The Top 4 Reasons Cats Are Surrendered to Shelters — and How to Avoid Them · The Wildest

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The Top 4 Reasons Cats Are Surrendered to Shelters

And how to fix them.

by Lindsay Hamrick, CPDT-KA
Updated October 27, 2023
Black and white cat in a shelter
Lucas Ottone / Stocksy

If you’ve found yourself in the heartbreaking situation of potentially needing to surrender or rehome your cat, you’re not alone. Millions of cats and kittens are brought to local animal shelters and rescues each year, and while the reasons behind the decision to surrender a pet can be complex, there are ways to prevent the drastic action of rehoming a pet. Here are some tips for common pet issues that could make all the difference:

1. Housing 

A lack of affordable and safe pet-friendly housing tops the list of reasons both cats and dogs surrendered to shelters or rehomed by their owners to family and friends. According to the American Veterinary Medical Associationus-pet-ownership-statistics, over 25 percent of U.S. households own at least one cat and an estimated 72 percent of renters have pets, making housing a major factor in whether cats stay with their families for the duration of their lifetimes. 

If you’re potentially moving, start your search as early as possible. The more time you have to monitor websites for pet-friendly apartments and homes, the more likely it is that you’ll snag a good fit. It also gives you more time to negotiate with property owners who may be on the fence about allowing a cat.

Create a cat resume, highlighting all the ways your cat is a great roommate. Ask your veterinarian to write a cat recommendation, highlighting that they’re up-to-date on vaccines, well-groomed, and well-behaved when they come in for visits. If you’ve previously rented with a cat, ask your prior landlord to write a letter of recommendation. Nothing convinces a new property owner like the opinion of a previous landlord.

2. Behavior

Behavioral challenges rank up there with housing as a leading factor for families who feel they have no alternative but to surrender their cat. The good news is behavioral science is improving, and there are so many resources to support you.

Cats really love their routines, so when we decide to bring a friend home for them, they aren’t always bursting with excitement. You can set them up for success by slowing this process way down. Rather than plopping a new kitten on the floor and hoping your cat takes it well, plan out a room in your house where the kitten can acclimate and your cat can get used to their smell and sounds before meeting nose to nose. Give a new cat or kitten at least 48 hours to explore their safe room before letting them roam the whole house.

When you’re ready to introduce the two cats, place a baby gate at the doorway of the safe room, grab some yummy treats and reward both the new and resident kitty for appropriate behavior, like sniffing, walking away, or even social behavior like purring and rubbing against the gate. If it’s all hissing and raised hair follicles, close the door, and give everyone more time in separate parts of your house.

3. Litter Box Issues

Maybe your cat is living solo or gets along just fine with theirs other residents but doesn’t use the litter box consistently. First, rule out medical issues like a cat urinary tract infection (UTI) or arthritis that might be preventing them from getting over the tall edges of a litter box. Your veterinarian can help determine a possible cause. If nothing turns up, do a litter box evaluation:

  • Do you have more than one litter box, including one that is not closed in?

  • Do you offer more than one substrate like pine shavings and clumping litter?

  • Do you keep the boxes super clean, scooping them multiple times a day and fully cleaning them once a week using gentle soap instead of harsh chemicals?

  • Are the sides of the box low enough so a senior cat can step in comfortably?

  • Is the box big enough for your cat to do their thing and cover it up afterward? 

Litter box challenges can be an indication of broader behavioral challenges as well. Have you recently returned to the office, and they’re struggling to adjust to a quiet apartment? Is there a new neighbor in 2B with a very vocal cat? You can help reduce their anxiety with a pheromone diffuser, use a product that naturally attracts them to the litter box, or litter box train your cat. And don’t forget to reach out for help — your local shelter and cat behaviorists can help identify the root cause and build a realistic plan to address it. 

4. Accessible Vet Care

Access to veterinary care can be a challenge for many pet parents, but particularly those living in areas without many veterinary clinics. From regular wellness care to unexpected emergencies, medical care for your cat can add up. Pet insurance may offset the costs but if you’re unable to afford a treatment or surgery, talk with your veterinarian about a payment plan option. Some veterinary clinics and local shelters maintain an emergency fund to help pet owners who find themselves in an urgent situation with their cat.

If transportation is an issue, ask your veterinarian if their state allows tele-health. During the COVID-19 pandemic, some states authorized the use of virtual appointments, expanding how many animals could receive an initial consultation with a veterinarian without a trip to the clinic. Lastly, your community may have a low-cost option for spay/neuter, cat vaccinations, or other diagnostic needs. Your local shelter can help you find any available options. 

We know that you intend to keep your cat forever but sometimes life can get complicated. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help — behaviorists, veterinarians, and local shelters are all here to support you.

Lindsay Hamrick, CPDT-KA

Lindsay Hamrick lives in New Hampshire with her three dogs, chickens, and an assortment of rotating foster animals. She forces her elderly chihuahua, Grandma Baguette, on overnight backpacking trips, can diaper a lamb with one hand, and while she’s a long-time Certified Professional Dog Trainer, 66.7% of her dogs still won’t lay down when asked.

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