Managing a Multi-Cat Household

To avoid the pitfalls of becoming a collector (one who gathers many pets but cannot care for them properly), it might help to go over some of the tasks and responsibilities involved in housing more than a few animals. Having a lot of pets can seem like a dream come true for some who think they would enjoy it, but the reality of actually doing it can be overwhelming. Not everyone is suited to it.

Some people feel overwhelmed with three cats, while others seem to have an endless capacity to do well with dozens. There are approximately 20 cats at my home currently, but I can remember a day long ago when I felt that five was entirely too many.

As I gradually accumulated "just one more" over the last few years as part of the rescue work I do, I learned how to cope with so many on a daily basis without losing control of the situation. This is the critical factor, I believe, that separates responsible owners from hoarders.

If you live on a farm, much of this is not a problem, as farm kitties are generally outdoors cats. This discussion is about indoor cats (which we feel all cats should be, but that's another topic).

First, there is the sheer volume of work that must be done every day. And there are no days off. Would you take a vacation and leave the baby at home alone? Of course not. Cats are no different, really, except that you actually CAN get away with leaving them alone for a day or two, with proper preparation - to a point. And that point depends on how many cats there are, and how well you know them and can prepare for your absence.

If you have 20, as I do, I feel that point has been passed and leaving them alone is out of the question. There are litter boxes to clean and/or change several times a day, and that can be a back-breaking chore. If the boxes become too well-used during the day, most cats will shun them and find a cleaner place to take care of business. That could be the nice, private corner behind the recliner, or the wonderful scatter rug by the front door.

Feeding is an important part of every day, and you need to work out a routine to get it all done in as short a time as possible, since this will have to be done twice a day.

Related to food is preparation and clean up. There will be many bowls to wash every day, as well as bulk containers if you use any. There are scoops, water dishes, spoons, lids, the floor, and the sink. Also, some cats are more prone to vomiting than others, which can also be related to the fact that some will eat faster and more greedily if they feel there is competition for the food. If this is the case, you may want to feed those kitties separately, in a different area. This adds to the time required to supervise feeding.

There also will be accidents to clean up every day - little "oopsies" from one or both ends of several cats. Get used to it; it doesn't go away. Using hairball remedy helps, but nothing ever stops this. It's part of being a cat, evidently.

I provide perches and cubbyholes for them to sleep in during the day, and those need constant washing, too. Cage mats work well for these spots, as they can be gathered up daily and tossed into the washing machine. (Oh yes, did I mention laundry?)

If your home develops any odors, it is only because you aren't keeping up with the cleaning fast enough. You simply cannot ignore a litter box for more than a few hours. And if a kitty misses the box, it must be cleaned up immediately.

Other issues that must be handled include:

Expenses. Your cat litter bill can be significant, unless you know someone who has a sand pit you can haul a truckload out of every week.

The food bill will be high as well. With so many mouths to feed, it's tempting to buy the least expensive kibble or cat chow, but remember - it's not normal for cats to live in large groups. Cats, unlike dogs, are not pack animals. Cats in crowds are under more stress, making them more susceptible to health problems, and this makes proper nutrition essential. Buy high quality cat food. You'll find you will need less of it to satisfy them, too. Cheaper foods are full of fillers that pass through them without supplying any nutrition, which leads to them eating more, and more often.

Check your local laws. Regulations may limit the number of pets in a household.

Cat-proof the home. Just as parents need to child-proof a home to create a safe environment for their child, cats need to be safe, too. Also, cat-proofing protects the family, as a clumsy kitty can knock things off shelves, crashing Grandma's heirloom vase on the stone hearth by the fireplace - a real hazard for other household members, not to mention the anguish you will feel.

Supervise cats who don't always get along. It's inevitable - not all the cats will be friends at all times. Just like children, some days Jack will fight with Snowball, and other days, they may delight in chasing each other through the house, leaving broken knick knacks and overturned house plants in their wake.

Play with every cat, every day. Cats need exercise, just as we do, to maintain good health. Playing with them helps channel their energy into desirable directions. In other words, if you don't help them run off some energy, they will find other ways to do it that you won't appreciate. (See above.)

Vacuum every day! With so many cats tracking little sand granules from the litter box, your carpet will feel crunchy if you try to walk barefoot.

Finding a pet sitter. If you need a vacation (and you will), it's not going to be easy to find someone to care for so many cats while you're gone. Not many people are capable, or willing, to do that much work "just for some cats." The only way I've gotten away with getting away was to hire several people so they could share the load.

Love them all. This doesn't sound difficult, but be forewarned: Cats can become jealous if they feel left out. If one sees you hugging and stroking Fluffy too often, she may get even with you in some way. It's essential to give each cat plenty of attention so every one of them feels special and wanted. With 20 cats, this is no small undertaking. It means a lot of interruptions in my day as they come to me for attention.

Is it worth it? Only you can decide if the extra work is worth the extra lovin' and entertainment you will enjoy.

Copyright 2009 - RJ Peters 
Dr. R.J. Peters, a retired physician, established an animal rescue shelter in 2002. She has worked with hundreds of dogs and cats and shares much of what she's learned, at The Problem Cat.