Categories: adoption

Factors affecting the success rate of shelter cat adoptions

Not all cat adoptions from animal shelters are successful. They don’t lead to a relationship for the lifespan of the cat. A study in 1992 by Kidd et al. tells us what sort of factors can influence the success or failure of an adoption from a shelter.

Factors affecting the success rate of shelter cat adoptions. Image: PoC.

In one study the scientists did a six month follow-up of 161 owners who had adopted cats from a shelter. Women adopted more cats than men from shelters. Fifty-three percent of adopters were women versus 35% of men.


Within the first six months of adopting a cat from a shelter it is more likely that a man will return the cat than a woman. Also, with respect to returning an adopted shelter cat within the first six months it is more likely that this will be done by first time adopters of cats (62% did this). Of people who had previously owned cats i.e. not first time adopters of cats, the rate of returning cats adopted from shelters was 38%. This is obviously significantly lower than the 62% mentioned above for first time adopters. My thought: the experience of owning a cat appears to have made a big difference in how the person adjusted to cat guardianship with respect to a new cat. This must go down to experience and knowing what to expect and how to deal with it.

Another factor which affected the outcome of a cat adoption from a shelter was the age of the adopter. Those that retained their new pet beyond six months were more likely to be older than those rejecting the new companion animal in that period.

Veterinarians in comparison

People who adopt from a veterinarian as opposed to from an animal shelter are more likely to retain the cat. Further, the average age of people adopting from veterinary clinics was seven years older than for shelter adopters. For those adopting from veterinarians “rejecting owners” were approximately eight years younger than non-rejecting owners. This supports the notion that younger adopters are more likely to return the cat which may also support the idea that first time adopters are also inclined to do the same thing (my thought).

Cat owners who relinquish cats to veterinarians as opposed to animal shelters were found to have retained their cat for an average of six months compared to an average of two months for people surrendering to shelters.

The conclusion was that veterinarians are more likely to provide realistic advice to first-time adopters with respect to pet care and training which imparted more realistic expectations on the adopter. It also educated the adopter on how to mitigate undesirable behaviour and importantly that adopting a pet should be for the life of the pet. No doubt veterinarians impress on adopters the need the commitment to cat guardianship. The intention in providing this superior advice would be to reduce the chances of the cat adoption being unsuccessful and the cat being returned.

16-year-old cat dropped off at a vet clinic to euthanize because owner was ‘done with her’

Professor Kass

My thanks to Prof Philip H Kass, DVM, PhD and a specialist in epidemiology at the School of veterinary medicine and the School of medicine at the University of California, Davis, California, USA.

Prof Kass writes that “Of all the issues affecting the welfare of companion animals in the United States, there can be none larger in scope, greater in magnitude, longer in duration and more worthy of disgrace than that of pet overpopulation”. He considers it deplorable that it is allowed to happen for so many years and that so many cats have been euthanised because of this overpopulation.

Personal experience

When I was doing fostering of cats from a local shelter I remember a young woman adopting a cat from me. He was a great tabby cat but he had a propensity towards sucking my finger as I recall. It appeared that he was weaned too early. Anyway, I was told at the woman handed the cat back to the shelter within six months. An example of many many reasons why adopters hand back their cat to a shelter although I don’t know if the reason was the sucking. All the other usual reasons must come out such as scratching and the independent nature of domestic cats and so on. Once again this is about the animal shelter educationing first-time adopters to ensure that they have realistic expectations. It is better for them not to adopt having heard what it’s like to adopt and fail, in my opinion.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in a many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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