It's easy to understand why so many people love cats: they can be fun to watch and to interact and snuggle with. For most people the affection results in a rewarding, healthy relationship with their feline friends. However, sometimes it crosses the line into obsession, which can be harmful.
A Passion for Cats
According to Dictionary.com, ailuromania is a "passion for cats." The Humane Society's website notes that about 33 percent of U.S. households have at least one cat. More than half of those homes have more than one cat in the house. A quick search of the Internet will yield many websites devoted to cats. There are blogs that celebrate cats and clubs devoted to rescuing and honoring them. While not everyone appreciates cats, they don't lack for admirers.
Dedicated and Devoted or Obsessed?
What one person sees as obsessed, another may see as responsible or devoted. For example, one person may spend thousands of dollars to care for a terminally ill pet, yet not be obsessed. Someone else may find intense treatment a waste of time, money and energy and choose euthanasia instead of treatment, yet still be considered a responsible, compassionate pet owner. Obsession can be a matter of semantics and is in the eye of the beholder.
If you suspect that you or a friend may be crossing the line from devotion to obsession, ask yourself a few questions. Is your health suffering because of your devotion to your pet? How is the pet's quality of life? A general rule of thumb is if you or your pet's quality of life suffers, then it's not just a passion, but potentially an unhealthy obsession.
Collecting/Hoarding: Unhealthy Obsessions
Just about everyone has heard a "crazy cat lady" story where dozens, even hundreds, of cats and/or dogs have been found living in horrifying conditions. In such cases the love for cats (and dogs) crossed the line from dedicated to unhealthy obsession in the form of collecting or hoarding. The ASPCA notes three attributes common to animal hoarding: having more than the typical number of companion animals; the inability to provide minimal standards of care, which often results in starvation, illness and death; and the inability to accept that minimum care requirements aren't being met.
Animal hoarding is a complex issue that entwines animal welfare, mental health and public safety concerns.
What to Do if There's More Than a Healthy Preoccupation
There is no rule that dictates the difference between unhealthy obsession or passion when it comes to cats (and dogs). A person with a dozen cats that are all spayed or neutered, living in sanitary conditions and in good health is not considered a hoarder. However, a person who fixates on a cat, to the point where the cat's or the owner's health and well-being are threatened, has an unhealthy obsession.
If you suspect a case of hoarding, the best course of action is to contact your vet or the local humane society. If you suspect that you or a friend may have an unhealthy obsession with a furry friend, professional treatment is recommended.