The fear of becoming the “crazy cat lady” is all too real. You’ve probably seen episodes of Confessions: Animal Hoarding where cats overrun tiny apartments, Berber carpet is hidden beneath a layer of clay litter, and litter boxes fill up in a matter of hours. You’re nowhere close to owning 20+ cats, but how many cats are too many for one person?
Three cats are too many if you live in an apartment with strict rules. Otherwise, 4-5 cats are “too many.” Some municipalities even limit the number of cats you can legally own in one house to 2-5, while owning 5+ cats can trigger behavioral problems or make tracking your cats’ health more complicated.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer because a lot of it comes down to how big your house is, what your monthly budget is, and what the rules are in your city or apartment complex. To find out how many cats are too many, read on!
How Much Space Each Cat Needs
One cat will be just fine with 18 square feet of living space — about enough room for a litter box, food and water bowls, a bed, and an area to stretch their legs. But this rule mostly applies to shelters and cages, and cats should have at least 500 square feet of free-roaming indoor space to be comfortable.
It’s often suggested that you should have no more cats than you have bedrooms — so if you have a three-bedroom house, owning four cats can be a bit of a tight squeeze. However, what you put in this space is even more crucial than how large it is.
The more cats you own, make sure you have more of the following:
- Vertical space (cat trees, perches, and shelving)
- Floor space (for running, playing, and sleeping)
- Beds (some cats like their own space when they sleep)
- Litter boxes (one per cat plus one — so five litter boxes if you own four cats)
- Food and water bowls (one per cat for both)
- Toys (at least five different types, but multiple of each so your cats don’t have to share)
In other words, a four-bedroom home with 2,000 square feet of space may have enough room to make four cats comfortable, but it won’t be a great environment if you can’t provide enough vertical space, litter boxes, or beds.
The Monthly Costs of Owning a Cat
You should only own the number of cats you can afford. Otherwise, you may have to eat into your savings account when an emergency vet bill hits, opt for less nutritious food to stay within your budget, or hold off on replacing worn-out toys until you get your next paycheck.
While cats are more low maintenance and affordable than dogs, they also come with the following annual costs (per cat):
|Your Cat’s Need||What It Costs (Annually)|
|Food||$120 to $500||Veterinary Care||$110 to $550||Flea and Tick Prevention Measures||$20 to $200||Treats & Snacks||$10 to $100||Litter||$70 to $150||Toys, Scratching Posts, etc.||$20 to $75||TOTAL||$350 to $1,575|
Expect to spend up to $1,575 per year per cat, or about $131 a month for every cat. If you only have $300 a month left-over after groceries, rent, and other bills, owning more than three cats may be a little out of budget. Otherwise, you may find yourself in a position where you have to give up one (or more) of your cats or decide which one of their needs you can skimp on the next month — neither of which is a position you want to be in.
Is 6 Cats Too Many?
Unless you have a six-bedroom home, $700+ of disposable income a month, seven litter boxes distributed throughout your home, and enough members in your household to care for six cats equally, then six cats are too many. But aside from the space and budgetary concerns, you also have to investigate the possible behavioral or health problems of owning so many cats.
Possible issues that may arise when you own six cats include:
- Fighting: Your six cats may technically have their own “bedroom” to resort to, but that doesn’t mean they won’t get in the way of one another or get along joyfully. The more cramped the spacing, the more often fights may occur.
- Disease Spread: When one of your cats catches a virus or an infection, the tight-quarters may spread it more rapidly between your cats. Instead of one vet appointment for ringworm, an upper respiratory infection, or colds, you may require six.
- Challenging Health Tracking: When you own one or two cats, it’s easier to tell which cat isn’t eating or peeing, which has blood in their urine, or which one vomited. If you have six cats, you may not know which cat needs a vet visit until it’s too late.
Sometimes, there are legal limitations to the number of cats you can own in your city or town. For example, the City of Pittsburgh (Pa.) limits pet owners to five pets in a single house. In Seattle (Or.), you’re limited to three pets per household unless your property sprawls 20,000 square feet or more. Anything past your city’s guidelines will usually classify your home as a “kennel,” which requires a special permit.
Think six cats is a lot? Take a look at the video below about a woman who owns over 1,000.
How Many Is Too Many Cats in an Apartment?
The average apartment in America is about 941 square feet. On space alone, that’s more than enough room for 1-2 cats to co-exist and live comfortably. However, if you’re renting your apartment, your landlord or property manager likely has strict rules regarding how many cats you can have in your unit.
Many apartment complexes will limit you to just two cats, while another 47% won’t allow you to have cats at all. It’s also important to understand that these apartment pet limits include both cats and dogs — so your options are two cats, two dogs, or a cat and a dog.
For a 1-2 bedroom apartment, anything over two cats is too many. Especially in smaller apartments, cat odors, scratching damage, and potential noise complaints are all concerns if you have upwards of two cats.
The Risks of Having “Too Many” Cats
You may very well have the funding and space to house more than five cats, but there’s far more to healthy cat ownership than feeding your cat and giving her some room to run around.
The first thing you have to worry about is your bond with each cat. It’s easy to spend sufficient one-on-one time with each cat if you have three or fewer, but 65% of cats build strong bonds with their owners. In other words, you may be depriving your cats the attention they need when you own too many and don’t have enough time in the day to dedicate to each.
Additionally, some cats may thrive in a small “community,” while others are aggressive, possessive, or anxious when they’re not only cats. You may want another cat, but the cat you bring home may not get along well with the rest of your pack. This can wreak havoc on the entire household, causing fights, inappropriate urination, or aggression toward you.
Think about the cats you currently have before deciding to bring another one home.
There is such a thing as “too many cats,” but the limit will depend on you and the resources you can provide. In most cases, five cats are too many, making your house feel cramped, obliterating your monthly budget, complicating health tracking measures, and causing inter-community fights. Two to three cats per household is generally a “safe” number of felines and within the guidelines of local ordinances.
- The IAABC Journal: Housing Cats in Shelters
- Credit: The True Cost of Owning a Dog or Cat
- ASPCA: Common Cat Diseases
- RENTCafe: As Apartments Are Shrinking, Seattle Tops New York with the Smallest Rentals in the U.S.
- Apartment Guide: Pets Allowed vs. Pet-Friendly: You Need to Know the Difference
- ScienceDaily: Cats are securely bonded to their people, too
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.