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gray and white cat with green eyes

One of the heartbreaks of shelter work is watching an owner surrendering a loved cat.  Here are the main reasons why people choose to surrender their pets, and some ideas to try that may help you keep your companion with you.


This is the number one reason given for pet surrender in many shelters.  True, it is more difficult to find rental properties which accept pets, but, except for forcible eviction, most moving situations are not immediate, leaving plenty of time to find a pet-friendly alternative.  If you need extra time, see if a family member or friend will take your cat in as a temporary foster until you can find what you need.  Be considerate, though, set a time limit and communicate that limit to your friend.  Also, make sure your foster does not incur expenses to take care of your pet.  You should provide all food, toys, treats, and any necessary veterinary care. Should that not work, and if finances allow, see if you can board your feline for a week or two while you look.

You can search for pet-friendly apartments and home rentals here: 

or here: 

These are just two of the sites that have a pet-friendly filter – there are many more.

If you are in a position that moving (and renting) seems inevitable, don’t have more than two pets at any one time.  The more pets you have, the more likely you will have trouble finding someplace to live should you have to relocate.

Get a written reference from your current landlord.  Many of the restrictions against pets come from past experience with irresponsible owners allowing their pets to damage property.  If you can prove you’ve maintained the value of your rental, despite having pets, you’re much more likely to find a tolerant landlord.


This is often the first sign of a medical issue – ranging from kidney problems, to urinary infections, to diabetes.  Your first visit should be to the veterinarian to determine if the issue is medical.  If it is, your vet will be able to prescribe medication that will help with the problem.  Be aware, though, that if this has been going on for any amount of time, it may have already become a habit.  You’ll have to break the cycle before things will go back to normal.

If she’s healthy, this may be due to stress. Has there been a change in the house recently?  New baby, new cat or dog, someone moving in or out?  No, the cat isn’t doing it out of spite, but out of confusion.  Try putting him in a quiet place, away from any noise in the home for a few days, and see if this helps.

Some other reasons a cat may not be using the litter box:

  • There aren’t enough of them. The rule of thumb is one litter box per cat, plus an extra.  Cats won’t use a particularly dirty litter box, and they prefer one that has only their scent.
  • They aren’t located in enough areas of the home. There should be a minimum of one litter box per floor in your home.  Just as in real estate, it’s location, location, location.
  • Try a different kind of litter box. Some cats like the enclosed kind, some don’t.  And the ease of access is important to them, too.  Do a little experimenting and see which works best for your feline.
  • Change up your litter. Again, cats are particular creatures and may just be objecting to the texture of the litter.  Try another kind.
  • Bad experiences. If there are constant squabbles among your felines over the litter box, they may start to avoid the area.  This is another issue that’s easily resolved by adding more boxes.

Curious brown black and white kitten


I don’t have much sympathy with this one.  Spaying your female cat (and neutering your male) is a must for responsible pet ownership.  Female cats can give birth as early as six months old, and should be spayed when they reach five months at the very latest.  A skilled veterinarian with experience in performing feline spays can do the surgery quite safely at an even earlier age.

Spaying is essential for the health of your female cat, as well, preventing many cases of uterine infections and cancers.  As for males, neutering reduces spraying, and helps prevent prostate and testicular cancer.  There are tens of thousands of unwanted kittens in the world. We must do everything we can to stop the cycle.


Most areas in the country now have organizations which help defray some of the costs associated with these procedures.  Veterinary medicine is expensive, and getting more so every day, and these surgeries are no exception.  Check with your local Humane Society for options – some organizations will even provide transport for your kitty to and from a clinic that specializes in spaying and neutering.  Rest assured; you can’t do anything better for your cat.

According to statistics, only one cat in every 10 that is born will ever find a home.  The rest will be euthanized, or live their lives as part of a feral colony where disease and predators cut short their lifespans. Spaying and neutering is the first step to altering that statistic.

Gray kitten sitting on a blanket


If the cat that is being aggressive is one you have recently adopted, you may have little choice about returning her to the shelter.  Your first responsibility is to the cat that was in your home originally.  You don’t necessarily like everyone you meet – why expect a cat to?

However, if you’ve had both cats for a while and this suddenly becomes a problem, you may have to do some detective work to discover the cause.  Have there been changes in the household?  If the answer is no, then a trip to the vet is in order.  Cats who don’t feel well can become irritable, taking their misery out on their housemates.

Try a brief separation – allowing your cats to see each other without having to interact.  And, if aggression is a problem, ALWAYS make sure they’re safely apart when the house is empty.  You don’t want to come home to a tragedy.

If you adopted from a cat rescue, call them. Rescue members have tons of cumulative experience with cat behavior.  They’d much rather take the time to give you advice than to have your kitty returned to them.


This one’s a heartbreaker.  You’ve loved your pet and taken care of him, then you lose your job, or become ill, and the money’s just not there anymore.  There is help out there, though, if you know where to look.  Many humane societies run pet food banks to help people keep their pets.  Others have funds set up for vital veterinary care.  If your cat is ill, and you’ve been using the same veterinarian for a long time, talk to them about a payment plan.  The worst they can do is say “no”, and they often will if you’re brand-new to the practice, but sometimes you can work something out.

Be prepared to provide some proof of financial distress, however.  Many organizations started out providing help to anyone who asked, only to have people adopt more pets and expect assistance for them as well.  Play fair, and only ask for help for the cat(s) you already have.

Call your local shelter, or the County Humane Society, and ask about available programs.

tortie cat curled up in a bed


In a perfect world, a person would never have to give up a pet, but life doesn’t always work that way.  If you’ve tried everything you can, or if your life has become overwhelming for you, and your pet isn’t getting the care attention he needs, surrender may very well be a kindness to the animal.  Once the decision is made, here are a few tips:

  • Contact the rescue or shelter from which you adopted. Many will take back any animal they adopted out.
  • Don’t surrender a sick cat. This is unfair to rescue personnel who will do whatever it takes, and spend money they don’t really have, to take care of your sick animal.  If a tough decision has to be made due to illness, have the courage to make it yourself.  Don’t dump the responsibility on already compassion fatigued shelter staff.
  • If your cat is elderly, but healthy, do everything you can to keep her with you. Older animals generally do not do well in a shelter environment. It is also very difficult to find an adopter.  If you absolutely cannot keep her, see if you can find a friend who is willing to let her live out her life in their home.  A new home will require some adjustment, but it is easier on them than a noisy shelter.
  • Don’t surrender your cat in the spring or summer.  Animal rescuers call this period “kitten season” because every shelter is overwhelmed with kittens.  It is unlikely you will be able to find a non-euthanizing shelter which can accommodate your cat. If you surrender to a euthanizing shelter during kitten season, an adult cat will be at the top of the list to be put down.

In short, there are often actions you can take to avoid having to surrender your cat.  They provide love and companionship and don’t ask for much in return.  The least we can do is provide them a safe, loving home for a lifetime.  But, when there’s no other choice, wait for the best time and the best environment for your loving companion.

White and Brown Cat lying down

Don't Surrender Your Cat
Orange long haired cat
Avoid surrendering your cat

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Holly

    I could never surrender my cats, but I’m a cat momma all the way. I love how you have listed ideas for how to keep your cats. I didn’t even know there were catfood banks around.

    Great post, hopefully, it helps keep some people and their cats together.

    1. abbey

      I hope so, too, Holly – it’s heartbreaking to see a loved pet surrendered to the shelter. Thank you for reading.

  2. Faith

    What a wonderful site! I am really glad that you speak on this! I have learned some things I was unaware of! It is really just sad how many animals are put in shelters. I hear all the time people also leaving they’re pets outside in the cold or dumping them off in unknown places. It breaks my heart that people can do such things yo living creatures who have the purest hearts.

    1. abbey

      Yes, I completely understand. But isn’t it wonderful that there are so many organizations working to give these poor abandoned creatures a second chance? Thanks for reading!

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