Cat Overpopulation Statistics

You can find statistics about the United States cat overpopulation crisis, which, incidentally, is not in general seen as a crisis but routinely accepted as ‘just one of things’. However, you’ll normally see statistics scattered throughout an article or over several articles. It can be difficult to pull all the figures together to try and get an overview. We are talking about cold cat facts with one caveat. We don’t know for sure how many cats are killed each year in the United States which could and should have been rehomed or should have remained in their original home.

Theo an unwanted adopted grey stray cat with long hair

Here are some cat facts from the United States that relate to the cat overpopulation problem. They are part of the problem. You will see some variation between studies (sources). This is normal because this is not a science. Relinquishments of cats refer to giving up a cat(s) to a cat shelter. You will see a wide range of statistics relating to cat overpopulation.

The CriterionThe StatisticsThe Source (usually a scientific study)
Number of cats euthanised in USA cat shelters in 19905.7 – 9.5 millionKahler 1996
Number of cats euthanised in USA cat shelters annually5 – 7 millionMahlow & Slater 1996
Number of cats euthanised in USA cat shelters annually4 millionPatronek et al 1996
Number of cats euthanised in USA cat shelters annually. Assessed at 2007.3.26 millionP.H. Kass (The Welfare of Cats). Extrapolated from Californian figures below.
Number of cats euthanised in USA cat shelters annually3.18 millionRowan 1992 as extrapolated from Massachusetts figures
Number of cats euthanised in USA cat shelters annually3.62 millionRowan 1992 as extrapolated from NJ and NY figures combined.
Number of cats impounded in Californian Shelters 1992484,173State of California
Number of cats euthanised in Californian Shelters 1992391,435 (81% of cats impounded)State of California
Percentage of cats euthanised because unadoptable.17%Kass et al 2001. From 12 shelters across 5 states.
Median (average) age for cats presented to shelters to be euthanised. Yes, people ask shelter staff to kill their cat because it is a free service?10 years of ageQ: why ask a shelter to kill their cat? Why at age 10?
Percentage of female cats giving birth to an average of 2.43 litters before being spayed20%Luke 1996. Some cat owners believe that a female cat should give birth before being sterilised.
Percentage of cats relinquished to 12 selected shelters in USA that were sterilised.Slightly over 50%Salman at al 1998.
Percentage of cat owners who acquired their cat from private owners.47%Miller et al 1996
Percentage of cat owners who acquired their cat as a stray cat.14%Miller et al 1996
Percentage of cat owners who acquired their cat from a pet store.11%Miller et al 1996
Percentage of cat owners who relinquished their cat who did not want to acquire a cat.About 50%Miller et al 1996
Percentage of cats relinquished aged 7-12 months26% (the highest bracket)Miller et al 1996
The most common reason given for giving up cat to shelterMoving home (29%)Miller et al 1996
The percentage of cats not sterilised that were relinquished because the cat’s owner was moving home.41%New et al 1999
The percentage of cats under 3 years of age that were relinquished because the cat’s owner was moving home.52%New et al 1999
Percentage of cat owners who relinquished because allergic to cat.15%Miller et al 1996
Percentage of cat owners who relinquished because they had a kitten that needed a home.24% (highest bracket in this study)Luke 1996
Percentage of cat owners who wanted to give up a stray kitten.18%Luke 1996
The most common reason for relinquishment under another study was:‘Human lifestyle issues’ at 35% of people.Salman et al 1998
Most common age of cat relinquished.5 months to 3 years (40% of cases)Salman et al 1998
Percentage of female to male cats relinquished.59% for females to 41% for males.Salman et al 1998
Percentage of purebred cats relinquished to moggies.7% purebred to 93% moggie.Salman et al 1998
Percentage of cats that were relinquished that were full-time indoor cats or ‘seldom went outdoors’ (‘true pets’).83%Salman et al 1998
The most common length of time people who relinquished to a shelter kept their cat.7-12 months (short). 30% of people.Salman et al 1998
Most common reason for relinquishment.‘I have too many cats’. 11% of respondents to a survey.Salman et al 1998
Percentage of cat owners who relinquished and asked that their cat be adopted by someone else.79%Salman et al 1998
Percentage of cat owners who relinquished and asked that their cat be killed (‘euthanised’)17%Salman et al 1998
Percentage of people who saw a veterinarian in the year before going to shelter to relinquish their cat.47%Salman et al 1998
Percentage of people who relinquished their cat to a shelter who said their cat soiled their home.24%Salman et al 1998
Percentage of people who relinquished their cat to a shelter who said their cat damaged their home.About 24%Salman et al 1998
Percentage of people who relinquished their cat to a shelter who said their cat was ‘hyperactive’ (sometimes, mostly or always).33%Salman et al 1998
Percentage of people who relinquished their cat to a shelter who said their cat was fearful (sometimes, mostly or always)44%Salman et al 1998
Percentage of women to men who brought their cat to a shelter to be given up.60% (women) to 40% (men)Salman et al 1998
Most common age of person relinquishing their cat at shelter.31-40 years of age (33% of total).Salman et al 1998
Percentage of relinquishers who had an income over $75k pa.7%Salman et al 1998
Percentage of relinquishers who had an income under $12k pa.More than 50%Salman et al 1998
Percentage of people relinquishing their cat at shelter who had ‘diminished level of understanding of aspects of pet ownership’… relative to what might be expected.‘Sizeable’Salman et al 1998
Percentage of people who relinquished who believed that animals misbehaved out of spite.58%Salman et al 1998
Percentage of people who agreed that ‘rubbing a pet’s nose in messes is effective discipline’.29%Salman et al 1998
The age of relinquishers that were ‘overrepresented’ (most common).25-39 years of ageNew et al 1999
Percentage white people who are relinquishers.71%New et al 1999
Are young cats more likely to be abandoned?Yes, Kittens under 6 months of age are 14x more likely to be given up compared to cats older than 5 years of age.Patronek 1996
Are cats acquired for free more likely to be relinquished?Yes.Patronek 1996
Are relinquishers more likely to ignore a vet’s advice on cat behavior?Yes on the basis that it was ‘impractical or unhelpful’.Patronek 1996
Does prior cat ownership reduce relinquishment?Yes.Patronek 1996
The age of cats that had the lowest risk of being relinquished.Aged between 10-14 years of age.Salman et al 1998
Are intact (unspayed) female cats more likely to be abandoned to a shelter?Yes, by a factor of 4x (400%).Salman et al 1998
Are young people more likely to surrender their cat?Yes. Highest age risk is 20-24 years of age.Salman et al 1998
Neutered males over intact male cats.Neutered males 6x more likely to be adopted from a shelter.Lepper at al 2002
Are neutered males preferred to spayed females for adopters at shelters?Yes by a factor of 1.56.Lepper at al 2002
What is the favourite cat coat type for shelter adopters?WhiteLepper at al 2002
What are the 2nd and 3rd favourite cat coat types for shelter adopters?Colourpoint (pointed cats such a Siamese) and grey cats.Lepper at al 2002
Are pure-bred cats preferred over ‘domestic shorthair cats’ for adopting people at shelters.Yes by a factor of 2x.Lepper at al 2002
Percentage comparison of first time adopters to previous owners who rejected their cat having adopted him/her from a shelter.62% (first-timers) to 38% (previous owners).Kidd et al 1992a, 1992b.


One of the notable conclusions of the authors of the book from which these statistics are taken (The Welfare of the Cat – ISBN 978-1-4020-6143-1) is that in order to tackle the cat overpopulation problem ‘a fundamental re-education of the American public is also required..’. In my view education is the number one issue in cat overpopulation.

Note: there are many millions of wonderfully proficient cat loving people in the USA who care for their cats to a very high standard for the life of the cat. Also I have chosen figures for the USA out of convenience. This is a country where statistics are more readily available.

Link to original Flickr photo.

9 thoughts on “Cat Overpopulation Statistics”

  1. I am concerned about someone keeping cats because they love them, but going overboard by keeping 3 to 5 cats caged up in their bedroom. Are there numerical living standards that cat lovers should follow to avoid mistreating cats at home?

  2. I agree, Michael. There are things that people do which are just wrong and damage not only the beings they are hurting, but themselves as well. Killing healthy cats is one, and I believing declawing cats or participating in the declawing of cars is another. People need to work– vet techs in veterinary clinics that declaw or workers at animal control may feel trapped, especially in this economy. But no one should be forced to sin against their own conscience just to make a living. I’ve been in similar situations, from schools where I couldn’t stand the teachers bad mouthing the kids in the faculty room to more recently healthcare facilities that push therapists to commit Medicare fraud in order to meet unrealistic productivity standards. In each instance, I’ve walked away and faced ridicule from family members for doing so. What if more people simply refused to do a job if it required them to act against their consciences? It takes courage to do this, especially if you are guving up income.
    Maybe if more people refused to kill the cats we’d actually have to deal with the roots of the problem instead of enabling it through the killing. The people who kill the cats think they are doing what must be done. But what if they’re like the enabler in a family that makes sure the alcoholic never deals with the consequences of his drinking? The enabler may feel noble for taking on the alcoholic’s problems and shielding him (or her) from them, but in the end alcoholism kills. We keep killing and killing all these pets, but this makes pets more easily seen as throw aways and the suffering is exacerbated through an increase in abuse and neglect cases. I believe the same is true of abortion, that far from preventing child abuse by making every child a wanted child, it increases it because if it’s ok to kill the child in the womb, then how valuable is any child really? If some humans are just thrown away then no humans are intrinsically worth much. As we throw away millions of companion animals it creates a situation where no animal is worth much. They go from being a member of the family to dumped at a shelter in the blink of an eye.

  3. Today is very close to the day three years ago when I went back to Animal Control and got Monty, after several days of begging my husband to let me keep him. Had either of us known his real chances there, we never would have turned him in at all. The month I rescued Monty 636 cats were killed at that place. I still don’t understand why the woman at the front desk didn’t tell me plainly just how bleak his chances were. She said he would go to the Humane Society for adoption. That just was not true. He would have been put down, and it would have been 637 cats killed that month, and I never would have known. I would have been thinking all along that he found a home and family. The woman at animal control acted like euthanasia would happen if an animal was sick. Or rather, that is what I assumed, and she didn’t correct that assumption. If she had said, there just are not enough homes for these cats, we kill hundreds of healthy ones every month, I would have adopted him right then and there and he wouldn’t have spent a week there. Although, they did get him to eat and they began the process of socializing him. I don’t know how people can work there, treating sick and injured cats, feeding them, socializing them– knowing that at the end of their seven day hold, almost all of the cats will be put down.

    • Tense story, Ruth. People must get inured to the mass slaughter. I actually think it is dangerous to people’s mental health to kill so many domestic cats every year. It makes people blasé about the whole thing. It is not natural and normal to kill cats so frequently and in such large numbers. I could never do it. I couldn’t get close to doing it.

  4. What depressing statistics and I notice no statistics for the number of declawed cats, this is always hidden. Yet people believe rubbing a cat’s nose in mess is effective discipline, I wonder how many of the cats who mess in inappropriate places were declawed and had good reason to do so.
    Misbehaving out of spite? That shows the utter ignorance or contempt for cats of the people who thought that, they must be the ones who expect a cat to behave like a human. So many fearful cats too, a happy, well treated, content cat is not fearful, this tells me many cats live sad, bewildering, miserable lives with people who should never have a cat in their power. Most being indoor cats, haven’t even the escape route of some freedom outdoors. Education about cats is very sadly lacking in the USA and it’s even worse than I thought! Killing cats in Shelters seems to be accepted as normal.The real cat lovers in the USA have my deepest sympathy, it’s bad enough hearing about all the suffering and misery and killing of so many cats from here but to have to live with it happening right there must be heartbreaking.

    • Yes, Ruth, these are uncomfortable stats. They come from the best sources. This is not internet fudge but as accurate as you can get. Of course all the figures relate to cat overpopulation and are therefore bound to portray a bad side of cat caretaking but nonetheless it is does not make happy reading. In the excellent book, The Welfare of Cats there is nothing on declawing as far as I can see.

  5. Well, this is certainly depressing to read. I was surprised to find the example I relate to best is a low 14%. All of my cats were strays or feral.

    Thanks for the added note at the bottom. The figures don’t speak well for our country. Oddly, in my personal world at the ripe old age of 59, I see mostly the best side of animal care. Thank goodness or I’d surely become a crazy cat lady.


    • It makes depressing reading I agree but it shouldn’t detract from the millions of responsible cat caretakers. The reason why I collated the information like this is because I want the stats to speak for themselves and I want an end to the killing. This is the most important aspect of cat welfare in the United States and nothing profound and effective is being done about it.

      One other good thing is that studies are being done in the USA. I don’t see this kind of information readily available in the UK or elsewhere.


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