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How Many Cats Can You Own in California?

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By Nicole Cosgrove

two devon rex cats are sitting on the scratching post

Owning a cat is a big responsibility in many ways! As a cat owner, your legal requirements are something you may not think about much, but it’s something that’s essential to know. If you don’t already know, many states place restrictions around how many cats can be registered in one household and give penalties to those who do not officially register their cats.

In California, the number of cats you have in one household ranges from 1–10, depending on the county. Each local county has its own laws surrounding pet ownership, with the number of allowed pets varying wildly. There are likely some residential areas with no restrictions on pet ownership.


Cat Ownership Limits in California by State

hungry cat sitting next to bowl of food at home kitchen
Image Credit: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

California has a modest number of counties (compared to some larger states like Texas or Georgia), with 58 separate counties. Now each of those counties will have its own laws on the restriction of cat ownership or lack of, and these can even vary in zones within a county. For example, Los Angeles County includes the city of Burbank, which only allows for three pets per household in total. Meanwhile, residents of Beverly Hills may have up to 8 pets per household: 3 dogs and 5 cats. To make things more complicated, a few jurisdictions allow more pets with a kennel license!

Source: Dog and Cat Limits, Los Angeles City Clerk’s Office

Confusing, right?

Basically, there’s no correct overarching answer for the question you are trying to answer today. Rather you need to check with your own local authorities to find out the exact restrictions that exist in your area.

To be a bit more helpful, we’ve done some of the research for you on the cat restriction laws in the top ten most populated counties in California and complied them in the table below.

County No. of Cats Permitted per Household
Los Angeles 3
San Diego 6
Orange 3
Riverside 10
San Bernardino 2
Santa Clara 3
Alameda 3
Sacramento 7
Contra Costa 5
Fresno 46

Meanwhile, San Francisco is both a city and a county. Though it’s a small area, S.F. has a tremendous political and social influence in California. As it turns out, you can have up to 4 cats over the age of 4 months.


Why Are There Restrictions on Cat Ownership?

a beautiful male bicolor Ragdoll cat on a gray background
Image Credit: madeinitaly4k, Shutterstock

The restrictions placed on pet ownership are somewhat contested. Many pet owners see it as a violation of their rights. Still, there is some solid reasoning behind original pet ownership laws, even if they are not always executed well.

Domestic Disturbance

In densely populated areas such as suburbs and cities, cat ownership is restricted to reduce the disturbance by cats to the local community. Excess cat ownership can cause noise, odor, and mess around the household, which can affect the surrounding homes. Property owners have a right to be free from these nuisances on their own property, so setting cat number restrictions can prevent one household from owning so many cats that they become a problem to neighbors.

Animal Welfare

All pets require a certain level of care to live in a positive mental and physical welfare state. The more cats one household has, the fewer resources they have to give each cat the very best care. Putting limits on cat ownership means that the existing cats may get better care than they would with a larger number of cats.

Households with fewer cats are more likely to have all cats spayed or neutered. This means these households are less likely to contribute to stray cat populations via uncontrollable breeding. Fewer cats also mean they are more likely to be fully vaccinated and receive regular veterinary examinations.

Ecosystem Conservation

Cats are well-known hunters and legendary predators. But in many environments, cats are not naturally found but were introduced in many places as domestic companions. Their predatory nature can capture and kill local species in an area. Some more vulnerable species can be at serious risk from predation from pet cats.

Places such as New Zealand are beginning to implement restrictions on cat ownership for this reason, as there is a strong link to declining native populations of birds and domestic cats (both pets and wild.)

hepper cat paw divider

The Other Side of Cat Restrictions

three cats on blue fabric pillow
Image By: Toni Tan, Pexels

While there is some sound reasoning around cat restrictions, there are some things these laws don’t take into consideration. For example, the Cat Fanciers Association says the rules do not consider household-specific conditions such as space, owner resources, and “dedication to pet care.” Simply put, the restriction laws limit responsible and capable cat owners from keeping cats in happy, healthy homes.

Additionally, limiting household pets (both cats and dogs) can affect the number of animals in shelters and, subsequently, the number of euthanized pets. Some counties have raised the pet ownership limit in hopes that it will help to reduce the burden of stray pet populations on shelters.

The laws also do not totally cover any occurrences of breeding and kittens. While most laws of cat ownership only concern pets over 3 or 4 months old, it doesn’t allow for a scenario where new homes cannot be found for young cats. At this point, they may end up in an animal shelter.

The wild difference in legislation from county to county also makes it difficult for those looking to move counties. For example, what would you do if you currently legally own 3 cats but are moving to a different county that only allows two? These restrictions should not limit your human movement or force you into abandoning a beloved family member.

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Final Thoughts: How Many Cats is Too Many Cats?

Ultimately, the law is the law. Until a community or government enacts change, we have to follow the legislation as responsible pet owners. In addition to acting legally, you should also lead with your morals.

Only take on as many cats as you can care for. They should all have enough space, be desexed, vaccinated, microchipped, and well-fed. Each cat deserves these basic freedoms and a life full of love and care!

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Featured Image Credit: Veera, Shutterstock

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