Should people with certain illnesses or backgrounds be prevented from adopting shelter cats?

This is a discussion on whether certain human diseases, health conditions or backgrounds should determine whether a cat should be adopted out to that person.

Should sick people be allowed to adopt shelter cats?

Should sick people be allowed to adopt shelter cats? Photo: Pixabay

As we get older, most of us suffer from one condition or another. Some are due to lifestyle choices and others are hereditary. We all know people who are reducing their lifespan because of bad choices in food or behavior. They think it’s allowed and that “a pill” will undo any harmful effects.

Type II diabetes is perhaps the classic, most prevalent example of a self-imposed illness through allowing oneself to become obese and simply being unable to restrict food intake or increase the burning of energy to lose weight. We are all human and we have to be sympathetic towards people who don’t have the self-discipline to even save their lives when they are, in truth, dying of a serious illness such as type II diabetes which damages kidneys, liver and the heart. And more: the retinas of the eyes are damaged and the nerves in the legs which can cause ulcers, which in turn can cause amputations of the legs.

People with type II diabetes caused by obesity appear to believe that they can manage the illness through self-administered insulin but they deteriorate and die before their time. And they create a financial burden for themselves in managing the illness.

  • Diabetic (which is both lifestyles as well as heredity) – take a pill and continue to eat and/or gain weight. Note: there is such a thing as a skinny diabetic so I’m not judging, being diabetic myself.
  • Heart disease (including high blood pressure) – take a pill yet continue to smoke (which is horrible for not only the smoker but to any animals who breathe in second-hand smoke).
  • On dialysis for bad kidneys? Mood stabilizing drugs? Should this REALLY be an issue? How far should we take it concerning what a potential adopter has or takes?

photo credit:

Overweight? According to

“Around 45 percent of adults are not sufficiently active to achieve health benefits. In 2011-2014, middle-aged Americans (ages 40-59) had the highest obesity rate of any age group at 41.0 percent, followed by seniors (ages 60 and older) at 38.5 percent, and then young adults (ages 20-39) at 34.3 percent.”

Should a rescue or shelter deny adoption due to any of the above or other conditions? Should they even be able to ask for disclosure on adoption paperwork?

Some thoughts from Michael on the above

Response from Michael, the person who owns this website. Eliza wrote the above piece (which I have added to myself) around four years ago. I chose it to amend slightly and republish because I think it’s a good discussion point. Does the health of a person who wishes to adopt a rescue cat affect their application? I have added their general background to the criteria to be examined.

The answer must be YES. For example, if an applicant to adopt a cat has lost their mobility which forces them to sit in a chair most of the day, they are not going to be able to do a very good job looking after their cat. They’re are going to be immobile and if they are obese and diabetic, they will be less inclined to be active when interacting with their cat or to commence play sessions.

And if their cat is an indoor/outdoor cat allowed into the backyard a severely overweight person who is immobile is far less likely to go into the yard to interact with their cat. Therefore, their illness affects the quality of their cat’s lifestyle. However, there are two counterarguments: the lifestyle of a cat in the home an average-to-poor cat caregiver is probably better than that in an animal shelter. Also, a sick person might be a very good cat caregiver and so despite their illness they can still perform reasonably well.

The decision to allow adoption requires the intelligent use of discretion by the animal shelter worker using a carefully prepared application form combined with an interview.

The bottom line here is whether the illness suffered by the adopter impinges significantly on their ability to care for a domestic cat. There must be a threshold. I would hope the shelters have a known threshold regarding the health both physical and mental of adopters. Perhaps they don’t ask any questions. Perhaps it is too difficult to ask questions because they are private matters.

Dothan Animal Shelter

Dothan Animal Shelter. Photo: the shelter.

But there’s no doubt that the mental and physical health of an adopter should be taken into account when they apply to adopt a rescue cat. It just depends on the criteria and threshold. It is up to the rescue organisations to decide that.

I can think of two mental health issues which would certainly preclude an adopter: alcoholism and drug addiction of any kind.

And I’m sure that animal rescue organisations ban people with a criminal record for animal abuse from adopting one of their animals. Perhaps they don’t check but they should. Do rescue organisations check for convictions of animal cruelty and abuse? Do they do any criminal checks at all on adopters?

Animal shelter employee

Animal shelter employee. Photo in public domain.

Obviously, some crimes are almost irrelevant to how good a person as in looking after an animal. But all criminal behaviour is relevant to a certain extent. It tells people that convicted people are prepared to break the law, that they probably or possibly are rule breakers. Ideally you don’t want rule breakers looking after cats. You want the opposite. You want reliable, decent, run of the mill people who are at home a lot.

At the same time, of course, you don’t want to put off potentially excellent adopters. It’s a balancing act like most things in life.

It is probable that some shelters have tougher criteria than others. What should be available is the success rate in adoptions across various shelters using different criteria so that the information can be used to benefit all animal shelters.

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Elisa Black-Taylor

Elisa is an experienced cat caretaker and rescuer. She lives in the US. As well as being a professional photographer, Elisa has been a regular contributor to PoC for nine years. See her Facebook page.

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21 Responses

  1. Michele Massa says:

    My rescue avoids the overreaching and offputting ruling out for illness and invasion of privacy issues of potential adoptees by asking on the application what would a potential adoptee do if they were unable to care for their pet. We know people lie and circumstances change, it is the best we can do. We also have a paragraph that states the adopter is to call us if for any reason they do not want to or cannot care for the cat and they can return the cat. Our rescue chips all list our rescue as the secondary contact as a safeguard in case the cat is lost or abandoned and the adoptee cannot be reached. We believe this encourages adoptees to call us as they will not be judged and they do not have to reveal personal illness and above all the welfare of the cats we adopt out. I believe it is successful as people have returned our cats for different reasons and then we put them up for adoption again. Every time that happened the next adoption for them was permanent. Seems like it was all for the best for all parties that the cat was returned.

  2. Dhyana says:

    The number one reason people are denied is failure to provide vet care on their previous pets.
    That is the ultimate definition of the home being offered.

  3. Robbie Lopez says:

    I have seen posts on per websites where the owner dies for one reason or another and the pet or pets are left homeless.Often other family members are unable to take them or will not due to living circumstances ect.People buy life insurance to provide for their family, why not their pets?

  4. Suzanne says:

    We have had “comfort animal” placements even. Our first one, the adopter fully disclosed immediately and offered a letter from a doctor affirming she was fit to care for a child or animal if she chose to adopt. We keep in close contact and often receive and post pics or her and Her preciously loved kitty.

    We also adopted to a family for the kitty to be a beloved pet of an autistic boy who will always live with and have support of his mother. This was a match made in HEAVEN.

    BUT in both cases, the very strictly regimented screening we do was passed just like any other adoption. And yes, they have the offer to return the kitty to us in a time of need.

    But do I regret or think “maybe I should’ve”, hell no… these kitties are so loved, pampered, cared for, needed, healthy and most importantly HAPPY. We are free to visit and we are blessed to have these folks to have touched our lives. AND this is just the first TWO we approved in our comfort animal program…. we are working with nursing homes where the kitty remains ours and we will supply the food, litter, vet care, etc. and the residents get to have the kitty lovings that make them happy!

  5. Health is relevant. I adopted my daughter from Russia 16 years ago. I have type 1 diabetes which is not caused by lifestyle. 85% of diabetes type 2 which has clear hereditary and lifestyle factors. When I adopted my agency also allowed a family to adopt four children together. The couple was described as very affluent, the father spoke fluent Russian and they had a large house and basically checked all the boxes for an adoptive family. I was a single woman with a chronic disease that I had since childhood . In the years following the adoptions the other family went bankrupt and had numerous problems resulting in disrupted adoptions. The agency often discussed that family and my situation saying that the other family looked perfect on paper and failed miserably whereas, and my situation my daughter was severely delayed and not expected to graduate from high school. Years later, she attends college and is a safe driver. Each case needs to be looked at individually when doing a pet adoption. Someone who wants a cat badly enough can still go to the store or animal control and even lie on an application and get a pack or just take one from the neighborhood. Responsible rescue involves doing some research by asking important questions and checking out the answers by calling veterinarians and probably doing home checks. Micro chipping an animal and offering in the adoption contract to take the animal back can be helpful. The reality is once someone adopts an animal rescue has very little control over what happens. I always feel a part of my heart is connected to all the animals that enter my house. I could never give a cat or dog to a person that I did not check it out. If the person has health conditions to concern me I would ask for their back up plans. Healthy people that want to adopt also need to have plans in the event of a catastrophe. Good discussion topic. Also, I have one comment to make about diabetes which includes both type one and type two. It is a psycho social spiritual condition with medical complications. People who take good care of themselves, eat healthily and get good exercise and medical care when needed can live healthy lives and avoid most of the deadly and debilitating conditions often seen in people with long standing diabetes.

  6. Dhyana says:

    It is absolutely no business of any non medical person or non treating or practicing physician to inquire about health status. It is our duty to ask what type of pet parent they will be and seek vet references but asking how healthy an adopter is a violation. Not to mention off putting to rescue as a whole. Cats are hard enough to place without judgement and insults.

  7. Anne says:

    This is the first comment I made.
    It keeps flitting between your page avg Facepoop.

    I feel like this is directed at me. But then should children be removed from homes where a parent is terminal?

    Or should employers have the right to terminate ill or potentially ill workers?

    Let’s practice euthanasia from birth based on genetic testing.

  8. Suzanne Melton says:

    Discrimination PERIOD-

    you are legally not allowe.d to ask about health in many Situations

  9. Elisa Black-Taylor says:

    This article is also recommended reading that got a lot of debate and comments.

  10. Anne says:

    But there’s also the parent in an accident. Unforeseen by genetics. Remove children and pets. Not allowed to work at a meaningful job.

    Why not just euth anyone in an accident?

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