More than 1M households re-home cats, dogs annually

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More than 1 million U.S. households re-home their cats or dogs annually, according to a study from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

“Goodbye to a Good Friend: An Exploration of the Re-Homing of Cats and Dogs in the U.S.” appeared online in the Open Journal of Animal Sciences this past October, and the ASPCA publicized the results more widely in December. The study was a telephone survey of 12,245 people, of whom 9,970 were current or past cat or dog owners and 590 had re-homed a cat or dog within the preceding five years.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study of its kind to look not only at animals being re-homed to shelters but dogs and cats being re-homed in other ways—such as to a friend or family member—so we were excited and interested to see all of the results,” said Dr. Emily Weiss, lead author of the study and ASPCA vice president of research and development. “This is the first time we’ve been able to estimate how many pets are re-homed each year, and more than 1 million is a significant number.”

People re-homed cats or dogs as follows: gave the pet to a friend or family member, 37 percent; took the pet to a shelter or rescue organization, 36 percent; gave the pet to a veterinarian or other pet care professional, 14 percent; gave the pet to someone they didn’t previously know, 11 percent; or set the pet free to be found by someone else, 1 percent.

The most common primary reasons for re-homing were a pet problem, 46 percent; a family problem, 27 percent; or a housing problem, 18 percent. The most common individual pet-related reasons were aggression, 35 percent; problematic behavior such as being destructive or loud, 29 percent; and health problems, 26 percent. The most common family-related reasons were family health troubles, 44 percent, and allergies, 24 percent. The most common housing-related reasons were the landlord, 43 percent, and not enough space, 39 percent.

Bar chart: The most common primary reasons for re-homing
Source: “Goodbye to a Good Friend: An Exploration of the Re-Homing of Cats and Dogs in the U.S.”

Dr. Weiss said, “We were already aware that access to affordable, pet-friendly rental housing was a challenge for pet parents but found it important that the study found that for those living in rental housing, housing issues are the No. 1 reason for re-homing a pet.”

“We were also compelled by the data that those with an income under $50,000 were re-homing their pets for reasons different than those with a higher income,” she said. “Essentially, challenges related to cost—such as access to affordable housing or medical care—were more easily absorbed by those with higher incomes.”

Pet owners with household income under $50,000 said availability of the following would have changed their decision to give up their pet: free or low-cost veterinary care, 40 percent; free or low-cost training or behavior help, 34 percent; guidance on finding pet-friendly housing, 33 percent; free or low-cost spay-neuter services, 30 percent; free or low-cost pet food, 30 percent; free or low-cost, temporary pet care or boarding, 30 percent; and assistance in paying pet deposits for housing, 17 percent.

“Overall, the results of the survey reinforce what we’re seeing on the ground in communities: Too many pets are being given up for reasons that can be prevented, especially for pet owners with lower incomes,” Dr. Weiss said. “The more complex drivers for re-homing such as behavior challenges are an area where more research may help better elucidate the drivers leading to these challenges and thus solutions.”

The study is available here.

Related JAVMA content:

Study examines pet retention following adoption (July 1, 2013)

Survey identifies barriers to pet ownership (Oct. 15, 2012)

Report details methods for helping low-income pet owners (April 15, 2012)