable fluffballs into your 900 sq. ft. pad can be an unexpected financial commitment when your lease finally ends. If Fluffy tugs at the carpet fibers, scratches door frames or stains the floor during a rogue spraying incident, you’ll be on the hook for repair damages. Or you might even forfeit that hefty security deposit.
How Many Cats Should You Own?
Maybe the local ordinance determines that three cats are the “sweet spot,” but does that mean it’ll jive in your household too? Of course not! There are two things you need to consider before maxing out the law: Costs and comfort.
Think about the following when bringing another kitty onboard:
The Costs of Cat Ownership
An extra fluff ball pitter-pattering down the hall will bring joy to your eyes and tug at your heartstrings. But before you open your home to another cat, make sure you can handle the financial struggle that comes along with it. Here are the approximate annual costs per cat:
|Food||$100 to $200|
|Vet Fees||$50 to $100|
|Vaccinations||$10 to $100|
|Preventative Medical||$50 to $100|
|Litter||$200 to $250|
|Toys||$20 to $100|
|Extras (litter boxes, bowls, brushes, etc.)||$20|
|TOTAL||$430 to $870|
These totals don’t factor in emergency vet visits, unexpected medical procedures, adoption costs, or microchipping. If you can’t swing an extra $1,000 or so per year on this new furry friend, rethink your decision. Perhaps volunteering at the local shelter can fulfill this desire for more kitties!
Keeping the Peace
Adding new cats to your household doesn’t only impact your inner-peace and wallet; it can also take a toll on each cat’s comfort and stress levels. Don’t bring another cat home unless you have:
- At least one bedroom per cat (ex: for a three-bedroom home, stop at three cats)
- One and a half litter boxes per cat
- Vertical space, sunny windows, and room to run around
- Separate areas for each cat to retreat to when overwhelmed
Remember that some cats are more sensitive to stress than others, so overcrowding can make an aloof or lonesome cat anxious, and some cat personalities don’t mesh well. Second-guess your decision if you can’t provide a soothing and stress-free home to your four-legged pals!
Once that feline equivalent of “baby fever” strikes, it’s hard to resist those long, PetFinder scrolling sessions before bedtime. But before you open your home to yet another kitty, think about:
- Your financial health (do you have an extra $870 lying around?)
- Your other cats’ personalities (are they a welcoming and friendly bunch?)
- Your home size (is the classic 1:1 cat-to-bedroom ratio still unmet?)
- Your municipality’s regulations (will you be exceeding local or apartment codes?)
Adopting a new cat is a family decision that affects everyone in the household. If your home’s mojo is thriving, don’t risk it.
- The Atlantic: A Visit to Aoshima, a Japanese ‘Cat Island’
- Live Science: See One, Want One: The Roots of ‘Baby Fever’
- Animal Law: Overview of Pet Number Restrictions in Municipal Ordinances
- Dallas City Hall: Pet Limits
- Daily News: Love cats? City of Los Angeles may let you have 20 or more
- International Cat Care: Cat birth
- Washoe County: How many pets can a person have?
- USA Today: Pet rents become latest costly apartment fad
- Columbus Georgia: Animal Care Control Center
- Money Under 30: The Annual Cost Of Pet Ownership: Can You Afford A Furry Friend?
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.