14 facts about the duration of stay at shelters by rescue cats

Pictures of sad shelter cats tend to go viral and enhance chance of adoption

Pictures of sad shelter cats tend to go viral and enhance chance of adoption. Picture: Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center.

At Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, the following statistics are provided by an online newspaper regarding the speed of adoption of cats within their care. I can’t find the information on the rescue’s website.

  1. The average length of stay for cats at the Kent location of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home is, as expected, dependent upon the age of the cat.
  2. Cats in the bracket of six months to 12 months of age spent 12 days at the rescue center.
  3. Cats aged between the ages of 3-5 take an average of 24 days to be adopted.
  4. Those aged between 7-10 stay at the center for an average of 28 days.
  5. Those aged between 10-15 remain at the center for an average of 30 days.
  6. Cats over the age of 15 take an average of 34 days to be rehomed.
  7. In America, a study on the length of stay as shelters of shelter cats found that on average, they stayed for 55 days and the median length of stay was 25 days. The word “median” means the value at which half of the sample is below that value and half is above it.
  8. Therefore, 50% of the cat at the participating shelters stayed for less than 25 days while 50% stayed longer than 25 days. Some stayed for as long as a thousand days.
  9. As you might expect, both age and behaviour affected the speed of adoption. To that we simply have to add their appearance.
  10. For each additional year of age, it took 3.7 days longer to be adopted.
  11. Cats that were interactive which I presume means confident enough to interact with visitors to the center and potential adopters, stayed at the rescue center for 36.9 days.
  12. Approachable cats stayed for 50.8 days while unapproachable cats remained at the shelter before adoption for 118.7 days on average.
  13. Unapproachable older cats remained at the shelter for 132 days on average.
  14. The study found that 32% of the cats at the participating shelters were approachable and 11% were in the unapproachable category.

You can’t change a cat’s age but you can change the mentality of adopters and hopefully encourage them to be more accepting of older cats as there are benefits. And adopters should be more open to seeing through the general demeanour of a shelter cat that might not be attractive because they are at a shelter. Do shelter staff educate potential adopters to see through what is often a temporary state of fearful behavior?

What shelter managers can do in order to speed up adoption times is to try and get shy and fearful cats i.e. timid cats to become more confident and able, therefore, to approach visitors and interact with them.

Making cats more confident

The suggestion is that they should be provided with better hiding places and I would suggest better places out of the cages where they can be gently encouraged to behave more normally and become more accustomed to interacting with people and other cats.

Useful links
Anxiety - reduce it
FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important

This would be a way of training more timid cats to become more comfortable in the difficult shelter environment. Often what actually happens is that timid cats are placed with foster carers where the environment is quieter and more acceptable to them and where they have enhanced chance to be adopted in a timely manner.


In the era of social media and its importance to cat rescue, something which is often overlooked is the quality of photography. A good photograph of an interesting looking cat, perhaps one who is looking vulnerable and in need of adoption, is likely to enhance the prospects of the cat finding a new owner.

As I’ve stated in the photograph above, the particularly vulnerable looking cat is sometimes more likely to be adopted. It’s perhaps a question of capturing the right expression and body language in a single photograph which is tricky. Is there a dedicated employee skilled at photography at every shelter!?

Shelter cats are sometimes not given a chance to show their friendly character

Shelter cats are sometimes not given a chance to show their friendly character. Image: MikeB

Enrichment programs at shelters

How do you get a fearful cat to become more interactive and less fearful? One way is to introduce an enrichment program to the shelter to create an environment in which cats are more likely to express their natural behaviours which in turn helps to reduce stress. They say that stress is a hidden killer in shelters. And shelters are stressful places.

In addition to improving the environment, behaviour modification programs can be introduced to try and add desirable behaviours to the cats. To change a shelter cat’s behaviour requires specialist skills by shelter staff and volunteers.

If both of these programs work the cats will be happier and happier cats are more adoptable for obvious reasons. And of course, they will potentially be healthier such as a reduced susceptibility to URIs.

The sounds, sights, smells, tastes and touch of shelters can cause stress in a cat. They are all potentially hostile senses and we know that domestic cats have heightened senses compared to humans in general.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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