Foul ammonia odour exposes homes where there are too many cats

I’m reminded by a story from California that it is the foul ammonia smell emanating from homes in which there are too many cats which always exposes these homes to the authorities because at the end of the day a neighbour complains as the smells constantly waft into their home. They might accept it for a long time but they tire of it and complain.

And the truth of the matter is that unless you are exceptional you will always get these foul odours building up in a home where there are too many cats.

Singapore cat hoarder seeks help
Singapore cat hoarder seeks help. Photo: Instagram page of the rescue who is helping her: Cats of Anchor Vale.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Too many cats?

So, what is too many cats? I’m going argue that any more than five is too many cats. Typically, 15-20 cats are sometimes owned in a single home and it may even be a bigger number. This is when things become chaotic and incredibly smelly.

The reason why odours build up

You probably know this but the reason why an ammonia-like smell builds up is because some cats become too stressed when they are ‘banged up’, in close confinement, with other cats. Domestic cats need space around them. They need their own space, their home range a.k.a. their territory. The more cats you have in a home the less individual space each cat has. Domestic cats are adaptable and so they learn to accept this restriction in space but some cats are more adaptable than others and those that aren’t urinate inappropriately and someone defecate inappropriately. And some will mark territory by spraying urine even when they are sterilised. It is the urine which has the ammonia smell.

And even if they all use litter trays the person has to be incredibly committed to clean 20 litter trays twice a day. And the problem is that the kind of person who adopts too many cats is the kind of person who does not look after litter trays properly. In other words, they are inherently slightly careless, at least. They lack discipline. And the only way you can care for 20 cats in a home is to be incredibly self-disciplined, organised, intelligent, committed, clever, and be incredibly good at DIY.

I would say that given total freedom, a domestic cat has a home range of about two or 3 acres. It depends on the cat but in a multi-cat home they are going to have about 3 yd² of individual space.

And of course, they have to be confined to the home because people who have too many cats keep their activities away from prying eyes. They keep it secret because they know that they are open to criticism from neighbours. They are on the back foot and are constantly trying to keep things secret. Even if they open a window, as they must do during a hot summer, this foul smell will leak out of the home into other homes nearby. It is almost impossible to contain this pungent odour.

And they can’t build a backyard enclosure to give the cats more space because then they become visible to neighbours. This will lead to complaints, at least potentially. The process of having say 20 cats in one home almost inevitably leads down the path of horrible ammonia smells unless you are Mr Cohen in California!


Note: Some people do cope. And I wish them no harm and I don’t want to criticise. I am sympathetic because often their motivation is to help cats. Ironically it is an attempt at improving cat welfare. But oftentimes it is self-indulgent, ill-disciplined stupidity.

Mr Cohen

Although there must be others, Mr Cohen is the only person that I know who has 15 cats in a beautifully kept home with absolutely no smell except I guess the sweet smell of plants. He achieves this by having 22 litter boxes servicing 15 cats. This is completely in line with Jackson Galaxy’s advice on having more litter boxes than cats. But critically he keeps every litter box in a closet so the odours are confined to the closet. And more importantly he has constructed (he is a builder) a ventilation system which draws the air out of these closets and expels it to the exterior; I presume through the roof to avoid the odours being picked up by neighbours. Although, I believe that he lives in a detached house not that close to neighbours.

Cohen's catified home
Cohen’s catified home. Photo: Peter Cohen. He has 15 cats and 22 litter boxes in enclosed spaces and each has an extraction fan taking the smells to the exterior.

But the point of this little story is that you have to be very competent in order to avoid those dreaded foul smells. And there are very few people who are committed enough to doing this. In fact, it goes with the territory that the person who carelessly acquires too many cats is going to be careless regarding avoiding the smells.


Because in almost every case too many cats in a home causes foul ammonia-like smells, which are picked up by neighbours, the only conclusion is that around five cats should be the maximum number allowed by any one person to have in their home. And this should be a local animal welfare law drawn up by the local authority. I know people dislike this kind of law but there is still a minority of people who end up having too many cats. The only way to stop it is through legislation. Legislation would provide a proactive means of dealing with this problem.

At the moment the problem is always dealt with reactively, when it’s too late really because it means that many cats are being badly cared for often for a long time. This is bad in terms of animal welfare. It is also bad in terms of the reduced quality of the environment enjoyed by neighbours living in homes next to a home where there are too many cats.

Yes, I am fully aware that it would be difficult to enforce a law which restricted people to 5 cats. That, though is not the point because, in general, citizens tend to comply with the law. Not everyone does but the presence of a law helps to change attitudes. That is the point I want to make.


I am motivated to write this article because today The Mercury News reports on a neighbour who complained about an odour coming from a Glendora home which led to the seizure of 33 cats and one dog. As is typical of these situations seven cats were found dead and three were later euthanised but it doesn’t have to get that bad.

The cat owner was charged with cruelty to animals but once again it doesn’t need to get that bad. I think that if a person has 10 cats creating this enormously bad spell in the home, it is a mild case of cat abuse. The cats are forced to live in a home in which the atmosphere is foul. The humans also live in it but they accept it.

Back to the story: on June 10, the Glendora city’s code-enforcement unit received a report from a neighbour about a strong odour coming from the home in the 2000 block of East Linfield Street. The Humane Society was notified and they sent eight officers together with the police to the home!

The Humane Society issued a statement in which they said that “It’s vitally important that community members don’t delay in reporting suspicious behaviour relating to animals or odours coming from a home, because time is of the essence to stop irresponsible pet owners and save those animals’ lives.”

As I said, a law restricting the number of cats to 5 would be a proactive step to prevent animal abuse and cruelty. It’s too late, in this example, for the seven cats who died in this deplorable home.

Don’t blame the cats

There has to be a reminder that this problem is about people and not the cats. The cats behave instinctively and naturally. They do what they have to do under the circumstances in which they live. They are put into highly inappropriate circumstances. This is not the way cat domestication should be. It is a failure in cat domestication. But it is the cats who suffer silently while the humans become adapted to the foul-smell in which they permanently live.

Hoarders are hoarders

It is probably worth mentioning that people predisposed to hoarding inanimate objects which others might consider to be rubbish are also predisposed to hoarding sentient creatures such as domestic cats. It seems that people of a certain mentality cannot differentiate between inanimate objects and living ones. And they are often blind to what they are doing although not always because they are sensitive to complaints from neighbours. This indicates that they are able to objectively look at what they are doing and know that it is incorrect in terms of society’s standards.

It is my belief, incidentally, that one reason behind hoarding is fear and anxiety. A lot of people are fearful and anxious. They keep things just in case they might need them and they do this out of an innate anxiety. The trouble is the world is becoming more complicated and more stressful and therefore the problems I have described won’t go away but are likely to get worse.

Seeking help

It is only exceptionally rarely that a cat hoarder seeks help. It has happened in one reported case. But often the end is tragic but for the person in the cats. This is another reason why proactive steps need to be taken as mentioned.

Some pages on hoarding

2 thoughts on “Foul ammonia odour exposes homes where there are too many cats”

  1. I have a friend who has who knows how many cats she lived in trailer . It’s disgusting the odor gets in your lungs no one except her goes in trailer .I’m scared for her life

    • I know a bit about ammonia smells as my neighbour is a cat hoarder of sorts. The home pongs to hell. She has to keep the windows shut which makes it worse inside. It is not good and I agree it must be bad for the health of the cats and the humans inside. It is just not right.


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