Why You Should Not Surrender Senior Cats To Shelters

Thinking of surrendering your cat to a shelter? Think that your cat would be better off in a different home where she won't be alone all day long?

Feel like you can't figure out how to feed a cat on a budget? Can't afford veterinary care? Having a baby and think that babies and cats don't mix?

Whatever your reason may be, we're here to help out, with cat care articles and cat forums where you can get some advice.

The Value of Senior Cats

We ask that you re-consider surrendering the cat, even more so if your cat is a senior cat.

an old white long-haired cat looks sadly at the camera in an old apartment

Older cats make wonderful pets. They are often more relaxed, calm and have established their routines.

In fact, we have an article that might help you or a friend find a senior feline friend when the time comes for your next shelter adoption -

Why You Should Adopt A Senior Cat

Tired old gray tabby cat with green eyes resting on soft bed and looking at camera at home

The Harsh Shelter Reality for Seniors

But today I am writing not about adopting a new cat, but about keeping your senior cat with you. Unfortunately, once surrendered to a shelter, older kitties are rarely adopted.

Potential adopters are concerned about possible medical conditions such as chronic kidney disease, arthritis and diabetes and about existing behavior problems that may have caused the cat to be surrendered in the first place.

It's a sad reality that every shelter worker and volunteer knows too well. The cute kittens are the first to be adopted and the young adult cats come next. Senior cats?

The chances for adoption are slim to none. That's why no-kill shelters, where the policy is not to put cats to sleep, rarely take in older cats.

Regular shelters and pounds do, but the senior cats' survival rates there are meager.

Few and far between, there are cat sanctuaries where cats, especially senior and special-needs cats, receive life-long care from the staff. If you absolutely need to surrender your cat, try looking for one.

They usually ask for a well-deserved donation that will help care for your cat.


A cat in a shelter. Ordinary cats from the street caught in the shelter. High quality photo

Emotional Toll on Senior Cats

Another reason why you shouldn't give up on a senior cat is the trauma for the cat.

Even if you find the cat a good forever home, even that will be extremely stressful. The older the cat, the more set in its ways it is, and the more attached to you and your family.

Breaking existing social ties and being moved to a new home, with new people and new routines, is difficult for any cat, with the possible exception of kittens.

With senior cats, the move can be too overwhelming. It's not so much the territorial aspects - cats manage a move fairly well - it's being torn from its family that is likely to cause the most stress.

The cat will take far longer to adjust and may literally get sick from a broken heart, having been parted from his/her family.

Add to that a sheltered phase, where the cat may be caged for a while, and surrendering him or her to a shelter simply becomes too much for a frail senior.

Tabby cat sitting on bag while looking at camera. Cute fluffy cat lying on something on the floor. Concept for why cats lie on everything or sit on things. 16 years old senior cat. Selective focus.

Conclusion: Commit to Your Senior Cat

Your elderly feline's well-being hinges largely on your dedication. While challenges may arise, consider the profound impact of your choices.

With guidance and a heart full of compassion, you can make the best decisions for your senior cat's golden years.


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14 comments on “Why You Should Not Surrender Senior Cats To Shelters

Sandy August 21, 2022
I took in a 12 year old male. His human went to nursing home for 2-3 months and eventually passed. While she was in nursing home the famil came 3 times per week to feed and visit. I know it would be a tough change and expected some difficulty. However it has been 7 months and he still pees on certain spots in the house and bedroom, where I kept him for 3 weeks when I first brought him home. I’m alone and work from home so there were no other people that would make him anxious. He’s been to the vet 3 times, no problems besides arthritis. I’ve had to get rid of my couch, 2 chairs, shoes, a large room of carpeting & he still continues to urinate in random spots. I love him, however, I cannot continue to keep replacing things the he’s peed on. I don’t know what else I can do, was thinking about surrendering him, my heart will be broken but I’d will save my home. Any advise would be appreciated.
tarasgirl06 June 8, 2015
That is excellent to read, CheddarWaffles!  A registry of NPOs that do this, nationwide by state, with all contact info and pertinent information, would be invaluable; and it could be posted here on the site.  Internationals, too.
cheddarwaffles June 8, 2015
There are non-profit organizations you can sign up for "will and testament after care" that have facilities and fosterers for your pets after you have passed, are too infirm/unable in senior years, or must move to a high care facility, such as memory care, that doesn't allow pets. My former community had npo specifically for senior pets too, which would accept surrenders and "legacy/inherited" pets that the "benefactor" couldn't care for or keep.
tarasgirl06 May 28, 2015
Hopefully those trusting their family members to step up and love their cats if needed will not have that trust betrayed.  I see it all too often in my work advocating for cats in ACCs and shelters whose families have betrayed and abandoned them when their caregiver passes away or has to go into assisted living care.  I would STRONGLY recommend against trusting family members, as all too often, your loved ones' lives will be at great risk if the family members betray and abandon.
robbie watson May 28, 2015
I have let my daughter, who is my executor, know that if I go before Max, as he's just 3 years old and I'm 69, that I want her to call the Humane Society to foster him, or find him a good forever home.  She has agreed, as her cat is an outside cat, but Max has never been outside. He is completely an inside cat, and part of my family. I don't see his going before me. He's strong and very healthy. So, thinking of his care, I've made arrangements for this event.
tarasgirl06 May 26, 2015
URGING everyone most strongly to make LEGAL provision for their beloved feline family members in their Wills/Trusts.  Yes, it costs; but you will have the peace of mind of knowing that you have done everything humanly possible to provide for your family should you not survive them.  Don't wait until you are old -- NOW is the time to do it.  Find an attorney well versed in animal law and who is empathetic toward your family members.  Don't wait. 
angels mommy May 26, 2015
Sad indeed. I always go visit the kitties when I am at a pet store that has them. It is very sad to see some of these cases. Makes me tear up. I always say a silent prayer for them while I am there.
tarasgirl06 May 17, 2015
Our feline family ranges from 10-19 years young.  In my family, the policy has always been that cats are FAMILY, not "pets" and they are different from humans but equal in importance, so they are FAMILY FOR LIFE, in sickness and health, through thick and thin, etc.  Provision has been made for them legally, even though it will most likely not be necessary -- because when you love your family and are responsible for them, they are top priority.  I work online on behalf of cats needing loving forever homes in the NYACC and elsewhere, and I encounter this senseless and totally unavoidable tragedy on a daily basis.  Some senior cats do find their way into rescue and/or a new loving home; many, again senselessly and avoidably, do not.  If you aren't prepared to truly love and accept personal responsibility for someone, don't have them in the first place, whether it be kids, cats, or anyone else.
snuffy's mom May 16, 2015
I'm 65 now and not in the best of health. I am hoping my babies go before me, they are 14 and 15.. I have told my sisters that I do not want my cats in a shelter if I go before them. Also I was thinking since I have always had cats, that if my babies should go before me I would maybe foster a senior cat in my home.
ozquilter May 15, 2015
It's truly appalling what kinds of things can be done at a place that calls itself a shelter. Just imagine the way people would respond if a shelter for battered women and children could call itself a shelter and carry out this sort of behavior – selectively killing individuals for convenience. Those are not shelters, they are killing grounds, in place only for the disposal of unwanted pets for the convenience of those who would do murder but are too cowardly to do it themselves.These things ought not to be, and their existence is a sad commentary on our society.
keyes May 12, 2015
@JMarkitell-Oh my gosh, that's unreal!!  I hope you got the word out to warn other people about that shelter's policies.
jmarkitell May 12, 2015
I took a 7 year old cat to a no refusal shelter, but mistakenly thought it was a no kill shelter. I was contacted 6 hours after dropping this poor kitty off saying she would be put down because of her age and an alleged wound, which there was none. I rushed back and retrieved Bella before she was put down less than a day after being dropped off. This was from the Pittsburgh Animal Rescue League...please make sure that the shelter is a no kill shelter, otherwise they are often put down quickly. It took a while but we finally found a new home for Bella where she is doing well over five years later.
Anne May 10, 2015
That's an excellent point. Thank you for bringing it up @keyes. And thank you for taking care of Ole!
keyes May 10, 2015
What I've seen is that when the owner is moved into a nursing home and is not allowed to bring their cat with them.  The family of this person "usually" does not want to take the cat into their household and instead of trying a little harder they do the easiest thing and take the cat into a shelter.  In my case, when Mom went into a nursing home then Ole went to my home.  He's still adapting but love and patience will avail.

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