How can I stop my mother from letting in stray cats?

19 answers | Last updated: Sep 13, 2016
Viola's girl asked...

For the past several years my mother has fed the local stray cats in the neighborhood. She keeps boxes outside so they stay warm. All this was fine, but now she is letting them into the house. There are 9 semi-wild cats in and out of the house with only 2 litter boxes. We didn't notice until we went in a couple weeks ago and the entire house reeked of cat urine. My family spent hours cleaning and talked to her about getting rid of the cats. At first she refused, but now she says she will, but it's been weeks and nothing has been done. The last time we visited, the house smelled just as bad as before we cleaned it. She refuses to let us round them up and take them to a shelter or the Humane Society and got really upset when she caught us trying to catch a couple. She even refuses to keep them outside. At this point, the carpets and furniture in her house are ruined, but our bigger concern is the health issue. These cats aren't vaccinated and are wild and my mom is 88 with heart and allergy issues, not to mention she must be spending 100s a month on cat food. (While complaining she can't afford new dentures.) We have emailed animal control but they haven't responded. We just don't know what to do.


Expert Answers

Linda Adler is the director of Pathfinders Medical in Palo Alto, California. She has dedicated her professional life to helping patients and their families find optimal ways to deal with medical challenges. She has worked in all facets of the medical establishment, including primary care, research, and policy settings at UCSF, Stanford, and Kaiser Permanente. Her current focus at Pathfinders includes crisis management, mediation, and advocacy.

Viola's Girl,

What a challenging situation! I can imagine the toll this situation is taking on your family. It sounds as if you are doing everything you can to help, but I wonder if perhaps this new behavior is a sign of something else? Has your mother's mental status changed in other ways? Has she become more isolated recently, perhaps looking to her pets as a way of fighting a sense of loneliness?

I'd suggest that rather than focusing only on the situation with the cats, you try to gain some insight as to what else might be going on. The cats may be a sign of her declining physical physical or mental status, her inability to participate in other meaningful activities, etc.

Rather than arguing with your Mom about the cats, perhaps you can gently persuade her to see her healthcare provider? If you can attend that visit with her, ask for enough time with the doctor to explain your concerns. You might also consult with an elder care professional in your area, who can visit your mom and make additional suggestions for next steps.

Much luck with this situation!


Community Answers

Viola's girl answered...

I forgot to mention that two of the cats are pregnant.


Monica heltemes answered...

Viola's Girl,

It does seem that your mother may have lost some perspective on this situation. It is one thing to feed stray cats but another to let them literally run the house. There could be different reasons for this change in your mother, so a visit to the physician could be very helpful.

You might read about the signs of early dementia to see if your mother might be experiencing any of these. It is important to note that some forms of dementia are reversible, so it is important to get the physical exam.

You might also make a phone call to animal control, which might get a more prompt response than email. Good luck in this tricky situation.


A fellow caregiver answered...

Many animal control agencies will not attempt to pick up a cat. These are not feral cats if they are coming into your mother's house. They are pets. One by one, if necessary, round them up and take them in a carrier to a low-cost spay-and-neuter clinic or any veterinarian clinic. Explain the problem, but get them vaccinated and neutered. Take them to the nearest shelter or call around and beg for help from a local animal rescue group. Let your mother have a couple of them, and realize that you must keep the litter pans clean. Neutering does help with the odor problem. You've putzed around too long, and now it is time to get on top of the situation. To think that a visit to the doctor will help is insanity.


Bpgagirl22 answered...

I know this is sooooo painful for you and your family right now and my answer is NOT what you want to hear but you have got to call your local Sr. Social Services Advocate and get your mom the help she needs to understand her plight in this matter. This is a HEALTH code violation issue and once her neighbors find out they will have the right to call the police and this will get very ugly and possibly on the nightly news as a "an elderly woman hoarding feral cats" and the reason I say this, I've worked for 4 medical offices, here where I live and all over the country especially, there has been numerous situations like hers. It's never pleasant but your mom needs help NOW! Please do her a favor and take control because you do not want a judge entering this situation. It can get very embarrassing and my heart truly goes out to you all.


A fellow caregiver answered...

OK, your mum is 88. Show some respect and compassion here. If she wants the cats but can't manage them, YOU help her, and I don't mean catch them and dispose of them. Clean those trays baby. 88 is bloody old-how much longer is she going to be around to love? At least give her her heart's desire in extreme old age.

My apologies for this tirade Viola' girl. I can't see past your mother's point of view.


A fellow caregiver answered...

I thoroughly agree w/anonymous - help her w/those cats.Can family members take care of some,let her visit them and see they are happy elsewhere. Ask her to keep 3/4 cats, and take in no more please! and HELP her w/these. Work WITH her and yes a drs visit is in order, to establish her mental and physical abilities. Actually, caring for pets has been proven to be a positive way to good mental health in seniors.


A fellow caregiver answered...

I worked for a local Council on Aging, and we never removed animals from a home. Along with housekeeping and helping the client with bathing, we also cleaned the litter boxes for the client so that they could keep their little companion(s), smelly or not.. It doesn't sound financially feasible to have all the animals spayed or neutered, and Mom would probably just find more if some went to a humane society. My suggestion would be to find a large cat rescue group who would send out a volunteer to talk to Mom. A neutral person focusing on the well-being of the cats could help a lot more than family members who will wind up being the enemy in this scenario. It sounds like Mom has reached a point where she isn't too worried about worldly goods. She enjoys the cats and feels that she is important to them, and needed by them. Let a neutral cat person help out with this, not family or psych counselors.


Ngrimalkin answered...
  1. Make the appointment with your Mother's doctor.
  2. While decisions are being made about her physical and mental ability to live alone, get her weekly cleaning and shopping help.
  3. Buy 2 more litter trays and plastic liners.
  4. The cats have a right to good care. If you don't want the 9 to turn into a very large number, get them gradually to a vet for neutering and shots.
  5. Groups that do Trap-Neuter-Return find that cats do very well if there if a food source, and they do not have to be killed.

Ladyfrog lynn answered...

Perhaps try to find homes for some of the cats in advance, then maybe your mom wont be so resistant on getting rid of a few, also, too help with the odor, add more kitty litter boxes~ as a rule cats dont like sharing the boxes and it will give them extra so as not to load up on a few!!!


Viola's girl answered...

I appreciate all the advice, in particular the idea of getting someone neutral to talk to her. The problem is that my husband and I live an hour away and we both work. Her only daughter is in hospice and her grandson has a job and three children and his wife's parents need whatever free time they have. We can't take care of the litter boxes from here, and we can't afford to pay for a cleaning lady, not that she would accept help. She also doesn't want us to have anything to do with her medical care. So we've decided to respect her wishes and do nothing for now.


A fellow caregiver answered...

Your mother sounds like a feisty old dame. Does this necessarily mean diminishing capability? I admire her. She deserves to be happy and contented in her old age, and is obviously prepared to argue her case with you. Too bad about the smell, ripped furniture and financial outlay for the food - nine cats is not a huge number. If it was 36, like my mother, now THERE'S something! I agree that two litter trays are inadequate. As stated by a previous respondent, cats are not keen on sharing toileting facilities, so there's a positive and non-intrusive way for you to help her and the cats. It will indicate to your mum that you are around to help, and that you accept and respect her needs, unpleasant as they are to you. I also lived an hour away from my 88 year-old mother and her multitude of cats, and no, it wasn't too pleasant,and yes, it was time-consuming, but you do what you have to. My mother died eventually, as they do, but those cats sure gave her a lot of pleasure in her last days, and that's what's important here.Oh those velvet bands!


Luna eclipse1 answered...

My mom has about 17 cats. She did have like 22. But my mom pared up with an adoption agency and they help her with the cats. They got them spayed & neutered, shots, & help her with food, litter boxes, & other items she may need. All she does is house, feed, clean up after, & love them. My mom is in her 70's and she can still take good care of them. I strongly suggest you ask an agency for help. We at first didn't like the idea of my mom having so many cats cuz of her health. But since she got with the adoption people & they help her with the cats how can we argue. In the time our parents have left all they want to do is be kind & helpful. Stray cats are smaller then dogs so they seem to be easiest to help. Don't deny your mom this human trait. Help her help these cats. As far as excuses, where there is a will there is a way. God always provides. I'm allergic to cats but I still visit my mom & clean. You cleaned her house because of the cats. Don't you clean for her just cuz her house needs cleaned? Every house needs cleaned. It gets dusty, toilet needs cleaned, ect. I'm not putting you down. I'm just saying you are going to have to buckle up & help her with the cats instead of trying to get rid of them. This didn't happen over night. Its going to take some real effort. But get with an agency & you can get the cat population down to two cats. Also what are you going to do when your mom needs full time care. I think you should start thinking about this too. Its better to be proactive then have it hit you hard later. My prayers to you, your family, & the cats.


Viola's girl answered...

To those of you who told me to let her have her cats, here's an update. We did what she asked. We provided lots of cat boxes, but as I said, we live more than an hour away and both of us work full time. We cannot be there everyday to help, and she didn't want us there anyway. There is no one else there to help her, and she refused any attempts to get her outside help. We respected her wishes and checked in on her via email and phone several times a week and visited her every other week. We kept trying to find people to help her with the cats and there was no one. She would not allow us to trap them or do anything. And we respected her wishes. One cat had a litter of 6 kittens and I begged her to let me take them and find homes for them and she wouldn't part with them. We respected her wishes. Then, this summer, she kept telling us she wasn't up for a visit and asked us to come next week, then the next week, and we respected her wishes. Until our nephew called and said we should come because the two weeks we had not seen her, the house had errupted with fleas. We went and found that the fleas were so bad that three of the ktitens had died from the stress. We found their little bodies rotting in the garage where she had thrown them. She had been trying to sleep on a bare mattress wrapped in a sheet to keep the fleas off. The room where she kept the kittens was covered in blood, urine and feces. My husband had to wear a tyvex suit, a mask and goggles to clean it. I had to dispose of the dead cats. My ankles were covered in flea bites for two weeks. We've spent over $1,000 on pest treatment and cleaning. I'm sure some of you will blame us for not keeping a closer eye on her, but she didn't want any interference from us and we respected her wishes because, after all, she's 88 and how much longer does she have anyway? Both my husband and I have children and jobs and the distance is a factor. We both have our own health issues. Plus, when we are there, she closes all the doors and doesn't want us "snooping around." So now we are filing for guardianship. The house is destroyed. We go to court Tuesday. And the authorities are telling us we should have called Adult Protective Services a long time ago. And still she is fighting us, even though to remain there all the carpets and furniture will need to be replaced and neither she nor we have the resources to do that. She's still feeding the cats and once winter sets in, they will be back in the house. There is simply NO HELP for situations like this. Animal control wouldn't do anything even though there is an ordinance against feral cats; everyone told us "let her be, they give her comfort" despite the fact I knew what was going to happen. The idea of letting an old person do what they want because they might die soon and they deserve respect, whatever the emotional, financial, and physical costs to their families is CRAP. She wasn't the one who scooped up dead cats. She wasn't the one who cleaned blood and feces and urine. I'm sorry for being so strident, but this situation is so stressful and I am sure there are other families facing this. There has to be some system put in place for elderly people who have lost the ability to make sensible decisions for themselves, who don't have family nearby or their families are unable to help either because they physically can't or the senior refuses their help.


Lilyelgato answered...

Thanks for this thread! We're facing a similar situation with my husband's grandfather and his six plus cats. The poop and pee everywhere but the litter box. He doesn't want to give away any of the cats, or the crappy area rugs that they've completely ruined. in our situation thought, he is going to need skilled nursing and some additional personal care. I'm hoping that they will also chime in and help us do something about the monsters. My husband and I have similar feelings about the situation as you. Sadly, guardianship is the only way you can be guaranteed the right to make good decisions over your mother's bad ones. I hope you were a to get guardianship. Their bad decisions impact far more people than just them, and it is incredibly selfish of them to leave behind a giant mess for you to clean up. It really bothers me that people are allowed to wallow in their own crapulence and there's nothing we can do about it. The grandfather is getting released to us from rehab even though he needs 24/7 observation and skilled nursing. We cant carry that burden all by ourselves. It's only a matter of time before he trips over a cat and winds up back in the hospital. The idea that everyone has a right to live independently is also a load of crap. If you cant make rational decisions, and you can't take care of yourself, you're not independent. You're the same helpless person, but just at home instead of in a safe medical environment. Erg!


Concerned 4 you answered...

I have to disagree with those of you that say to "keep" 9+ cats; do you realize how many times a day a cat goes to the bathroom? We are dealing with the same thing with my mom and she has been diagnosed with dementia. She was in a nursing home for a short time and begged us everyday to go home. We talked to the doctor and since we did not see the typical Alzheimer's type of behavior we relented and let her move home with some safety considerations and care groups in place. We have home health care nurses that check on her daily and another organization that provides one healthy meal daily.

My mom had two cats before she started having problems so we have no issues with those two, they are very sweet cats and we don't want to get rid of them. But my mother has let in 2-3 strays on a regular basis and has anywhere from 3-5 others outside from around the neighborhood that she feeds. Her cat food bill is the largest (household) bill we have for her. She let in a cat that was sick (surprisingly her cats did not get sick) and it also brought fleas. There were fleas in her house and when I went in her garage which has a kitty door I was literally covered in a mass of fleas! It was so awful, fleas can carry so many illnesses. We of course treated the remaining cats that we could catch and we had to spray her carpets/furniture/garage with a professional flea killer. We talked with her doctor and he pointed out to her the many illnesses that cats can harbor. And at one point she was bit and had to have an IV type antibiotic to save her hand. Also, my cousins two daughters both contracted toxoplasmosis from a stray cat that they found. This is a very serious parasitic illness that can cause life-threatening illness and many cats carry it. We aren't dealing with as many cats as you are but I completely understand your frustration and distress as to how to handle the situation.

Not only is it a health concern but the reason cats potty and poo outside of their box is to show their distress and upset. We can tell that her cats are very upset by these additional cats; they are flea free momentarily but they continue to lick themselves a lot, they hide even from those they know, and run outside every chance they get to get away from the new cats. It is not fair to them to have to deal with this many extra cats. And we do have extra litter boxes in place but this has not stopped the potty/poo outside the box. The strays outside spray all around the house and this stresses her cats as well. They have been biting and scratching way more often than before the extra cats arrived and are not near as sweet as they once were.

We have found a shelter in our area that does not euthanize (unless an animal is sick beyond saving) and they have agreed to take a few cats at a time. We also found out that that if someone files a complaint (I think with the police or health dept, we are still checking on that) against the excess cats that they can be removed as well. If there is a complaint filed then it can be a case of proving that she is not capable of making correct decisions pertaining to her health and well-being and we can get guardianship. That would allow us to have more control over the situation. We don't mean to upset my mom but none of us live close enough to help clean the floors, walls, furniture, litterboxes, etc. on a daily basis. BTW, we had a friend who has a rental house and his tenants had a similar problem with their cats. When they moved out the damage to the floors from just 3-4 cats ruined the hardwood floors under the carpet and they had to be pulled out and replaced just to make the house liveable again. I'm sure the damage from pets can also drastically affect the resale value of a house.

Unfortunately, dementia and Alzheimer type illnesses are very trying for all involved. We know by removing the cats my mom will be very upset but we have decided if she does not allow us to remove some of them we will have to move her back to a nursing home and she will be without any of them. We are hoping in time she will either forgive or forget about the additional cats. And we plan to remove any additional strays as soon as we find out about them. We hope we can get a handle on this problem soon and I hope the same for you. For those of you who say "let her keep that many cats and come and help her everyday" how about you try it for a while and see how emotionally and physically draining it is. Please don't tell someone to do that unless you have tried it yourself!


A fellow caregiver answered...

nobody should have to be suckered into someone elses unhealthy obsession. I'm going through this with my elderly mother as well. She refused to give the feral cats up to the humane society and refused any other solution to the problem so I let her handle it herself without my assistance as I was exhausted after helping her for so long.. She eventually got rsv from the cats and ended up in the hospital. I trapped all 7 cats and relocated them while she was in the hospital, then I told her that animal control came out, I'm sure I actually did her a big favor, even though she doesnt see it that way.


A fellow caregiver answered...

Same here my mother has dementia and won't go to the doctors and seek help, she took in one stray, had it sterilised and checked out by the vet, then two more strays same same as the above. All was okay till the next door neighbour moved and left a pregnant female cat which took up residence in my mothers garden, a few weeks later three feral kittens with massive heads, I have just contacted the rspca to have what I though we're three litters and the mothers taken away, having had buried two kittens left to rot. The rspca visited and found fifteen kittens all with cat flu and sick, they have removed those to be euthanised, and are coming back in a few days for the remaining adult cats. My mothers food bill for the cats is astronomical, the house smells and is dirty the garden has been ruined. Yes. The cats do give her comfort in her deranged mind she believes she is the best person to care for them, she isn't, she cannot care for them or herself. My mother has never bought a cat, other irresponsible cat owners left theirs and she took them in, sick and diseased. So forget the false sympathy for her and compassion for the cats, they have caused her untold grief as this behaviour has turned her neighbours against her, and forced her family into a situation where she needed to be reported to the animal welfare. The cats will be gone soon, and yes she will start again, but this time they will be limited to two only for her to love, anymore will be removed by myself and her other children to be euthanised, before we get the same problem again.


A fellow caregiver answered...

I do volunteer work with cats, and this situation isn't difficult. The cats needed to be trapped and taken to a low cost spay/neuter clinic and then returned to the owner. Mentioning that she was in violation of state rabies vaccination laws would have probably been enough to convince her to let the cats be taken to a clinic. Kittens should have been removed for adoption whether she liked it to not--it was a huge mistake to leave them there. Kittens are fragile and don't do well in large groups of cats. That would leave a stable group of sterilized adult cats who are more likely to use the litter once neutered.