You were dreaming to have a cat since you were a child and now you have a child, but things are not as easy as you thought... there's the common misbelief that cats are low-maintenance animals but that could not be farther from the truth.
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Things don't always go as planned, including the future you and your cat had imagined. If you've tried everything possible to discipline your cat and are thinking that rehoming your cat is your last resort, this article is for you.
Sharing Your Life with a Cat?
There's a common misbelief that cats are low-maintenance animals. Cats are chosen by people who are independent or have very demanding jobs because "cats don't need as much attention as dogs do".
Sadly, significant numbers of cats enter rescue and re-homing facilities each year, over half of which are relinquished directly by owners.
In a recent study about Reasons for the Relinquishment and Return of Domestic Cats to Rescue Shelters, characteristics of 6,089 cats relinquished and returned to 11 rescue facilities in the UK were recorded over a year. That study determined that 60% of cats and kittens entering shelters were relinquished by owners, of which 19% is due to owner circumstances, such as moving to rented accommodation or changes in family circumstances.
In another study, this one from the US, the interviews identified 71 reasons for relinquishment. Personal issues lead to the class of reasons for the relinquishment of cats. The top 3 health and personal issues cited for giving up cats were allergies of a family member to cats, the owner's problems, and a new baby.
In other cases, although minimal, the reason for rehoming cats is behavioral problems that owners haven't been able to resolve.
Because most of the reasons behind the relinquishment and rehoming of cats are personal or allergy-related and not behavioral problems, these issues suggest education and counseling before and after the acquisition of a pet: Allergies, lifestyle, and responsibilities that a cat requires, are not new, and any pet owner has the responsibility to know if they are capable of taking that responsibility before taking a pet home.
How to Know if You Can Share your Life with a Cat
Cats are demanding, but they don't need to walk 2/3 times a day like dogs do (some cats like walking on harnesses, but that's a topic for another day). But the fact that cats "don't need" to walk on a leash, does not mean they are low maintenance.
Everybody should understand financial, emotional, physical, and mental responsibilities before getting a cat. These are some questions you should ask yourself before getting a cat:
- Will I be able to provide my cat food and litter?
- Will I be able to afford a veterinarian bill if the case was to arise?
- Will I be able to give my cat a safe and loving home?
- Will I be able to share some of my time with my cat?
- Will I be able to give my cat physical stimulation through play?
- Do I expect a change in my life that could make having a cat impossible?
- Do I have cat allergies? or does my partner? or a close family member?
- Will all the above be true for the next 15 or 20 years?
The main way to prevent rehoming cats is to think thoroughly about the responsibilities of sharing your life with a cat.
When to Rehome a Cat?
While the responsibility of taking a cat should be forever, there are a few circumstances where rehoming can be necessary. The reasons can range from the inability to continue caring for the cat to the owner's death, and a bunch of other reasons in between.
Rehoming should always be the last resort. It can be hard to find a loving home and getting over the loss of a companion can be hard for both the human and the cat.
What I Believe are Good Reasons to Rehome, a Cat
There are several situations where rehoming a cat is in everyone's best interest.
Unfortunately, undesirable behavior is the reason some cats are rehomed. Undesired behavior can range from spraying or scratching furniture to biting or scratching the humans in the household or eliminating them outside the litterbox.
Whilst these are all nasty behaviors that need to be corrected, there´s usually a solution better than rehoming a cat. Hiring a cat behaviorist to help you train your cat to use the litterbox and reduce their environmental anxiety will likely correct those behaviors and is cheaper and easier than it seems.
Some cats seem to start doing these things out of the blue, while others pick them up as a stress response to a recent change in their lives, like a new baby, pet, house, or routine.
If we´ve put in the work and the cat's behaviors don´t cease, rehoming the cat might be the only resort left for some households. Before doing that, it´s worth asking ourselves:
- Are my expectations unrealistic?
- Are these behaviors normal for cats but I did not do proper research?
- Are these problems I can't live with?
Ultimately, cats will be cats and their behaviors can often be readdressed if we make some adjustments to our life to better meet their needs.
It has been estimated that globally up to 10-20% of human adults are sensitized to cats. That same study showed that cat allergy among humans is second only to house dust mites. (Around 20-30% of patients with respiratory allergy are allergic to cats).
The main protein that causes allergies is called Fel D1 (More than 80%, and typically 90-96%, of individuals allergic to cats, are known to respond to Fel d 1) but eight different feline allergens have been classified (Fel d 1 to Fel d 8), and others are also known to exist.
While much work has been carried out on characterizing the nature of human allergy to cats, controlling clinical symptoms in individuals remains complex and problematic.
Allergies are among the TOP reasons for relinquishing cats according to numerous research articles:
Allergy as a Reason for Relinquishment
Miller et al (1996)
DiGiacomo et al (1998)
Salman et al (1998)
American Humane Association (2012)
Weiss et al (2015)
Alberthsen et al (2016)
Zito et al (2016)
Hazel et al (2018)
Casey et al (2009)
The #1 advice to prevent the relinquishment of cats because of allergies by doctors is to avoid getting a cat altogether. Cat allergies can be severe and hard to deal with.
Before getting a cat it's ideal to:
- Check every family member for cat allergies
- Understand what are the implications of cat allergies
- Consider fostering before adopting or buying
Not all cats have the same level of Fel D1, meaning that some cats produce fewer allergies (so-called hypoallergenic cats). While there's still not much known about the topic, it's worth checking out for hypoallergenic cats if you are allergic.
3. No longer able to care for the cat
There's a major change in your life that you don't have control over:
- Disease or injury has left the caretaker unable to provide the cat with the necessary care.
- A financial change has put you in a position where you simply can't afford to maintain a cat (food, litter, toys...)
If you are facing a situation that overrules your life and need some time to figure things out, friends and relatives may be helpful in the short term, but they won't be able to assist you in the long run, and rehoming might be the only last resort.
What I Believe are Poor Reasons to Rehome, a Cat
To me, any non-major reason behind rehoming a cat is selfish and comes from poor planning. For example, in the US, the number 1 reason why Americans relinquish their cats is that they are moving house (29% of owners).
When cat owners have a choice and they still decide to rehome a cat, I see cases in which introducing a cat to a household was a decision that was taken lightly, and that is not okay.
There are a bunch of awful examples of reasons to rehome a cat:
- An owner no longer wants the cat
- The animal no longer being as adorable as a kitten
- The animal no longer being able to breed
- The owner wants a new pet
- The owner becomes bored with the cat
- or even, the owner wants to pursue a new career and does no longer have time for the cat...
Whilst I believe that the above are bad reasons to rehome a cat, someone who treats a pet like furniture should not have a pet in the first place, so I'm not too sad that the cat gets adopted into a caring and loving family.
Those individuals should never be trusted with anything more than a teddy bear as a pet.
Do Cats Miss their Owners When Rehomed?
Cats who have been rehomed may miss their previous families. Cats have excellent long-term memory and may remember their owner even if they haven't seen them in years. Additionally and most important, cats may also experience stress due to their new surroundings.
The body language of cats is nuanced and not easily read. Therefore, even if cats genuinely miss their owners, the indications are not always noticeable.
How long does it take for a Rehomed cat to adjust?
It normally takes 1 to 6 months for a cat to acclimate to a new owner. Getting a cat a new home faster means making the process as pleasant as possible for the cat. Change is much harder for older cats to deal with.
Understand, whenever a cat is rehomed, it feels it will lack all the pleasant things its prior owner used to supply. Provide the cat with plenty of time and room to adjust to its new home and routine. A cat may feel more comfortable in a new place if it hears softer sounds, has places to hide, and is surrounded by things it is used to, like blankets, pillows, and toys.
Correcting Behavior Problems before Rehoming
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, most cat misbehavior is nothing more than cats' natural behavior in places that we deem inappropriate. Cat discipline is easier than it seems.
2 things should be done if our rehoming intention comes from a behavior problem:
- Train the cat to stop those behaviors: Because cats are only trying to fulfill a natural need they have, they will be happy to redirect their behavior to areas of the house that are better suited for them to relieve their scratching or marking needs. You can learn more about correcting cat misbehavior in this blog.
- Understand if we can compromise: Sharing our home with someone (a cat, dog, or person) comes with compromise. It's never going to be as convenient as living on your own. Is having 2 litterboxes instead of 1 that's hidden in the bathroom too much of a compromise? Are scratching posts so ugly that you can't have more than one in your house? Could you get in the habit of cleaning the countertop before cooking because your cat keeps jumping on it? Only you know, but sometimes our expectations are unrealistic.
Correcting your cat's misbehavior is also going to help you find a good home for your cat because cats with behavioral problems are avoided by many. This means that a cat that exhibits poor behavior might end up the rest of their life in a shelter.
By rewarding your cat to pee, defecate, climb, scratch, and perch in the proper areas using positive reinforcement tactics (such as food or favorite toys), you may train your cat to do so. Clicker training is one kind of behavior modification that may be used to reinforce the behaviors you want to see more effectively.
Learn how to train a cat and you might build a such bond that rehoming will be totally out of the picture.
How to Rehome a Cat if Everything Else Fails
When rehoming a cat, the intention is to get them to move the minimum amount of times possible. Finding a forever home for your cat is better than finding a shelter that will need a rescue group to find a foster home before it finally moves to a forever home. That second process can be very stressful for the cat.
Giving your cat a new home can be done in several ways, from best to worst:
- A friend or relative
- A neighbor you trust
- A friend of a friend
- A rescue group (Consider checking with your veterinarian for the most reputable rescue group in your area)
- A local shelter
Some considerations about the above options:
Friend of a Friend
You can use social media or other channels to find a person that's a good match for your cat. Because you might not know the person directly, it's good to ask for some additional information to make sure they are a right fit for your cat.
The #1 objective if you go for a Friend, a Friend of a Friend, Neighbor is to ensure that the reasons you are rehoming the cat are not reasons that would trigger rehoming if they persist once the cat moves to their home.
Rescues often receive cats from local shelters, which may lead to overcrowding.
It's a good step if the prior options fail as they tend to have better infrastructure than shelters and they are no-kill centers.
Shelters are the 1st touchpoints for stray/abandoned cats that are removed from the streets.
Find a shelter that will treat your cat well and make an honest attempt to find it a new home. Finding a good shelter is easy with the help of The Hill's Food, Shelter, and Love program. You can also ask your veterinarian.
Note: Some shelters will euthanize cats if they are overcrowded. According to Petpedia, Texas tops the list with around 125,000 animals killed in shelters. California is second with 110,000, followed by Florida with 66,000, and North Carolina with 62,000 euthanized animals.
What is the best way to rehome your cat?
If you have to rehome the cat, the ideal person to give it to is a close friend or relative. You're familiar with them, so you know they'll be kind cat owners.
The recommended process is as follows:
- Invite your friend/relative over several times so that they get to know each other.
- Share all the details about the reasons you are rehoming the cat
- Give them time to think and build on the idea. Sharing a life with a cat is a big responsibility.
- If they decide to go forward and will become their forever home, consider going with them on that trip and visit every now and then for a smoother adaptation.
- Share your cat's favorite food, litter, furniture, and toys with the new cat parents so that your cat has consistency in the areas of their life that matter most to them.
Should I feel guilty for rehoming the cat?
It's natural to feel guilty or sad after giving away your cat. Try to remember that although relinquishing your cat may have been less than ideal, it doesn’t define who you are.
Particularly if you did the due diligence before deciding to bring a cat into your life, if things didn't go as expected, there's not much more you could've done. You just can't maintain a cat because you don't have the time, money, or room to take care of it and it might even be best for your cat to be rehomed for their needs to be met.
If the cat needs more assistance with correcting its behavior, a cat behavior or ethologist professional is likely better suited to do so.
Knowing it is frequent and unavoidable might not help alleviate the guilt associated with rehoming a cat. The guilt may be crushing at times, so I've put together a short list to help you get over that guilt.
Rehoming is Not Abandoning
How to Get Over Rehoming Guilt?
Below are a few things you can tell yourself if you have guilty about rehoming your cat:
- Try to remember that although the behavior may have been less than ideal, it doesn’t define who you are.
- If nothing can change the situation, bear in mind that holding onto guilt won’t likely deliver the change you’re looking for. Try to have some compassion for yourself.
- Guilt can at times be unwarranted because the cat involved has moved on from being rehomed and is living a happy life with their new family.
- Try remembering all the positive things you did for your cat. Consider making a list of all the acts of kindness you bestow onto them.
- Sometimes, the presence of guilt may indicate the need to do something about your actions. So, take action! Find your cat the best home ever, or whatever it's keeping you from feeling free from guilt. When these amendments are made, remorseful feelings often seem to fade away.
If you're having trouble letting go of your cat, you may always ask the new family for photos or videos of them.
To summarize: Try to acknowledge your feelings, make amends if necessary, and then forgive yourself. If you need help letting go of persistent guilty feelings, consider reaching out to a mental health professional.
You are doing a great deed for the cat by finding a new home where it will be safe and happy. They may find a loving home with a caring family and spend the rest of their days happy. You can make sure they reach a secure location. That's not abandoning them to me. To make them happy, it seems like you're making a very difficult choice to make them happy. What a generous act of kindness!
(2009) Reasons for Relinquishment and Return of Domestic Cats (Felis Silvestris Catus) to Rescue Shelters in the UK, Anthrozoös, 22:4, 347-358,