Generally, cat hoarding per se is not illegal unless there is local legislation in place which prevents a person looking after more than a certain number of cats in their home or a specific piece of legislation (see Hawaii below) outlawing animal hoarding.
In general, cat hoarding is not illegal provided the cats are well looked after. It is only when a cat hoarder is unable to look after her/his cats properly to the extent that they become ill through neglect that the person can be prosecuted for cat abuse under animal welfare laws.
Two American states, Illinois and Hawaii, specifically make animal hoarding illegal but, as I understand it, Illinois only does so because it leads to animal neglect and animal welfare issues. In fact, within this law there is reference to a failure to provide sufficient sustenance and animal welfare so, I conclude, that it is not hoarding per se which is illegal even in Illinois but the neglect of animals that arises out of hoarding. I would suspect that even in Illinois if a hoarder looked after her cats in an excellent manner then she could not be prosecuted under these particular and specific laws. Hawaii appears to be different. They make it a crime to be an animal hoarder. There appears to be no requirement to consider animal neglect. The crime is automatic.
If cat hoarding per se was illegal then some very famous cat sanctuaries would be illegal. In many sanctuaries there are more than a hundred cats living in quite confined spaces. But they are being looked after properly. It is all about cat welfare and not about the number of cats (unless, there are laws as mentioned limiting the number of cats that a person can own).
The phrase “cat hoarding” implies that the person involved is unable to look after her/his cats properly. The phrase carries connotations of negligence towards the animals in the person’s care and ‘crazy cat ladies’. But there is no direct, automatic correlation between cat hoarding and poor animal welfare.
When a cat hoarder is prosecuted, he/she is prosecuted for a breach of animal welfare laws because the cats are ill, neglected and in a poor way. Often times there are several dead cats in a cat hoarder’s household.
There is a recent story in an online newspaper in which a woman has been prosecuted for hoarding 55 cats. She wants to defend herself because she believes that she has done nothing wrong. Many hoarders have this opinion about themselves and many of them are dilusional because they fail to see objectively what they are truly doing but sometimes, rarely, they are doing nothing wrong with respect to the law except it looks wrong to outsiders.
To neighbours, cat hoarding automatically looks wrong and there are certainly arguments that hoarders cause a nuisance to neighbours. It is almost automatic that they will cause a nuisance to neighbours. If that is the case then the neighbour can sue in the tort of nuisance. This is a civil matter. It is not a criminal matter and therefore we are not talking about “illegality” in the strict sense.
I do not remember seeing one case of cat hoarding in which the person was prosecuted and during which she pleaded her innocence because she had done nothing wrong so obviously it is very rare for a cat hoarder to look after her cats in an excellent manner. Although it must happen. And there must be many cases of a person looking after very many cats properly and as a consequence there is no prosecution and no involvement by anybody. And this is the correct outcome.
It could successfully be argued that the other side of the coin needs to be tackled by the law. By this I mean that irresponsible cat owners who create a situation which leads to unwanted cats which in turn encourages cat hoarding, should be prosecuted. Perhaps there should be laws regarding cat ownership.
PS-one final point: if, as is the case, animal hoarding is considered a psychiatric disorder there is a strong argument that animal hoarders should not be punished and criminalised but treated instead.
PPS-I am open to correction on what I have stated on this page. If you wish to correct or add to what I have stated then please write a comment. I am always happy to publish comments provided they are polite and sensible.