Why Roaming Cats Should Not Be Taken to a Shelter

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I sometimes see online advice encouraging people to take roaming cats to their local shelter because, whether owned or unowned, it’s the best place for them. While well intentioned, this is misinformation and I’d like to explain why.

1. Cats get sick at shelters – very sick and very easily:

Traditional shelters, with all of our associated problems, are undoubtedly the single greatest underlying risk for feline respiratory diseases, and a host of other communicable diseases like calicivirus and ringworm.

With an increased population of animals and higher contact rate between them, cats can get sick in even the best shelters. Worse yet, the shelter is a stressful place for animals, particularly cats which makes them more prone to illness.


The European Advisory Board on Cat Diseases (ABCD) concurs:

In shelter situations, infectious diseases are difficult to prevent and control, thus, they spread quickly (Möstl et al., 2013). In addition, shelters are unstable biological environments; not only are disease outbreaks frequent, but new pathogens or virulent variants of endemic pathogens can emerge, as a result of rapid transmission cycles and the consequent evolution and selection of infectious agents, such as viruses and bacteria. The virulent systemic feline calicivirus infection is a case in point (Pesavento and Murphy, 2014).


ABCD emphasises that keeping cats in shelters should be avoided whenever possible. Where other arrangements can be made, cats should not enter rescue shelters. This is a reflection of the inevitable stress and risk of infection associated with movement to this type of accommodation.


Depending on the shelter’s resources and policies, providing care for sick cats may not be an option. Killing might be the only “treatment” provided.

2. Many cats lack identification and the statistics on reuniting these cats once admitted to the shelter are abysmal (2% or less).

Photo by Casey Post

3. A roaming cat’s chances for a positive outcome are significantly increased when not admitted to a shelter:

In one study, cats were 13 times more likely to be returned home by non-shelter means (such as returning home on their own) than by a call or visit to a shelter. And another study found that people are up to three times more likely to adopt cats as neighborhood strays versus adopting from a shelter. At the same time, the risk of death for street cats in communities has been found to extremely low, with outdoor cats living roughly the same lifespan as indoor pet cats. In other words, the risk of death is lower and the chance of adoption higher for cats on the streets than cats in the shelter. 


4. In shelters where SNR (shelter-neuter-return) is practiced, the cat is going back where he was found anyway. Unless the cat is in need of neuter/vaccination, taking him to a shelter is a waste of resources for the humans and a lot of unnecessary stress for the cat.

Stock photo via Pexels

To be clear, I am in favor of owners walking their cats on leash when outside or confining them to a catio type structure. At the same time, I recognize there are cats (e.g. owned or unowned friendlys, ferals and indoor escapees) who roam outdoors to varying degrees and I advocate for their right to live. In most circumstances, that means leaving healthy, uninjured cats in place.

One thought on “Why Roaming Cats Should Not Be Taken to a Shelter

  1. Spot on! We stopped taking in healthy stray cats almost 10 years ago, for all of the reasons above. And most of the injured or sick cats we take in are SNR if possible once treated, with few exceptions. For decades we’ve told the public to bring us every stray cat they find. It’s going to take a while to educate not just the public, but many shelters as well. Thank you for being part of that.

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