A New Report Finds That 35% of Cats and Dogs Are Homeless · The Wildest

Skip to main content

A New Report Finds That 35% of Cats and Dogs Are Homeless

It is a serious issue around the world.

by Sio Hornbuckle
January 25, 2024
Stray Dog On A Bench.
Mosuno / Stocksy

Being a pet parent is more popular than ever  — according to Forbes, 66 percent of U.S. households include a pet, which is up from 56 percent in 1988. But even though more dogs and cats are in loving homes, pet homelessness remains a huge problem. A new report on pets in 20 countries reveals some bleak statistics on global pet homelessness — including the fact that 35 percent of all dogs and cats are currently on the street or in shelters. 

New research breaks down the numbers behind pet homelessness.

The research was conducted for The State of Pet Homelessness Project, an undertaking by a global coalition of leading animal welfare experts in partnership with Mars. “For many years, we have supported work to help reduce pet homelessness, but when we talked to NGOs and animal welfare experts in this space it was clear that to address the root causes of the problem, data and insights were critical,” Helen Mills, vice president of corporate affairs and sustainability at Mars Petcare, tells The Wildest. “So, we set out to understand the scale of the problem and identify the underlying causes as a critical first step to be able to move from treating the symptoms to tackling the root causes.”

To answer these questions, they chose to look at 20 countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Greece, India, Indonesia, Japan, Lithuania, Mexico, New Zealand, The Philippines, Poland, South Africa, Turkey, Thailand, the U.S., and the U.K. Researchers collected data from over 900 sources, plus almost 200 expert interviews and 30,000 public surveys. 

“We wanted to have a global picture … so we could understand if there were common themes globally or specifics by geography,” Mills says. “What we found is there are both.”

The findings:

Across the 20 countries, research revealed that “almost 35 percent of cats and dogs are either living on the streets or currently in a shelter waiting to find a home,” Mars reports. There are 143 million dogs on the street, 12 million dogs in shelters, 203 cats living on the street, and four million cats in shelters. These numbers and percentages vary across countries; for example, 69 percent of pets in Greece are homeless, but only five percent of pets in the U.K. are homeless. 

One in four people surveyed had rehomed (surrendered to a shelter) a pet in the past. Over a third of those rehomings were because of behavioral issues. Almost one in five people who have rehomed pets or are considering doing so, cite moving and being unable to take their pets with them as the primary reason.

In the U.S., 20 percent of cats and dogs are homeless; there are 5.9 million dogs living in the streets, 2.3 million dogs in shelters, 35 million cats living on the street, and 2.1 million cats in shelters. The research found that almost one in four dog parents in the U.S. “are thinking of rehoming their pet in the next 12 months,” and the primary reason cited was behavioral issues. The top three reasons people in the U.S. rehome pets were moving, behavioral problems, and being no longer fit to take care of their pet. 

Many homeless animals are lost pets who were not able to be reunited with their pet parents. Almost half of people surveyed had lost a pet in the past, and almost 60 percent of those pets were never found. 

Why these numbers matter.

Researchers hope that their data will help make tangible changes in the lives of homeless pets. “Ultimately, the aim is to bring insights that can help anyone working in or interested in animal welfare work towards tackling the root causes, versus treating the symptoms,” Mills says. “For instance, it’s clear from the data that housing challenges are a huge factor for why people give up their pets; that’s heartbreaking but also something that can change with the right buy-in and support for rental reforms.” 

The data also shows that many pets are rehomed because of behavioral issues, and Mills adds that helping potential pet parents find the right pet for them or giving pet parents the tools to train their pets “could make a massive difference.”

The numbers also raise awareness for pet homelessness, which can help draw people’s attention to the importance of fostering or adopting, if they are able — as well as the many people and organizations on the ground fighting to give abandoned pets good lives, such as Stray Cat Alliance, Pups Without Borders, and many more.

How can you help reduce pet homelessness?

Mills emphasizes that one of the best things pet parents can do is plenty of research before adopting. “One simple thing people can do if they are thinking of getting a pet is do the research, get some advice on what pet is best for their circumstances before getting one,” Mills says. Potential adopters should consider the financial responsibilities, time investment, and housing limitations of caring for a pet. Of course, people’s situations change, and it’s devastating to be forced to part with a pet. If you need help paying for vet bills or finding free pet food, there are organizations that can help.

Then, Mills recommends a concrete action that can be taken to reduce pet homelessness by one: adopting a pet from a shelter. “Once you have a pet, take some of the simple steps to make sure you and your pet stay together, from an up-to-date tag to microchipping,” Mills adds.

If you’re unable to adopt or already have pets to care for, there are still ways to help your community. “For some people volunteering at a shelter or with a relevant animal welfare organization could be a possibility,” Mills says. She adds that people can help older pet parents care for their animals by helping with duties like walks. 

Spaying and neutering animals is another action pet parents can take to reduce overpopulation. Volunteers can also help at non-profits (such as Flatbush Cats) that are dedicated to trap, neuter, return (TNR), an action that can lower the number of stray cats living on the streets. 

For more information on pet homelessness, including specific data breakdowns by country and resources fighting to save homeless pets, you can visit The State of Pet Homelessness Project’s website.

Sio Hornbuckle

Sio Hornbuckle is a writer living in New York City with their cat, Toni Collette.

Related articles