Re-Homing of Dogs and Cats in the United States

Photo Credit: In the United States, more than one million dogs and cats are re-homed every year. The fact that so many animals are removed from their established homes and placed in new situations was revealed in a recent ASPCA study titled, “Goodbye to a Good Friend: An Exploration of the Re-Homing of Cats and Dogs in the U.S.”

Lead researcher, Dr. Emily Weiss had this to say.

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. 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.

Study methodology

The study data was collected via telephone surveys. A variety of information was obtained about the participants and their animals. Participants who re-homed their dog or cat selected their primary reason for doing so.

Study results

Of 12,245 eligible people reached, 590 (6%) of them had re-homed a pet during the preceding five years. Respondents who re-homed a dog or cat were significantly younger than those who did not. Additionally, re-homers were more likely to be reached by cell phone than a landline.

Amongst the re-homers 199 re-homed one or more cats and 391 re-homed one or more dogs. The re-homed animals were most commonly acquired free from a friend, relative, or neighbor. Cats were more likely than dogs to have been acquired as strays.

Of the rehomed animals, 56% of the dogs and 62% of the cats were neutered. These percentages are lower than what is expected from the general pet population in which 90% of cats and 86% of dogs are neutered.

Where pets were re-homed

Re-homed pets were most commonly given to a friend or family member (37%). Pets were also rehomed to shelters (36%), veterinarians (14%), strangers (11%) or by being set free (1%).

Reasons for re-homing

The three most common reasons provided by respondents for re-homing their pets were:

  1. Pet related issues (46%): health problems and problematic behaviors such as aggression and destructive behavior
  2. Family related issues (27%): personal or family health troubles, pet allergies, divorce or separation, new person in household who didn’t like the pet, death in the family, new baby, lack of time to care for pet
  3. Housing related issues (18%): not enough space, landlord restriction

For those who rented rather than owned their property, housing related issues was the number one reason for re-homing. Respondents with incomes of less than $50,000 were more likely to re-home due to cost and housing issues. They most commonly selected the following services that would have allowed them to keep their pets:

  • Availability of free or low-cost veterinary care
  • Free or low-cost training or behavior help
  • Guidance on finding pet-friendly housing
  • Free or low-cost neutering services
  • Free or low cost pet food
  • Free or low cost temporary pet care or boarding
  • Assistance in paying pet deposits for housing

Respondents with incomes above $50,000 were more likely to re-home because of pet-related problems.


Massive numbers of animals are being homed in the United States every year. Given the estimated 102 million dogs and cats in the United States, the 6% re-homing rate documented in this study translates into an estimated 6.12 million dogs and cats re-homed every five years, or more than a million pets each year.

Given the many well documented benefits of living with dogs and cats (many of which I’ve discussed in previous blog posts), enhancing the ability of people to retain their pets, regardless of their socioeconomic status, makes really good sense. This study has revealed some clear and relatively simple ways to make such a difference.

As Dr. Weiss states,

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. 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 solutions.

Have you, your family or friends dealt with the need to re-home a pet?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at,, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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10 Comments on “Re-Homing of Dogs and Cats in the United States

  1. We are lucky enough to have the Diana Baseheart Foundation here. they help elderly, etc keep their companion animals.

    I have been the recipient of 8 re-homed dogs. So far, they have all slid i to whatever pack existed without much hoo-ha. For the people who were moving i to assisted living I took the dogs to visit, so both knew it was ok on either side of the equation. One dog came with a very fearful personality, just wanted to sit on couch with his toy. He took six months of lots of love and acceptance but he dumped his toy outside and let me sweep around him without moving an ear.

    People need to realize how much responsibility a companion animal is. The whole “how cute that puppy/kitten is, let’s get it” is stupid. If you are getting up in years, or someone who lives dangerously, you need to make plans AND provisions for your companion animal.

    Good results can happen, but there are no guarantees. Sometimes the animal has such history that they just need a one animal, one experienced person situation.

  2. I had to re-home a St. Bernard X Rottweiler dog, named Hogan back to the Animal Rescue where we got him.
    There were two reasons.
    He and our older Neapolitan Mastiff, Sam, did not like each other. We tried for 7 months but took him back after they got into such a bloody fight that Hogan lost a chunk of his ear. We had tried so hard to keep Hogan, because he had come from the most horrific, abusive situation I had ever seen.
    He suffered from skin allergies. Probably from the sarcoptic mange infestation when he was rescued. We tried everything the vet could recommend. He was taking 8 benedryl tablets twice a day. We changed his food, bedding, food, laundry detergent, food and his food to no avail.
    After the big fight, we took him back to the rescue. Within 2 days his allergies were completely clear. We believe that he was allergic to some kind of plant on our property. We live in the redwoods of Northern California and have acres of ferns.
    The dogs have the run of the place as it is securely fenced for their comfort and enjoyment. They don’t even know they are confined.

    On the other side…we have 4 dogs…All came from other homes, either directly or from our favorite rescue.
    Rudy, a 100# German shepherd cross, came via Craigslist from a family in a small apartment. They didn’t realize the cute little puppy would get so big. Duh!
    Greta, a pure bred German shepherd was taken to the rescue. The breeder sold her at 9 weeks to an 80 year old woman that had never had a dog before. After 3 weeks the woman realized her error. I blame the breeder.
    Walker, a black and tan coonhound, who also from the rescue had gotten lost in town and nobody claimed him, to our good fortune.
    Then there is MayBea, maybe we shouldn’t get another dog? Not likely.
    MayBea is a mix of plott hound and Australian cattle dog from the rescue.
    She was, without the very long story, thrown over the fence into the dogs’ play yard at the rescue. She is yet another “love” of our lives.
    These dogs enrich us every minute of every day. We consider other peoples inconsideration and stupidity, our gain. I only wish the dogs wouldn’t suffer in the interim.
    Also, if you must depend on financial assistance to care for your pet.

    Sadie Anne

  3. Spay and neuter all dogs for the next 3-5 years in the United States – make them as precious as an Iphone and then maybe just maybe people will love and respect them as God created them.

  4. Dear Dr. Kay: I enjoy your columns and was particularly taken by the latest on “rehoming.” I think there are things that breeders can do when selling their puppies (and older dogs, too) which might be useful in reducing the revolving door of pets being moved from place to place. One has to start with the breeders who need to be (A) more selective in when they breed and to which dogs) (B) How they place their puppies (and even more critical, how they place older dogs.) Written contracts are a must, in my book. Both the breeder (seller) and buyer must agree on conditions of sale. I think it is important that breeders stand behind the dogs they sell or give away, and that involves a lifetime commitment in some cases. Being in touch with the owners of the dogs they sell can often forestall problems which can arise when dogs are sold or placed in new homes. That may be obvious to many of us, but for the new or inexperienced breeder or buyer, keeping in touch can make the difference between a satisfied new owner and a disaster waiting to happen. New owners should be encouraged to keep in touch with their breeders, especially those not familiar with bringing a new companion into the house. Breeders should not be hesitant about checking up on the new owners to make certain that the transaction was a beneficial one for the buyer and for the dog.
    When we were breeding and selling the occasional litter it was always a nerve-wracking time for me, making sure our precious puppies were going to the right homes. Luckily, we chose our buyers well!

  5. This post brings back some sad memories of grad school in the 70’s. I moved into the apartment of a wonderful black cat, and was able to keep him through 2 more; he was “re-homed” to a friend when we were condo’d out.
    Another I raised from a kitten but had to take to a shelter when facing yet another move. Getting kicked out by a roommate was bad enough, losing Stravinsky was awful. I felt so guilty that I’d not been able to find him a new home myself.
    My impression at the time was that landlords who didn’t allow pets were the ones who came around frequently and promptly fixed so much as a broken lightbulb; those that did were the absentees who were never there to discover the cats.
    My point is, owners who relinquish their pets for housing-related reasons are likely telling the truth. They do not have time or money to find, and afford, a place that can take the animal. It’s easy to look down our noses and say they should have tried harder, but keeping a roof over one’s head comes first.

  6. There are some breeders who “rehome” their older dogs who can loner be bred. Three days ago we received a message asking if we had an older dog that we were willing to sell – we are breeders and there is NO way we sell our older dogs. This attitude and situation adds to the problem of rehoming pets. It also makes me very angry when poorer people have dogs and discover they cannot afford the pet. There is no excuse for this kind of human behavior. Those who are backyard breeders (who wont their kids to experience the birth of a puppy) contribute to the problem of unwanted pets. Some of these “people” think it is a great way to make some extra money! Rehoming of pets, regardless from which country, is a disgrace that must (in some way) be addressed! I wish along with many, who love their non primate animals, could find a good solution to this problem!!!

  7. This is such a huge (and unnecessary) tragedy. Thank you, Dr. Kay, for addressing it so well.

    I’ve helped relatives, friends, colleagues, and strangers rehome quite a few dogs and cats. It is emotionally exhausting and scary work. In almost every case, the people choosing to rehome their animal did not have the knowledge or background to do the rehoming themselves.

    I think prevention is crucial.

    1) We need to educate every American about what a companion animal’s needs are (space, love, food, vet care, exercise, etc.) We still “buy pets which can be turned in” in this country and we need to switch the focus to “adopting companion animals for the duration of their lives.” We need to target certain audiences: young people who are in college or starting work and who will likely be moving from one “No Pets” home to another for some years. These are the same young people who will be traveling, entering grad school, marrying, and having babies. We need a “Plan to Have a Baby in the Next 15 Years? Get (or don’t get) an Appropriate Breed” campaign.

    2) We need a MAJOR campaign to educate real estate agents and landlords about just what their No Pet policies does to the lives of healthy, happy, and loved companion animals and their families. If we value children so highly, we should not be euthanizing their beloved animals for no reason. Strong social pressure is needed: PSAs, articles, ads, etc. If this seems impossible, remember it used to be permissible to not rent to a certain gender, religion, race, sexual orientation, age, etc. Including children!

    3) Animal shelters and rescues and vets need to screen much more carefully. Oh, you have one year old triplets? Come back in 5 or 6 years. The concept of “getting a dog or cat” FOR your child is unacceptable. You get a lolly pop or Tonka truck for your child, not a live animal. It is as stupid as getting a child for your Chihuahua! And by the way, people with children (or soon to have them) need to be educated about why adopting a dachshund and a kitten when expecting a human child is not such a good idea.

  8. A fabulous idea for a study. I raises the following questions.
    Of he pets that went to shelters, do we/ can we know whether the animals found homes or were euthanized..and that can be said for almost any of the rehoming paths taken?
    I also wish there had been some inquiry about military families, as many are forced to give up pets when they are reassigned,or deployed ,a problem that has potential solutions.
    Also would have been interesting to know at what age these pets were first obtained,how many were purchased,how many dogs were purebred? Was it harder to hold onto
    puppies ?? Did any go to rescues or was rescue/shelter the same category. And why were low income people who sought help from various programs still unable to keep their pets. Clearly more pet friendly housing would be lovely.

  9. People “set them free”
    -unless they are taking the time to teach the dog how to hunt, that is just a cruel way to starve them to death. Dogs, even “pet” wolves and wolfdogs do not instinctively know how to hunt. That is a learned behavior their parents teach them.
    I used to say this is why I don’t own a gun. Now I say this is why I don’t own a baseball bat.
    Dumping a pet at a “shelter” is a death sentence for 5 million+/- pets each year. I don’t know how a place that kills pets is allowed to call itself a “shelter” which is defined as a place of safety! Unless it is a No Kill facility, it is NOT a shelter, it is a pound. In most places, the pound is not required to hold an owner-surrendered animal at all: often they are walked from the intake lobby directly to the killing room. Dumping a pet at a shelter is NOT “rehoming” the pet; in the majority of cases, it is simply killing the pet (ASPCA also kills pets when overcrowded, which is often; they fight the No Kill movement, and call themselves a “shelter” – which they are NOT).
    When people tell me they are “getting rid of” their pet because they are having/just had a baby, I tell them that I will pray for them that they never get pregnant again, so they won’t have to “get rid of” the FIRST kid.
    I read several years ago, that only 1 in 10 pets lives with the same owner their whole life. 1 in 10. That means that 90% of pets actually get rehomed…because dogs and cats are disposable. When I volunteered with a rescue for many years, the average cost for rescuing a dog ( vaccinations, spay/neuter, heartworm preventative, flea treatment, grooming, kennel costs, microchip, food, etc.) was about $1000 per dog. Then adopters would complain about the $350 adoption fee. I would point out that if someone gave them a “free” dog, they would pay more than that for shots, HW, microchip and s/n…and that if they could not afford the adoption fee, they probably couldn’t afford to keep up with shots, vet care, food, etc.
    Although I find it foolish for a person to get a pet if they can’t even afford food, I would like to see help for low income pet owners. And I know many disagree with me when I point out that most of the time, pets owned by homeless people are pretty well cared for. They are with their human all the time, so tend to be well trained, and the homeless people I know all share their food with their pet. They deserve help on many levels.
    Pets have become an impulse buy, like dvds at a cash register, with no thought of what it takes to care for an animal companion. and the above reasons absolutely confirm that. Until puppy mills and backyard breeders can be held responsible for their “output” this will never end.
    Sorry, but my soapbox has appeared. I am trying to figure out some way that ALL dogs and cats must be chipped by law, by the original breeder. Then after they make their money and the animals get dumped at the pound to be cared for at taxpayer expense, they could be traced back to the breeder who can then pay for the animal’s care. Currently, this is totally unethical: breeders make the profit, while the rest of us pay the costs…and the animals pay with their lives.
    While 5 million pets are killed in “shelters” every year, 17 million people acquire a new pet. This is not that hard to fix; it just takes compassion, and some intelligence.
    Granted, many of those 17 million will be re-homed; but if we had a true shelter system, they could go back to good homes. And yes, help with training is a HUGE part of keeping pets in homes. I can’t imagine why anyone wants to bring an animal into their home, and not train them; but I know this is common.
    I will not buy a baseball bat!

  10. First let me thank you for using the term “re-homing” instead of “get rid of”. I hate that term! The only pet I have ever re-homed was a very aggressive male turtle. He went to a beautiful nursery with huge ponds and water falls and is very happy there. I have however gotten MANY pets that people could not keep, including an aggressive dog my son had. I had her for 14 years. My policy is, this is NOT an easy come, easy go deal. You get a pet, you have it for the length of its life. Too many people don’t take pet ownership serious enough. If you aren’t willing to deal with the issues that come up, don’t get a pet.

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