Why should I avoid adopting a traumatized cat?

Difficult Persian when adopted became loving and relaxed with tender loving care
See Michele’s story on this page. Pictures by Michele Russell.

You shouldn’t avoid adopting a traumatised cat and the question in the title begs many more questions such as:

  • Who says the cat in question is traumatised?
  • What evidence is there that the cat is traumatised?
  • Is this a shelter cat and is the shelter saying that the cat is traumatised?
  • Is the owner of the cat saying that the cat is traumatised?
  • How do you recognise that a cat is traumatised?
  • Is it possible to rehabilitate a traumatised cat?

Those are just some of the questions I would ask. There will be more. Sometimes shelter cats can be labelled traumatised not because they are traumatised but because they are currently living in a shelter which is traumatic to them. They are agitated. Remove them from the shelter and put them with a foster carer and they start flowering.

They soon might no longer appear to be traumatised. They start to behave like one would expect a domestic cat to behave. That is one example of how labelling a cat as ‘traumatised’ can be dangerously misleading because in shelters “bad cat behaviour” can spell death.

RELATED: Gentling shelter cats

You can’t assess a domestic cat on how they behave at a shelter as the facility will often if not nearly always provoke fear, anxiety and in some cats defensive behaviour which in turn can lead to aggression and scratching.

Or perhaps an owner tells a neighbour that they want to give up their cat because he’s been traumatised and behaving badly. It may be that the owner themselves is traumatising their cat because of a failure to provide an adequate environment in which to live. Sometimes people are blind to the requirements of domestic cats.

Sometimes a cat might be genuinely traumatised, perhaps because they’ve been involved in a road traffic accident or been abused but this kind of traumatic event does not, in my view, normally imprint on the cat’s brain. They’ll often forget and move on. Cats are resilient.

And cats don’t usually harbour grudges like people. They will forget and they can be rehabilitated with tender loving care in a good environment. If a cat comes to a person who is a good cat caregiver and they are timid and fearful because of poor experiences in the past, the new caregiver can bring the best out of that cat. They nearly always will. The genuine mentally ill cat will be exceedingly rare. I’m not even sure they exist. And then you can resort, if you have to, with veterinary advice, to tranquilizing drugs of some sort but those are very much a last resort.

RELATED: Gabapentin substantially improves adoption rate of shelter cats rescued from a hoarding environment

And another point: there is a wonderful reward to take in a cat who might have been traumatised to a certain extent and to turn them into a loving, whole, friendly companion again. The rewards are immense.


I’ve always thought that and it’s been confirmed by a story on social media from Michele Russell who happily declares that she has been owned by cats all her life.

She says that it is the traumatised cats that need to be adopted the most. She adopted an 11-year-old Persian who didn’t like people (see photos at top of page). She doesn’t say where she adopted him from but probably a rescue center, to where he had been relinquished. She does say that he had been surrendered three times over his 11-year lifespan. Persians give the impression that they are laid back but they are a nervous breed. It does not surprise me that he was difficult. I’m sure it was because he had one bad owner after not being properly socialised and subsequent owners failed to deal with this and gave up. This cat may have been the product of a poor cat breeder.

She agrees that she had to work on a socialising him and improving his behaviour and she put him on a strict diet because he had digestive issues causing vomiting. And being a Persian, he has long hair as you can see in the photograph but he failed to groom himself perhaps because he was so pissed off with humankind! She had to groom him.

And, as predicted, she gradually teased out of him his true character and he became a “wonderful boy who is funny and quirky. He no longer needs a special diet because his anxiety issues are resolved. He’s in his forever home and knows he’s loved.”

After seven months she confirmed that “he is an absolute sweetheart. With a unique and amazing personality who grooms himself impeccably and pulls your hand with his paws for pats and chin scratches.”

She was told that her Persian didn’t get on with other animals but she decided to take in her sister’s cat when she died. She was hesitant she said but they got along famously! There you are. The kind of story I like and one which tells all that you should never listen to anybody who says that you should avoid a traumatised cat. Ask those questions and then adopt him.

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What can I do about my cat’s flatulence?

The crude word for flatulence is “farting”. I guess you know that. But these articles are written for an international market. The website is seen in 86% of the world’s countries. I have to make sure that people all over the globe understand what I am saying. Technically it is referred to as ‘flatus’ or the passing of gas.

But the point about feline flatulence is that it can be embarrassing or distressing for owners. So, what causes it?

Feline flatulence can be caused by allowing your cat to drink cow's milk
Feline flatulence can be caused by allowing your cat to drink cow’s milk. Image: MikeB

Overall advice

A change in your cat’s diet may correct the problem. If not consult your veterinarian. PLEASE READ ON for some details.

Fermentable foods

It’s caused by eating highly fermentable foods. These might include beans, cauliflower, cabbage and soybeans. I don’t see cats eating these foods very often or at all unless something has gone very wrong in the human-to-cat relationship.

Cow’s milk

But there is a cat food product which is very likely to be the cause: cow’s milk. In humans, cow’s milk causes bloating and therefore farting. This is because a lot of people are lactose intolerant. The same applies to domestic cats.

It is a shame that we still see so many photographs of domestic cats drinking milk because their kind and considerate owner thinks that they’ll enjoy it. They do enjoy milk because it contains lots of fat but it is not a good idea to give your cat cow’s milk.

In an earlier post (link) I said that “All domestic cats beyond the age of weaning are lactose intolerant”. Kittens’ intestines produce lactase; the enzyme that digests lactose. This capacity declines from birth to weaning and without lactase, lactose is not digested. The default position is that adult cats are lactose intolerant and should not be fed standard milk.

Plain water is best or one of the commercially prepared cat milks. To the water you can add a little bit of oral health medication which is available online. If you are providing milk I’d change immediately.

RELATED: Cat Relinquishment Because of Flatulence! Ironic that cats are sometimes abandoned for flatulence when the problem is likely to be caused by the cat’s owner!

Malabsorption syndrome

In addition to cow’s milk, diets high in carbohydrates and fibre contribute to flatulence. And flatulence also occurs with malabsorption which means the cat’s digestive system absorbs the digested food poorly. And this is related to incomplete digestion of carbohydrates. It may be due to malabsorption syndrome, a medical condition which occurs due to some underlying disorder of the small bowel, liver or the pancreas.

With this condition the cat doesn’t absorb the end product of digestion from the small intestine. The absorption of nutrients from the stomach into the bloodstream requires digestive enzymes and a healthy bowel lining.

When there is a failure to absorb food, it leads to sloppy, unformed stools containing lots of fat. This may be the problem and a veterinarian’s advice is required. The treatment will depend upon the underlying cause which may be pancreatic disease. Cats with malabsorption syndrome should be on a low-fat diet. Suitable home-made diets might include boiled chicken or lamb with supplements as directed by veterinary nutritionist.

You can also buy prescription diets such as Hill’s Science Diet i/d.

The treatment for flatulence after ruling out malabsorption syndrome is to change the cat’s diet to make sure that it is highly digestible, low in fibre and the caregiver should avoid treats which may promote flatulence.

The cat owner might consider switching to a commercially prepared cat food that is highly digestible such as the one mentioned above or a diet for food allergy or food intolerance. You will also find prescription diets that such as hypoallergenic dry cat foods.

Gulping air

Another possible cause is gulping air while feeding. This can be moderated by free-feeding to help prevent greedy eating and gulping air. This wouldn’t work for an obese cat because you don’t want them to eat all they want to eat. You’ve got to control the amount that they eat.

Medicine

My reference work on veterinary medicine, tells me that a “medication combined with simethicone and activated charcoal (Flatulex) is available for people and can be used in cats”. This medication should not be given to cats with liver or kidney problems.

Obesity

Finally, obese cats are more likely to have flatulence and therefore the obvious answer is to reduce their weight through careful dieting and for their cat to remain on that new diet for the rest of their lives.

Note: Reference book: Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook Third Edition.

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Cats strike back against tiresome, disrespectful toddlers!

It had to come. Cats can take so much disrespect and mishandling. They’ve reached breaking point. Enough is enough. Bam. Splat. Take that! Pesky little kids. Leave me in peace.

These are the possible thoughts of the cats in the video. That said, there are many great relationships between cats and toddlers. And I like to see it. It is always a good start in life for a child to love a companion animal. It is so important for animal welfare going forward. And the general consensus is that it is good for a child in terms of building up a resistance to allergens.

I am having a bit of fun but sadly there is a serious side, which actually might be so serious that the child’s mom takes their family cat to the local shelter to say goodbye, which in turn might spell the end of the cat if they aren’t adopted. What if the cat is a 10-year-old blackie? No one wants to adopt them.

Every instance of a cat striking back as seen in the video is potentially an example of ‘problem cat behavior’ if the child’s mom sees it that way. They don’t always. But if their child is getting scratched and the child consistently manhandles the family cat it’d unsurprising if the cat is given up to protect the child. Scratches can lead to cat scratch fever and bacterial infections. They can be nothing or something quite serious.

The table below shows you the reasons given by owners for the relinquishment of their cats to Blue Cross shelters (3,021 cats). Source: The Welfare of Cats – Behavior Problems and Welfare by SE Heath page 93.

Reason for relinquishmentPercent of cats
Stray/abandoned29
Change in owner circumstances14
Owner moving13
*Problem behavior*11
Can’t cope8
Allergy/asthma7
Unwanted litter4
Financial problems2
Not allowed to keep1
Feral1
Other10

Parenting

It comes down to parenting, right? I realise it must be hard to supervise babies and toddlers all the time and to take time to train the kids but it boils down to that. And the younger they are taught about cat behaviour and respecting the cat the better as it will probably stick all their lives and they’ll be great cat caregivers. And maybe in animal advocates. God willing. The world needs more animal advocates as there is still a long way to go before humankind has a half-decent relationship with animals generally.

In order to instruct and train toddlers on cat handling the mom and dad need to understand cats. That’s a big one. This website has thousands of pages on cat behavior by the way.


Also, 7.5 percent of cat relinquishments to Cats Protection in the UK were for ‘problem behavior’. These stats translate to quite big numbers. Most instances (all instances?) of bad cat behavior can be avoided with good, sensible cat caregiving based on a solid understanding of cat behavior.

According to the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC) in the UK 23% of referrals to them occurred because of ‘aggression towards people’. Pretty well all examples of feline aggression towards people can be avoided by people through judicious human behavior on the back of a good knowledge of feline behavior.

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When it is time to admit failure and rehome your cat

There is a woman on the mumsnet.com website who is completely at the end of her tether. She hates the cat that she adopted. She had waited all her life to adopt a cat of her own. When she finally bought her own one-bedroomed flat on the second floo she adopted an older male cat. It has been a horrible failure for the pair of them.

Old male cat screams all the time when living in a one-bedroom apartment and the female owner is at the end of her tether
Old male cat screams all the time when living in a one-bedroom apartment and the female owner is at the end of her tether. The cat should be rehomed in my opinion. The image was created by a computer.

This is what she says about her cat’s behaviour:

“I knew that by getting an old cat he may have some issues, but this has so far surpassed anything. Since he arrived, all he has done is scream. He is so loud it is impossible to take calls at home, watch tv and most importantly sleep. Every night for the last two months, he has started screaming at 3am and not finished screaming until 6am. Ear plugs don’t work, and it’s a one bed flat so I can hear him everywhere. My neighbours can hear him. He is extremely loud and it is endless. Nothing will stop him I have tried everything to get him to stop. AIBU (Am I being unreasonable) to wish I’d just never got him and to hate him. I feel like the worse person on Earth.”

There is more but the general tenor is that she has tried everything to solve this problem without success. Her cat screams very loudly all the time and she’s losing sleep and is lost as to what to do. She’s been to the veterinarian three times about his behavior. People have given advice about it and some suggest that her cat might have dementia.

The cat might have mental health problems. He may have had a stroke but I doubt it. He may be in permanent pain but the vet apparently didn’t diagnose anything in particular and therefore we have to do conclude that it is the environment in which he is living which is disturbing him.

Firstly, I sense that the problem is that he is confined to a one-bedroom flat on the second floor and historically he is an indoor/outdoor cat. We don’t know that but I sense that this is what has happened. And he is irritating his owner which may be provoking her to lose her cool which exacerbates the stress that the cat is experiencing. It is a vicious circle I feel. And we don’t know if the cat is left alone all day. If he is that’ll make things worse too.

Apparently when he was fostered, he was an indoor cat but I still believe my assessment is correct.

There is no doubt in my mind that he has to be rehomed with a person who doesn’t have any other cats and where he is allowed to go outside at will unsupervised despite the risks that that entails.

He needs his freedom and he is screaming for it. She does take him out to the garden. She carries him there but he doesn’t like it. She has tried giving him the outside experience but I sense that it is not really workable for her living in an apartment. It’s not practical and it doesn’t give him that true freedom he desires in order to find his raw cat mojo. Certainly, rehoming is a box that has to be ticked and if he still screams when given all the freedom that he wants then they can say that he has mental health problems if he is physically well.

I could be wrong but I strongly sense when he is free outside alone on the grass in the countryside he won’t be screaming there. He’ll be quiet. He’ll be observant and he will be hunting, free at last.

The only other alternative is to dose him up with tranquilizers which you can do with cats. A veterinarian could prescribe tranquilizers just like prescribing tranquilizers to people. Don’t try it yourself as the dosage is critical. But that would calm him down completely. It would turn him into a zombie I suspect and he wouldn’t scream any more. But what’s the point?

Note: there is one last point made by Tamara – see comment. He might need a companion whose there for him all the time. The woman in question may be out a lot. Although I sense there has been a breakdown in the relationship between cat and human.

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42,000 people asked the Dogs Trust to rehome their pets (UK 2022)

NEWS AND COMMENT: Apparently, British owners can no longer feed their dogs because they are giving them up to shelters at a record rate. According to research for the ITV programme Tonight, as reported in The Times newspaper, about 42,000 people asked the Dogs Trust to rehome their pets this year as they can no longer afford to feed them or pay veterinarian bills.

Dogs Trust rescue dog
Dogs Trust rescue dog. This is five-month-old terrier-cross Max who was brought to the centre after being abandoned at the vets with a fractured elbow. The owner could not afford the vet’s bill. Image: Dogs Trust.

The number of relinquishments is up almost 50% on the same period last year. The Blue Cross Animal Hospital in Grimsey has opened a pet food bank for residents.

Amanda Sands, the centre manager at Dogs Trust Leeds said, as reported by The Guardian newspaper:

“There’s people bringing in their dogs that at one time would’ve said: ‘I will never give my dog up.’ And they meant it. And now they’re faced with the situation where they have no choice. To have to say goodbye to your friend, it’s unbearable. It’s unthinkable.”

She paints a very gloomy picture. ITV’s Tonight programme features, as I understand it, a survey by the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes in conjunction with ITV of more than 50 animal shelters across the country. They were investigating as to how cat and dog owners had reacted to the cost of living crisis.

They concluded that 92% of shelters were seeing more people who wanted to hand over their dog compared to the rate of relinquishments at pre-pandemic levels. With respect to cats, 88% of shelters were seeing more people who wanted to give up their cat compared to pre-pandemic levels. Note: A contributing cause is the high level of impulse purchases of trendy dogs during the pandemic lockdowns. There is no need for the high levels of surrenders. More common sense is required and self-discipline. I know I sound boring but it’s true.

More than half the shelters were planning to set up pet food banks. About 30% were thinking of providing low-cost or free veterinary care services.

Separately, the RSPCA reported a 24% increase in pets being rehomed in 2022 compared to last year as I understand it. They claim that their shelters are ‘drowning in animals’.

The Blue Cross Animal Hospital in Grimsey reports that about 75 families use their pet food bank every week.

One dog owner, Mark, who lives with a Staffordshire bull terrier says that he saves £60 a month on food by using a pet food bank! The high cost is because is dog requires specialist food apparently.

Comment: I don’t want to sound particularly negative, but I do want to sound realistic. People should not adopt a companion animal unless they are able with certainty to provide for that animal throughout their life come what may. Only in the most severe circumstances should they give up the animal to a shelter. My gut feeling is that too many people adopt cats and dogs on an impulse without planning a budget to ensure that they can cope financially with good animal caregiving including good food and vet’s bills.

Family finances should be geared up to deal with crises. Not enough people save for a rainy day. This is an old-fashioned concept. The trend nowadays is to spend all of your income. Wrong. Bad. As they say ‘sh*t happens!’ You have to be able to deal with the unexpected and that means saving money. And if your income is insufficient to save you need to cut your overheads.

Neither do I want to sound insensitive, but the same argument applies to having children. If you can’t afford to have kids don’t have them. Don’t plan to rely on the state to fund their parenting. In the UK, too many people do. It has become a sloppy, careless and in general lazy country.

The root is this current problem is not the cost-of-living crisis but sloppy budgeting by families.

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Why do people abandon their cats in the USA?

To answer the question in the title I am going to rely on a very substantial survey from the United States conducted in the late 1990s from the Regional Shelter Relinquishment Survey Study. It was a team effort between the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy and researchers at four American veterinary colleges: Colorado State University, Cornell University, the University of California and the University of Tennessee.

Sibling sisters abandoned outside a rescue center
Sibling sisters, Cloud and Sky, abandoned outside a rescue center. Photo: Heavenly Creatures, NL, Canada.

The study

It was conducted by a group of scientists led by Salman and published in 1998 according to my source which is PH Kass in his contribution entitled Cat Overpopulation in the United States as published in The Welfare of Cats, an excellent book, edited by Irene Rochlitz. That is a very lengthy introduction but I wanted to get the referencing absolutely correct.

Spreadsheet listing the reasons for relinquishment to shelters in the USA

The spreadsheet below lists in descending order the reasons given by owners for the relinquishment of their cats to animal shelters. The percentages refer to the number of individual reasons for relinquishment divided by the total number of reasons for relinquishment.

I would like to add some words. PH Kass tells us that “the most common classes of explanations for relinquishment of cats were issues related to human lifestyle” i.e. health and personal issues. These caused 35% of the relinquishments (abandonments). Issues relating to human housing represented 26% of the reasons, cat behavioural problems but not including aggression towards animals or people represented 21% of the reasons, the household animal population (15%), owner preparation for and expectation of pet ownership (50%), request for euthanasia for reasons unrelated to age and illness (12%). There were other classes of explanations but they were less frequently reported.

The reason why people abandon purebred cats

Type of cat given up

The characteristics of the cats surrendered to shelters were checked out. Only 8% of the cats abandon to shelters were kittens, 40% were in the age range five months to 3 years, 23% were between 3-8 years and 14% were older than eight years (age was unreported on 16% of cats).

Male or female, sterilised or not

A higher percentage of female cats (59%) were relinquished compared to male cats. About half the cats were sterilised and about half were not sterilised (I find that statistic extraordinary). This may explain why cats are relinquished because they are unsterilised.

Is abandoning a cat illegal?

Purebred or random-bred, indoor cats

Almost 93% were non-purebred cats. About 83% of the cats hardly ever went outdoors or never went outdoors. They were essentially full-time indoor cats.

Adoption sources

The cats were adopted from a variety of sources. The main source of adoption was a friend who previously owned a cat (33%), a stray cat (23%), an animal shelter (14%) and the offspring of the owner’s pet at 9% of occasions.

Length of ownership

The cats were cared for by their owner before they were abandoned to a shelter between 7-12 months (30% of respondents), more than five years (19%), between 2-5 years (15%), 1-2 years (16%). Only 5% owned their cats for less than seven months and in 15% of cases the length of ownership was unreported.

FIV cat Joey
FIV cat Joey was abandoned by his owner (Kari Coble)

Barney a relinquished cat
Barney a relinquished cat

Some Comments

I would just like to make one or two comments about the study’s findings. You will note that “too many cats in the home” as the number one reason. This points to multi-cat homes and hoarding which is a stage beyond multi-cat homes. Obviously, this points to human carelessness and bearing in mind that about 50% of the cats abandoned were unsterilised you can see the connection. Human carelessness leads to not sterilising cats. This leads to procreation which leads to unwanted cats over time.

Being someone cynical, I would suggest that if a person abandons their cat to a shelter, one reason that they may give in order to avoid embarrassment is that they are allergic to cats. “Moving home” is another at least potential excuse and not the real reason.

The story behind all of these reasons is human behaviour. I think that harsh point needs to be made. If you analysed each reason, you would trace the ultimate cause back to human behaviour in every instance.

I expect the reasons that exist in America to be similar to other countries in the developed world.

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Cat hoarding up and feral cat numbers up USA

I am going to combine two news items in this post. One comes from PETA and the other from news media. PETA states that animal shelters are turning their backs on cats which is leading to more cases of cat hoarding. They say that shelters are turning away cats because they are under pressure to become no-kill which means they can’t make space in the shelter by euthanising cats. They run out of space and therefore turn away cats. That’s the argument. PETA prefer cats to be euthanised which is controlled killing rather than allowing cats to be abandoned and dying in a cruel way.

PETA also state that cat hoarders pose as cat rescuers. I have known this for many years. They tend to operate on social media, particularly Facebook presenting to the world that they are concerned about cat welfare. While they do this they harm cats through their hoarding leading to neglect. Sometimes the neglect leads to starvation and death. It is quite horrible. PETA referred to a California woman who described herself as a “rescuer of stray cats”. She was a hoarder and has been charged with felony cruelty to animals. You can imagine the conditions and the abuse so I won’t describe it. This case would not be unusual.

Cat hoarding cat in cage with no water or food
Cat hoarding cat in cage with no water or food. Photo: PETA.

PETA also state that some state legislations have tried to legalise cat abandonment and strip cats of legal protection. They refer to a bill going through the Virginia legislature, Senate Bill 1390. They argue that the bill, “would have effectively allowed municipalities, groups, and individuals to abandon cats outdoors without providing them with any care.”

There have been several news media accounts of an increase in feral cats in America. They argue this is due to veterinary services not providing discount spaying and neutering services in the usual way due to the coronavirus pandemic. This has led to feral cats procreating more than usual, leading to more feral cats. One news media website say that the feral cat population on Long Island has seen a jump during the pandemic for this reason.

It is possible, too – although I have not seen this mentioned news media – that volunteers who run TNR programs may have been reluctant to continue their work during the pandemic for social distancing reasons. It depends how risk-averse they are. Although the work of running TNR programs is, I would argue, relatively safe in terms of contracting Covid-19 because the work is outside and the volunteers can remain socially distanced.

TNR should continue during the coronavirus crisis
TNR should continue during the coronavirus crisis. Collage: PoC. Pic: Humane Soc.

Another factor, perhaps a minor one, is that there may have been some cat abandonments during the Covid-19 pandemic because of the fear of contracting the disease from their pets. And there may be financial issues due to unemployment leading to abandonment of pets. These cats may become feral. Some of them might not be neutered which would make them a source of future feral cats, at least potentially.

The Grand Forks Herald reports that the pandemic has resulted in reduced animal-control efforts at a time when “Covid-stressed pet owners began to dump unwanted cats on street corners.”

They refer to Christine Gruber who monitors six feral cat colonies in the Dayton’s Bluff area of St Paul, who said that she cannot keep pace with the “rising tide of unadoptable cats.”

Gruber said, “It’s becoming harder for me to even make a dent.”

They say that the animal welfare system is a casualty of the pandemic. Once again they refer to a shutdown of clinics performing spaying and neutering operation. In addition 66 cat-rescue groups were forced to shut down. The Animal Humane Society permanently closed its shelter in St Paul. They suspended importing pets from other states.

However, Minnesotans are looking to adopt more frequently. In the UK this has happened as well and dogs are preferred over cats. In Minnesota it is said that nonprofits suspended the mobile spay/neuter vans serving the areas of low income communities. This forced them to pay $350 for spaying a cat. They couldn’t afford it because they had their own problems due to the pandemic. This resulted in cats being dumped.

The founder of the cat-rescue group SCRAM, Laura Johnson, said that feral cat colonies were growing statewide in Minnesota and that there are thousands of cats near Pine City which is about 60 miles north of the metro area.

Conclusion: I won’t go on but the clear impression is that the ‘feral cat problem’ has increased during the coronavirus pandemic for the reasons mentioned above. This is very sad because a lot of very good people have spent a lot of time and effort in doing their best to reduce feral cat numbers in many communities across the US. The problem of cat hoarding is a perennial one. It is not going away. The local authorities need to come up with solutions to deal with the problem at the root. It comes down to mental health issues and education in combination with in excess of cats which are readily available to people predisposed to hoarding.

Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.

Information about people giving up their shelter-adopted cats

It goes without saying that not all adoptions of cats from animal and cat shelters results in a long-term relationship. At the heart of the failures is the lack of a solid emotional attachment between person and cat. And behind that it may be fair to say that there is a need to educate some people on the importance of adopting a cat for the lifetime of the cat; as a duty and as an obligation. The moment you adopt a cat there has to be a commitment to look after them for their lifetime. The moment of adoption is a big one. It cannot be entered into casually and in a self-indulgent manner. This, I would argue. is at the root of people giving up their shelter-adopted cats.

Picture of happy boy and content cat just after adoption
Picture of happy boy and content cat just after adoption. Photo in public domain.

Men versus women and parents versus non-parents

But what specifically can we see in the information on this topic through studies? A study in 1992 revealed some factors which separates the successes from the failures. They followed up on 161 owners who had adopted cats from a shelter.

They found that 53% of the adopters were women and 35% were men. I am unable to find out the status of the remaining 12%! They also found that a higher percentage of men than women did not keep their cat for longer than six months. The same conclusion was drawn with respect to parents compared to non-parents. This means that when an adopter is a parent they are less likely to keep their rescue cat.

I think I will comment on this information right away. It’s no surprise that women will be the major motivators to adopting from shelters and will be more involved in the process. Perhaps to, it is not a surprise that men are more likely to give up their cat. This might be because they are more ambivalent about domestic cats and therefore less committed to the adoption. Or perhaps they find themselves to be too busy in their work but the same could be said about women in that regard.

Cat and dog couple surrendered and adopted
Photo: MSPCA Adoption Center in Jamaica Plain.

As for parents and non-parents, once again it doesn’t surprise me because children in homes are a potential source of problems in respect of cat caretaking because children can be harmed by cats through mishandling them. The parents might believe that their cat is aggressive and difficult and so they give them back to the shelter. This is more about parenting and teaching children how to behave around cats but the perception is of an aggressive animal. Also, this is an issue of expectation-management. When people adopt a cat from a shelter that they must be fully educated and cognisant of what it is going to be like looking after a cat for many years.

First timers

First time adopters are more likely to give up their cat than individuals who have previously owned pets. The rejection rate for the former is 62% while for the latter it is 38%. This is a significant difference which is probably due to education. Looking after a cat educates you in cat behaviour and the demands and obligations placed upon you. This prepares you for the adoption. First timers will sometimes discover that they are unsuited to the task.

People who rejected their adopted cat were on average younger than those who retain them beyond six months.

Adopting from veterinarians

In a second study adopting from veterinarians was analysed. They discovered that people were more likely to retain their cat when adopting from a veterinarian compared to a shelter. The average age of those rejecting their cat was about eight years lower than those who kept them. Further, the average age of people adopting from a veterinarian was about seven years older than shelter adopters.

Police promote adoption of cats at Humane Society of Central Texas
Police promote adoption of cats at Humane Society of Central Texas. Photo: the Humane Society

And, when cats were relinquished after adopting from a veterinarian they were kept for a longer period of time; on average about six months following acquisition compared to shelter adopters who gave up their cat within two months.

The relative success of adopting from veterinarians is put down to the advantage they have in receivin advice from a knowledgeable person, which improves their expectations and understanding of the process of looking after a companion animal. Also, a veterinarian would stress the need to adopt for the life of the pet. This highlights the need for education in cat ownership.

Thanks: I am thankfully to P.H. Kass writing in The Welfare of Cats edited by Irene Rochlitz. This is a very fine book if you are interested in hard information and wise discussion on all aspects of cat welfare.

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