Do cat shelters deliberately underestimate cats’ ages?

I wonder whether shelter staff deliberately underestimate the ages of the cats in their care to assist rehoming.

Do shelter staff underestimate cat ages

Do shelter staff underestimate cat ages?

On Facebook, Elisa Black-Taylor tells us of several occasions when she has fostered/adopted cats from her local shelter, Greenville County Pet Rescue, when the age of the cat has been underestimated by such a margin as to make me believe it is deliberate. I am speculating of course. However, it would make sense if the shelter were stating that the cat was much younger than the true age because younger cats are more ‘marketable’. We all know that.

Some examples referred to by Elisa are:

  • Lily said to be 3. Actual age about 6
  • Tom said to be 2. Actual age about 11
  • Coral said to be 5. Actual age around 10 according to vet
  • Sealy said to be 2. Actual age around 11 according to vet
  • ‘we’ve adopted several who were said to be 3 and were older than 9’

We know working out a cat’s age can be tricky but there are good signs of age such as the condition of the teeth, the color of the iris of the eyes, spots in the iris, belly flab/flap, condition of the coat, grey hairs, activity levels, overall appearance (cats do show there are in a general appearance). Good age estimates are based on a bundle of factors not a single one such as teeth condition. The condition of the teeth might mislead, in fact. How teeth age is partly genetic and partly environment. There are wide variations.

I’d have thought a good estimate of a cat’s age would be ±3 years. We should be able to estimate within about a 3 year band. Also I’d say that appearance differences are more pronounced over the first and last 4 years. It is the middle years which are more confusing.

Perhaps I am being to tough on the cat shelter. Perhaps the errors are genuine but the disparity in the guesstimated and the true ages for Coral and Tom seem to be too great to believe they were errors. However, vets are better or should be better than shelter staff in assessing cat’s age. Perhaps the shelter staff are not very knowledgeable about cats. I am sure that they have decent knowledge but assessing age requires quite a lot of skill.

The FB page referred to.

FB comments (see below)
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Michael is retired! He retired at age 57 and at Aug 2018 is approaching 70. He worked in many jobs. The last job he did was as a solicitor practicing general law. He loves animals and is passionate about animal welfare. He also loves photography and nature. He hates animal abuse. He has owned and managed this site since 2007. There are around 13k pages so please use the custom search facility!


Do cat shelters deliberately underestimate cats’ ages? — 23 Comments

  1. This only reflects the over-saturation of cat-populations and that people who promote cats will lie and deceive and do everything in their power to dump unwanted cats no matter how they have to do that, even at the expense of their own credibility. Simple as that. Why is it that everyone on earth but you can see that? I, and millions of others, strongly suspect that it is the T. gondii worms in their brains that prevent them from seeing what all others see and now know.

  2. Not even vets are experts when determining the age of any cat or dog. Their education is broad based and not specific for anything.
    Like everything else, it is up to us to educate ourselves.
    How many of us would consider adopting what we are told was a “child” who had grey hair, wrinkles, was toothless, and talked about bread costing 5 cents?
    If we believe that a shelter is lying to us, why don’t we confront?
    How stupid can we be? Actually, how stupid do these shelters think that we are?

    • Not even vets are experts when determining the age of any cat or dog.

      Agreed completely. Vets have a broad-based knowledge. These days I find myself arguing with them. They are not used to a client disagreeing with them and having an opinion. Most clients accept all that they say with due deference.

  3. We were shocked to learn how old Coral is. She had to be put on the same food as Sealy as she was starting to look a bit older and we didn’t want her losing weight. Gizzy also has that old kitty look to her. Most people take the word of the place they got the cat and don’t even think to ask the vet.

    • Elisa, I am sure you queried in your mind their ages at the time you took them in. Because the ages as stated were quite a long way out. Perhaps in the age range 3-9 it is difficult to see a difference.

      • We pretty much knew Sealy and Gizzy were older than the shelter said. But back when we began saving cats we were clueless and thought the shelter was an expert at giving the correct age. Most people who adopt probably feel the same way. Sealy way a dead giveaway because I don’t know of any 2 year old toothless cats. Gizzy had a little old lady cat butt and that told us she was older. Tom just looked like a big neutered male.

        • If you knew that they were old cats, why didn’t you confront?
          That would have been very news worthy. I love exposures.
          You can still do it. Rock their world!

            • I guess that I don’t understand what editing control means.
              The article you refer to doesn’t have anything to do with the shelter’s deliberate deception about cat ages.
              Gosh, you have an opportunity to blast them wide open. Do you have to suck up to them for some reason?
              I’m lost.

              • Lawsuits. I’ve been warned by them in the past that I’d better have hard proof. I had a distemper death a few years ago where a vet stated that as cause of death. Shelter said I’d better have necropsy results before I wrote. For a vet to say a cat is a certain age is just an opinion just as their vet gave an opinion. To have article control means its a topic I may need to go back in and amend. I can’t do that at PoC. Michael hasn’t found a way for me to do that yet. I also was very hurt by Leah on some of my choices so won’t write gory ones. I gave Michael the zombie cat idea. I do have a great rescue article for Thursday ready to submit.

        • I guess you just went along with it. There is no point arguing about it. It does make a difference through if a cat is 11-years-of-age rather than 5, for example, because at 11 there is likely to be more health problems. More hassle, worry and expense.

  4. I think that it’s possible that a few shelters (non-kill) may underestimate a cats age in order to boost adoptions. Some of it may be deliberate; some may just be out of ignorance.
    I pretty much see just the opposite with the county kill shelters that I’m familiar with. If the staff can’t find or manufacture a medical issue to justify killing, they usually deem a cat too old to be adoptable.

  5. And that was almost 3 years ago on Sealy. He’ll be 14 and we celebrate his birthday in July. February 24 will be 3 years with us!

  6. I really believe they have so many cats to process that they determine all adults to be 2 or 3 years old unless the person turning them tells them otherwise. I still haven’t heard whether that is Lily but all of my friends think it is. She went to the adoption floor either late 2011 or early 2012. We were evaluating what type of home each cat should have and Lily needed quiet. More than 25 of our cats were adopted out after we fostered them until a space became available.

    • It is definitely Lily judging by the photos. I am surprised they default to 2-3 years of age. That is poor to be totally honest. It takes about 3 mins to work out an age.

      I am pleased you are so successful as a fosterer. I am a failure!

      • That’s why all the accusations made against us hurt so much. We had another round of cats set to go to Greenville in 2012 when my car tore up and we couldn’t make the three four round trip. Hoarders don’t send their cats to an adoption floor. Craigslist is dangerous and the newspaper freebies was a bad experience and you’ll see from my next article where rescues may offer help but in reality they’re too full to help anyone.

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