American Association of Feline Practitioners

Veterinary professionals passionate about the care of cats

Welfare of Shelter Cats Position Statement

2009 Welfare of Shelter Cats

Download - Full Position Statement on Welfare of Shelter Cats

Special note: The following AAFP Position Statement is meant to represent ideal goals in shelter environments. The AAFP recognizes many shelters will be unable to achieve all of these recommendations due to resource limitations.

Upon intake to a shelter:

  • Careful physical exam by sufficiently trained staff
  • Vaccination according to AAFP shelter guidelines
  • Appropriate prophylactic treatment for external and internal parasites
  • Treatment as needed for illness and injury, at minimum palliative care to relieve pain during any holding periods

Short term requirements (up to 2-3 weeks):

  • Protection from exposure to infectious disease
  • Sufficient room to stretch to full body length (body plus front and back legs stretched to full length)
  • Hiding place (separate from litter pan)
  • Soft sleeping surface
  • Novel and varied toys for cats < 1 year old
  • Opportunity to eat and drink normally (fresh food and water separated from elimination space)
  • Freedom from dog view and noise

Medium term requirements (3 weeks to 3 months):

All of the above and:

  • Opportunity to interact a minimum of ten minutes daily with a familiar human (aside from caretaking/cleaning activities; taking into account individual cat preferences)
  • Opportunity to jump, climb and run daily for an appropriate length of time.
  • Choice between warm and cool, hard and soft resting surfaces
  • Play for all cats - novel and varied toys
  • Scratching post or other suitable surface/structure

Long term requirements (> 3 months):

All of the above and:

  • Complete medical and behavioral evaluation every 6 months
  • Daily exposure to varied, non-threatening physical, auditory and visual stimuli
  • Paper bags and boxes or things to climb on periodically added and removed, televisions, aquariums, windows, etc.
  • Cat-social cats: daily opportunity to interact with other cats
  • Non-cat social cats: should not be forced to interact with other cats (e.g. by housing in group areas with limited space to retreat)
  • Outdoor access that is environmentally safe and secure

Capacity and Intake:

Shelters should establish an upper capacity limit beyond which they are unable to provide humane care for cats. A written policy should be established and followed regarding what to do when the number of cats in need of shelter exceeds this limit. This policy needs to address either limiting intake, immediately releasing some cats (temporarily to foster care or permanently) or humanely euthanizing cats as described below. Routinely admitting more cats than can be humanely cared for, allowing cats to die of disease associated with overcrowding, or allowing cats to suffer long term in conditions that fail to meet minimal welfare standards are not acceptable.


Euthanasia should be performed in an AVMA-approved method by a veterinarian or sufficiently trained technician and in accordance with all locally applicable laws