Creature comforts: Beware of the crazy cat people

If you share your home with six or more cats … if you can’t walk to the refrigerator without tripping over three cats … if cleaning the litterboxes has become a full-time job … if your monthly cat food budget rivals that of the NASA space program … you may be a crazy cat person.

Thankfully, most of these people aren’t truly crazy (in a clinical sense) they’re just too soft-hearted to say no to a cat in need. If you ask someone who has somehow come to own a large number of cats, they usually have a good excuse and will tell you each cat’s sad story in great detail. Either make yourself comfortable or don’t ask.

Although many cats are easygoing and can live amiably with others, cats are generally considered solitary creatures. Females often live in groups when they are nursing their young — a phenomenon seen very commonly on farms with barn cats. But once the kittens are grown and can survive on their own, most, especially the males, move on — or are kicked out.

However, the number of cats around a readily available and plentiful food supply tends to increase. That’s how some feral (wild) cat populations can spiral dizzyingly out of control; the cats hang around an abundant food supply, and continue to produce young. It is important to note that animals living in close quarters don’t much care if the object of their affection is related to them; mother-son, father-daughter, or sister-brother matings are common. I’m reminded of a line in a song, ” … and if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with … “ Enough said.

It is generally more efficient to have one or two healthy spayed or neutered cats on a farm for rodent and other pest control than it is to have a barn full of cats. Unfortunately, many people think it’s okay to drop off a load of unwanted kittens at the nearest farm, feeling they’ll be “better off.” For the farm owner’s sake — please don’t do this! It’s simply shirking your obligation in favor of dumping it on someone else. And that’s not nice.

The crazy cat people of most concern are those who continue to acquire new cats, but do not have the means or the motivation to keep up with the needs of the lot. Some of us in the biz call these folks “collectors.” These people have a tendency to collect all sorts of things, and maybe even other types of animals. Many do not spay and neuter their animals, causing their pet population to double and triple in a very short time.

As the number of cats in an environment increases, so does the stress. This is true indoors and out. There is fighting, sometimes the overt knock-down, drag-out type, sometimes the covert, passive-aggressive type. Many owners don’t recognize some of the more subtle forms of fighting. The more dominant cat in certain situations will be the one that wins the favorite sleeping spot, always gets the treat, or causes the subordinate cat to leave the room with a simple, focused stare.

The subordinate cat may be the one urinating on the wall, as if to say, “Oh yeah, well, take that.” One statistic worth noting is that with three cats in a household, at some time in their lives together, one will probably eliminate outside the litterbox for one reason or another. Once the number of cats living together reaches ten, this is guaranteed.

Now, think about the new arrival. It is very scary and stressful to be the new kid on the block. Magnify that by about 10 and you’re approaching the pressure a new cat feels when being thrust into an environment with double digits of unfamiliar cats.

Stressful living causes illness — mental and physical. High stress increases natural cortisol levels (stress hormones) which depresses the immune system’s functions. A depressed immune system makes an individual more susceptible to infections, the most common being respiratory, urinary and skin infections. Many affected individuals living in stressful environments have chronic, recurrent problems in these body systems. Translation: the more animals in the house, the more often you’ll be seeing your veterinarian for problems. It’s a given.

So, for the final test: if you find you have a lot of household items with likenesses of cats on them (stationery, mugs, T-shirts, tote bags, figurines) you are probably a cat enthusiast. If you find you have a lot of household items with actual live cats on them … you’re probably a crazy cat person. But no matter who you turn out to be, as long as you take good care of your furry charges, you’re okay by me.

Daverio is a veterinarian at Williamsport West Veterinary Hospital. Her column is published every other Sunday in the Lifestyle section. She can be reached at life@sungazette.com.

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