Many years ago I worked with a woman who, after she retired, became a cat hoarder. I didn’t know this until an article in the same newspaper where we used to work ran a story that she had died as a result of the toxic atmosphere in her cat-overrun home.
Do you wonder whether you have too many cats? If so, read through this list and answer these questions honestly.
1. Have family or friends expressed concern over the number of cats in your home or their health?
If people have asked you why you have so many cats or commented that your cats look too thin or aren’t acting right, it was probably hard for you to hear. You might even have gotten angry at them and stopped talking to them at all.
2. Do you have cats that run away when you get near them?
When you have too many cats, you can’t provide the human contact needed to socialize them when they’re kittens or keep them socialized as adults. The result is that some of them don’t do well with humans.
3. Are you sacrificing your own basic needs for the sake of the cats?
If you can’t afford to buy cat food as well as food for yourself, are you feeding the cats and going hungry? Has your electricity, phone or gas been shut off because you can’t pay those bills and feed your cats?
4. Do you refuse to let people into your house because of your cats?
Perhaps you wanted to adopt a cat, but you insisted on meeting the rescuer at a location away from your home. If a city official has visited your home, have you denied that person entry?
5. Do your cats continually have kittens?
If you haven’t been able to get your cats spayed or neutered and the number of cats in your home has continued to balloon, you are on the brink of — or in the middle of — a crisis.
6. Have you been unable to clean or make needed repairs on your home?
Maybe your sink or bathroom isn’t working, for example, but you either can’t afford a plumber or you don’t want to have one in your home because you know on some level that your cat situation is out of control.
7. Have you received warnings about your cats?
If you’ve gotten notices from your landlord or homeowners’ association demanding that you do something about your cats, or if animal control or other authorities have threatened to remove your cats if you don’t deal with the situation yourself, this is a good sign that you’re in over your head.
8. Have you become increasingly ill?
If you have so many cats you can’t clean up after them, their waste will create toxic levels of ammonia in your home, which can damage your lungs. If you have asthma, COPD or chronic bronchitis, are those conditions getting worse?
9. Do you believe that nobody else could care for the cats like you do?
Perhaps you worry that if you "got rid of" the cats, they’d all be killed in shelters, or maybe you believe you couldn’t give away your cats because nobody else would love them as much as you do.
The bottom line
Cat hoarding causes untold suffering, not just for the cats living with hoarders but for the hoarders themselves. If you’ve answered "yes" to even one of these questions, please get help. Although some people might be judgmental, there are many others in animal rescue, law enforcement, mental health care, and social services who will treat you with compassion and respect and do their very best to help you heal and find safe, loving homes for your cats.
For more information about hoarding, visit Tufts University’s Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium. The ASPCA’s FAQ on animal hoarding provides easy-to-understand answers on how to identify a hoarder and what to do to help hoarders.