By Kathleen MacKinnon & Angel Fischer

Note: This article appears in SPCA NOVA’s Winter 2023 newsletter under the title “Rehoming Cats Responsibly.”

Here in Northern Virginia, we’re seeing cats abandoned or surrendered at an alarming rate. We also see many people trying to rehome cats, such as their own cat, a stray cat they have rescued, or a cat belonging to a family member who is ill or has passed away.

Abandoning a cat means someone has purposely left the cat to fend for themselves, such as leaving the cat on the side of the road or outside a residence after moving away. Surrendering a cat generally refers to placing the cat into the care of an entity such as a county animal shelter or private rescue organization. Rehoming a cat is when one person transfers the care of the cat directly to another person.

With county animal shelters and private rescue organizations scrambling to meet the needs of so many cats, coordinated efforts have emerged recently to help people rehome a cat in a positive and responsible way.

Evaluate Your Situation

If you find yourself caring for a cat that you are considering rehoming, first take an honest look at the possibility of caring for the cat in your own home on a permanent basis. Here are some potential solutions to common concerns that lead some people to rehome a cat:

  • Allergies: If you or someone in your home have cat allergies, try mitigating them by adding HEPA filters to your home or vacuuming carpets and washing bedding more frequently. Look into over-the-counter allergy medications and/or consult an allergist.
  • Lonely cat: If the cat is lonely, and perhaps being destructive in the home, consider getting the cat a compatible cat buddy to play with. 
  • Stressed cat: If the cat is stressed by other pets or family members, try creating a “safe area” for the cat to retreat to. Add a cat tree to provide safe vertical space or baby gates to prevent dogs or young children from entering the cat’s safe area.
  • Unwanted behavior: If there are behavioral issues, there are plenty of resources available to help you address them. Do your own research on the internet using reputable sources (such as animal rescue organizations and experienced animal and veterinary behaviorists) or ask for advice from an experienced cat professional. Many shelters and some rescue organizations provide advice free of charge. Consider hiring an animal or veterinary behaviorist to work through the issues. 
  • Finances: If you are concerned about being able to afford food or vet care for the cat, there is a wealth of information on local animal shelter websites about resources to help you, such as pet pantries with free food, lower-cost vet care, financial assistance for vet care, and more. 

While county animal shelters and private rescue organizations in Northern Virginia offer an array of services to help people and cats, the level of support from local governments, private rescue organizations, community organizations, and individual residents doesn’t come close to meeting the need. If you truly need to rehome the cat, please do so responsibly.

Avenues for Rehoming a Cat

A careful process is needed to help ensure the cat will go to a home that meets their needs. It’s also important to find adopters who are responsible and understand the long-term commitment they are making. The caretaker has a responsibility to ensure that a cat goes to a home that is a good match for the cat and for the person. Here are some ways to approach rehoming a cat carefully and responsibly:

  • Reach out to friends, family, neighbors, co-workers – Don’t underestimate the power of your own contacts. Use word of mouth and your personal social media connections to find someone you trust to provide the cat with a good home.
  • Expand your reach through community social media networks – If you can’t find a home for the cat via your own networks, post the cat on neighborhood sites such as Nextdoor to reach a broader audience in your neighborhood. If your community has a Facebook page, post there as well. 
  • Post on rehoming websites – There are organizations that have developed programs to help people rehome a cat.
    • Adopt-A-Pet has a new service called Rehome where you can post the cat on their website for adoption. They will screen applicants for you and provide you with advice and support. They have a four-step process that includes: creating a pet profile, reviewing applications, meeting the adopters, and finalizing the adoption.
    • A similar program called Home to Home Animal Adoption has been developed by the Better Together Animal Alliance. Their process includes creating a pet profile, and all inquiries are forwarded to you to consider.

Evaluate Potential Adopters Carefully

Once you have some potential adopters to consider, you’ll want to evaluate the candidates to determine who is a good fit for the cat. Never hand a cat over to someone you don’t know or who hasn’t been properly screened. Making the right decision is so important. The cat’s life depends on this. Below are four steps you may wish to follow when rehoming a cat. This process is similar to how SPCA NOVA screens and evaluates potential adopters, although our process is more formal.

Step 1:

Evaluate whether the cat appears to be a good match for both the cat and the person’s home environment and lifestyle. Either use a form similar to ours or have a conversation over the phone to ask questions. Who lives in the home? Do they have kids? If yes, what are their ages? Do they currently have other pets, and have they had pets in the past? How much time do they spend at work and home? Do they rent? If yes, are pets allowed? Why do they want to adopt a cat? If this basic information suggests there is a good potential match, move to the next step.

Step 2:

Ask the person to meet the cat where the cat is currently living. Don’t take the cat to their home yet. It’s better to have the person meet the cat where the cat is comfortable in their own surroundings. This also gives you a chance to meet the person face to face. During this step, you can talk more about the cat’s personality and needs and what the person’s home environment and lifestyle is like. If you are even more confident the cat appears to be a good potential match, move to the next step.

Step 3:

Ask for more information about pets they may have (or have had), as well as their views on indoor versus outdoor cats and declawing. For current pets, are their personalities, levels of activity and ages compatible with the cat? Are they up to date on appropriate vaccines? Do they receive annual vet exams? Are they spayed/neutered? For past pets, did they receive regular trips to the vet and receive preventative care? Is the person looking for an indoor-only or indoor/outdoor cat? What are their views on declawing? (SPCA NOVA has a strict indoor-only policy for all of our cats and forbids declawing, which is amputating the cat’s toes). 

SPCA NOVA addresses these issues as part of our formal application process. If you want to be thorough, you should ask the person to provide appropriate vet records for their own pets for verification. If you are confident the person has the resources and ability to provide a life-long home for the cat, move to the next step.

Step 4: 

Take the cat to their new home. While SPCA NOVA uses a legally binding adoption contract to finalize an adoption, someone rehoming a cat probably won’t do this. However, we suggest you take the cat to the person’s home as the final step in the process to ensure you feel comfortable with the home environment.

Final Thoughts

Be honest about why you are rehoming the cat. Be clear about the cat’s personality and needs, as well as past health issues, vet care and behavioral issues, if any. It’s not fair to the cat or the adopter to withhold information. This could lead to the cat being mistreated, abandoned, or taken to an animal shelter, which is what you were hoping to avoid in the first place.

It also goes without saying that potential adopters should also evaluate whether the person rehoming the cat is being honest and straightforward about why the cat is being rehomed. Ask questions about the cat’s health and vet history and whether there are any behavioral issues. Also, get copies of vet records of the cat you are hoping to adopt.

Cats are living, loving creatures who form strong bonds with their caretakers. Rehoming any cat should be done only with careful consideration to make sure rehoming the cat is in the cat’s best interest.

Additional Resources


Local Animal Shelters

More Rehoming Articles

Sassy enjoys the fresh air of the screened in porch of her foster home. After her caretaker passed away, leaving four cats homeless, a kind neighbor worked hard to rehome them all. She was able to find homes for three of the cats with family and co-workers while the cats still lived in their original home. But with the impending sale of that home, she contacted SPCA NOVA to ask if we could move Sassy to one of our foster homes. About a month later, Sassy was adopted!
Lily and Lulu are happy in their foster home with a great cat tree to perch on. After living outdoors with little care, a good Samaritan successfully rehomed the girls with a neighbor. When the neighbor became ill, the good Samaritan stepped in to help again, this time asking SPCA NOVA to help. Rehoming person to person with a trusted neighbor can be a good way to help cats living outdoors. The girls were adopted out by SPCA NOVA in December.
Nico lives the good life in his foster home. SPCA NOVA spotted him on social media as needing a home. Because the good Samaritan who was feeding him couldn’t bring him indoors due to severe allergies and asthma, we took Nico into our care rather than advising the caretaker on how to rehome him.