When It Isn’t Working: Rehoming a Cat

Not the Right Fit 

Cats are living beings with their own personalities, needs, and wants. That means they will each have their own unique requirements of a home. Some need peace and quiet, others lots of play and engagement. They may be happiest with a feline (or canine) friend or prefer to have only human companions. 

There are many things we can do to help a cat be more comfortable in a home and to improve their behavior (including troubleshooting a behavior change plan and considering behavioral medications). However, we can’t change everything and there may be situations where a cat is inherently unhappy in a given environment. 

Last Resort? When to Make the Decision

Dedicated and loving guardians often say they would never rehome their cat or that it would be the absolutely last resort. This is admirable, of course, and the world (ie the internet) typically says this is the right way to take care of your cat. Anyone who considers giving up a cat risks being judged. 

However, there are worse outcomes than finding a new home for your cat. In some homes, cats are at physical risk from other pets. In other cases, though they are loved, the stress of living in that environment is enough to cause serious health problems. A cat that is perpetually unhappy, sick, or in danger is not a better outcome than rehoming. 

Tabby Cat Rolled on Back, Stretching
Your goal should be a happy and safe cat.
Photo Credit: Counselling/Pixabay.com

Options If Your Cat Can’t Stay in Your Home

Rehoming or otherwise finding a different outcome for your cat may be avoided with professional behavior support. However, if you’ve come to the realization that your cat cannot stay in your home, there are several paths to consider.


Your cat may be safer and/or happier if you find them a different home. Making a good match and helping your cat transition is a great kindness. You will need time and energy to find a home; it won’t happen overnight. 

Some people worry that they wouldn’t be able to choose a good home for their cat. However, most shelters are not able to screen people carefully or visit their homes. You have more control over the kind of home your cat goes to if you do it yourself. 

If your cat has a history of aggression, causing injuries to people or other pets, or property damage, it is extremely important you disclose this information to potential new homes. In some cases, you may want to consult with a lawyer to determine what your liability could be if your cat injures someone in their new home.

Here are some resources for rehoming your cat:

Shelter or Rescue

Taking your cat to a local shelter or rescue may seem easier than finding them a home yourself, however there can be challenges in the process.

An “open admission” shelter, like most city or county shelters, will generally take your cat the same day you bring them. However, depending on the shelter’s resources and your cat’s history, they may not be able to place your cat up for adoption or may only be able to offer them a short time to find their new home. Your cat may be one of a very large number and won’t have you to advocate for why potential adopters should choose them. 

More and more, however, shelters are able to offer time and resources to cats looking for new homes. Your local shelter may be well-equipped to support you in this process but do your research to know what they can and cannot do. Communicate with them about whether or not you want to take your cat back if the shelter feels they can’t find them a home. Nearly all shelters are trying to help more animals than they have the resources for, which means hard decisions. Be kind to your local shelter staff, regardless of whether or not they can help your cat.

Most rescue organizations are constrained by space and finances. They may be very limited in their ability to take your cat in due to availability of foster homes. Some will be willing to help you find a new home as long as your cat can stay in your home until then; others don’t offer this service. By patient with rescues, who are typically run by volunteers who are pulled in many directions.

Regardless of shelter or rescue, it will be stressful for your cat to have to leave your home, spend time in a temporary living situation, and then transition into a new home. Carefully consider whether this is the best option for your cat.

“Barn Cat”, “Garden Cat”, or “Working Cat” Program

Some communities are embracing the idea of cats that aren’t suited to being traditional indoor pets but can be happy and healthy in another environment. This may include barns, warehouses, wineries, or other spaces where the cat can have space, stimulation, and less human interaction, but still be cared for. 

Not every community will have these programs and not every cat is a candidate. Reach out to your local shelters and rescues to see if one of these programs could be right for your cat. 


It’s a decision no one wants to make. In some cases, however, a cat isn’t going to be safe or happy in any situation. In those cases, the kindest decision may be to let them go peacefully without making them spend time in a stressful situation, like a shelter, first. 

You Are Not Alone

You do not need to go through this decision alone. 

If you are wondering if you need to rehome your cat, consider scheduling a private behavior consultation.