I’m a one-cat kinda guy. I know this is not seen as the correct and proper thing and that you are meant to adopt kittens in pairs and always strive to run a bustling two-cat household, but in my experience I’m not so sure doubling up on your cats is always the right thing to do. I’m now on my third single cat and I don’t think I’ll be adding a second any time soon.
I’ll admit that it’s hard to walk by an adoption event without becoming temporarily smitten with a particular cat. My local pet store in Bushwick, Brooklyn, currently has a raffish black-and-white kitten called Crumpet who keeps sitting inside his bowl of wet food come feeding time. Instant swoon. I also saw a cross-eyed cat the other day that was strangely — almost otherworldly — adorable. But at any adoption even it’s inevitable that someone working there will ask if I already have any cats. I’ll tell them yes, I have just the one. At this point they’ll try and push a second kitty on me. “She’s fine, she’s totally well-adjusted,” I tell them of my cat, Mimosa. But this elicits nothing more than a doubtful look on their face; sometimes it borders on the scornful. (Hey, adopting kittens should not work on a quota system!) My cat at home is doing great. Why would I risk upsetting her with a new addition?
The way I see it, owning a single cat has great benefits. The bond between you and the cat becomes stronger. The time and attention you’re giving to your cat becomes greater if it’s not shared by two or three felines. While typing this, Mimosa has hopped up on the couch next to me. She often does this when I’m typing. It’s our time together. Just like watching soccer games on lazy Saturday mornings. She becomes a special part of the daily routine, even if that routine often involves trying to sleep with her head on the laptop’s trackpad.
I spoke to Marilyn Krieger, a certified cat behavior consultant and Catster’s new columnist, about the one-cat-versus-two-cat debate. She reiterated the standard reasons why adopting in pairs is seen as preferable: “One of the benefits of having two cats is that the cats can keep each other company. If you adopt a bonded pair they already love each other and cats can be very social. They’re like individual people — some don’t like another’s personality — but they can form very strong bonds with other cats, especially for people who leave for hours at a day.”
But owning two cats simultaneously also comes with extra risks and responsibilities. Beyond a couple of bonded kittens, not all cats automatically get along. They are finicky and discerning. I’ve known someone whose two cats suddenly decided after a few years that they violently loathed each other. What ensued was a long and expensive process of seeing cat behavior experts and attempting to coerce the cats to reconcile, all while having to divvy up an apartment so they could live separate lives. It ended with one of the cats being rehoused — not a fun situation for anyone involved.
When a cat gets sick or passes away, it affects the remaining healthy cat. According to my mom, growing up we had a couple of cats called Guinness and Sputnik. When Guinness, the mother, was run over by a car, Sputnik, her son, stopped eating. He became withdrawn and a month later ran away. Krieger says she works with grief issues a lot and this can be a common predicament: “Cats definitely grieve when another animal or even a person they’re bonded to dies or they’re separated. Sometimes people will for whatever reason rehome one of their cats and the cats will grieve for each other. Cats can stop eating, which is a very serious situation.”
When one of my former cats, Mei, was diagnosed with feline hepatic lipidosis, she had to be fed through a tube in her neck three times a day. She was not amused by this. At all. It was a tiring and traumatic time that spanned many months. The idea of having another healthy cat around at the same time would have been too much of an emotional burden. I’m pretty sure I’d have felt some resentment towards the healthy cat. My emotions would have been very conflicted. (Mei eventually passed away from unknown causes.)
I think what most annoys me about hearing people insist that you must have two cats over one is that it comes with an assumption of being a little, well, half-assed. Get two cats and they can amuse themselves! Sure, but it also seems to suggest you’re already making plans to not spend time with your cat. One cat is a sizable commitment and responsibility — getting a second cat should be seen as doubly so, not as an easy way to duck out of the day-to-day attention that comes with cat ownership.
Krieger owns two cats herself, but concurs with this point. She puts it this way: “If you’re getting a cat or any animal and you’re not going to commit to spending time with it then you have to wonder why you’re getting one in the first place.” I suspect that’s something we can all agree on.
What do you think? Is one cat better than two, or do I have it backwards? Let us know in the comments!
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