Relinquishing Pets to Shelters

Large numbers of privately owned dogs and cats are relinquished to animal shelters annually by their owners. 1 To reduce these numbers and allow more dogs and cats to stay in their homes, we need to identify and understand why owners choose to give up their pets.2 In particular, it is important to know whether people relinquish primarily as a result of real or perceived animal behavior problems, or because of problems in their own lives.

If behavioral problems and other animal-related problems dominate, the focus should be on giving current and prospective owners realistic expectations about what it requires to live with different kinds of dogs and cats. This includes teaching them how to prevent, correct, or live with what are perceived as problematic behaviors. If problems with the owners’ life situations prevail, there is a need to focus more on helping people to manage their dogs or cats when they have difficulties with, for example, their own health or housing.

An editorial from a veterinary journal concerning unwanted dogs and cats explains that “previous studies have indicated the importance of animal behavior as the main reason for relinquishment and failed adoptions”. 2 Overall, even though behavior problems played an important role for owner relinquishments of dogs, owner-related reasons, according to the meta-analysis, seemed to be more common than animal-related reasons.3

The study’s principal findings were that the main reason for relinquishment was owner-related for both dogs (75%) and cats (74%), and that poor owner health was the most common reason for relinquishment (29% for dogs and 32% for cats). This picture remained constant over the two decades studied. 


  1. Wenstrup J., Dowidchuk A. Pet overpopulation: Data and measurement issues in shelters. J. Appl. Anim. Welf. Sci. 2:303–319. doi: 10.1207/s15327604jaws0204_5. 
  2. German A. The extent and implications of unwanted cats and dogs. Vet. Rec. 2012;170:491–492. doi: 10.1136/vr.e3280. 
  3. Lambert K., Coe J., Niel L., Dewey C., Sargeant J.M. A systematic review and meta-analysis of the proportion of dogs surrendered for dog-related and owner-related reasons. Prev. Vet. Med. 2015;118:148–160. doi: 10.1016/j.prevetmed.2014.11.002. 
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