How To Get Over The Guilt of Rehoming A Cat

It’s not uncommon for owners to give their cats away or put them up for adoption. Sometimes you’re unable to care for the cat, have allergies, can’t afford to keep it, or lack the space. Other times, the cat needs more training or behavioral help than you’re able to provide. Knowing it is common, however, doesn’t always help with the guilt of rehoming a cat. At times, the remorse can feel unbearable.

Start by remembering why you gave up the cat. If it lives better, healthier, and safer in a new home, take comfort in this fact. The guilt of rehoming a cat will fade with time, so don’t be hard on yourself. Reach out to support groups and find ways to distract yourself from the cat’s absence. You can also ask the new owner for pictures or videos of the cat to gradually let go.

If you truly regret giving up your cat, there are ways to get it back. If you rehomed the cat directly to new owners, get in contact and ask if they’re willing to return the cat. If you surrendered the cat to a shelter, and it isn’t already gone, you may be able to adopt it back. However, the new owners might refuse, or the cat may be gone already. In such events, you will need to find a way to deal with the guilt, learn to accept it, and gradually move on.

Am I a Bad Person for Getting Rid Of My Cat?

It’s natural to feel guilt or remorse after giving away your cat. In fact, many owners feel that it reflects on their morals or identities. Even just rehoming your cat might feel like abandoning it, making you a bad person in your own eyes.  

It’s important to remember that giving away a cat doesn’t make you a terrible person. There can be good reasons for this decision. In some cases, it’s the best way forward for you and the cat.

For example, you may be unable to give the cat the care it needs. Here, a new home will provide it with a happier and healthier life. Likewise, perhaps the cat is challenging your health or the health of your family members. Rehoming it is is safer for everyone. When giving away a cat, it’s only considered an awful decision if an owner:

  • Abandons a cat on the street or in the wild, where it can starve or get injured
  • Mistreats the cat up to the point of rehoming it
  • Gives the cat away on a whim, or only got it with the plan of getting rid of it later
  • Intentionally places the cat in an unloving home

This is rarely the situation for a compassionate owner. Of course, there are shades of grey. Maybe you didn’t abandon the cat but gave it to an over-packed shelter. Maybe you treated the cat well but couldn’t evaluate if the new owners were appropriate. Maybe you only owned the cat for a few weeks, so doesn’t that make giving it away a whim?

Every situation will be different. You need to decide for yourself if you did the best you could for the cat. If you have, then you’re not a bad person. Try to think about the following checklist. If you can tick all of the boxes, then rehoming a cat doesn’t have to negatively reflect on you as a person:

  • You carefully considered why you needed to rehome the cat
  • You took what measures possible to resolve any issues and keep the cat
  • You made sure its needs were met before it left your home
  • You did the best you could to ensure it went to a safe new home

Acceptable Reasons To Give Up A Cat

Of course, even if you don’t feel like a bad person, it can still feel terrible to give away a cat. You may be uncertain if your reason was even justified. Are you being realistic? Or are you giving the cat away just because it’s convenient? Fortunately, there’s a clear way to tell.

Here are legitimate reasons to give up your cat. If your decision falls into one of these categories, then like many owners, it was the right choice for you to follow through:


Many owners are forced to give their cats up because of allergies. According to the European Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, approximately 1 in 5 adults suffer from a cat allergy.

Many cat lovers fail to realize that they have an allergy until they adopt their first cat. Severe allergies can make it near-impossible for you to interact with cats. Living with one full-time can be a nightmare for your health and daily routine.

Unfortunately, cat allergies can be difficult to pinpoint. They may develop at any stage in life. Someone who grew up with a cat in the home may develop an allergy later on. This may prevent that person from owning a feline as an adult.

In other cases, owners discover they are allergic to a particular cat breed. If you adopted such a cat, you may be forced to give it away. This is wise since being miserable doesn’t make you a better owner.


Some owners are put in the difficult position of giving away their pets for family reasons. This is especially common if a newborn, a new spouse, or a family member recently moved in is scared of animals or has an allergy.

In other cases, the feline may not get along with your home’s other residents. You may genuinely lack the time or experience necessary to help your cat warm up to the new people.

The cat may also refuse for behavioral reasons that you cannot correct without professional help. If overcoming this was not an option, then giving the cat away was best for everyone.

Owning Other Cats

If you own cats already, introducing a new cat can be a challenge. It is difficult to predict if the cat will mesh well with your other pets. Introducing the newcomer gradually, giving everyone space, and using training can help. In some cases, the new cat or the existing cats will never mesh well.

This may be due to previous trauma, behavioral issues that you lack the experience to train out, or something as basic as a lack of space.  Owners that can’t leave their cats alone together safely may be forced to give up one for adoption.

This is unfortunate, especially if you have owned that cat for many years. However, it might’ve been the kindest and safest option for everyone.


Some owners may be forced to rehome their cat when they can’t afford to keep it. Owning a feline isn’t generally expensive and amounts to approximately $1,000 per year. However, if your cat has health problems and needs to be taken to the vet frequently, the costs can add up.

Most owners are prepared to deal with such costs. However, an unexpected job loss or financial crisis can put you in a difficult situation. Rather than letting the cat go without basic needs or medical care, it was wise for you to give it to a new home.


Maybe you needed to rehome your cat because you were moving. It is difficult to predict the future, and no one knows where they will live later. For example, you may have previously owned a home with multiple cats but are now moving to a small apartment. If you’re moving a great distance and cannot feasibly transport the cats, you may also be forced to rehome them locally.

This is just a matter of realism. Giving your cat a safe, happy new home was the kindest decision your circumstances could allow.

As you can see, there are many legitimate circumstances wherein you need to give away a cat. It’s never easy and should always be avoided when possible. However, you can feel less guilty if you understand that there was no other choice.

how to cope with giving up a cat

Do Cats Feel Sad When You Give Them Away?

When most cats are given away, their first reaction is to be scared and defensive, not sad. Your cat will be exposed to new people, smells, and sights. It will not know who to trust or where it is. While it’s unfortunate, the good news is, this reaction will fade in the coming days. The new owners will bond with the cat and help it feel calm and welcomed.

Once the initial fear has passed, the cat may act withdrawn and depressed. It might refuse food, hide, and be unwilling to play. Sometimes it takes a few weeks for a cat to be entirely carefree and playful again. Some new and old owners interpret this as the cat missing its old home and feeling sad.

In truth, there are no official studies to confirm or deny this. The cat may miss you and then move on. It may also miss its sense of security, which is temporarily gone, and be distressed by that.

However, we do know that cats can recognize their old owners several years after being parted. When reintroduced, though, even 2 weeks later, the cat may avoid the old owner. It will feel uncertain and mildly distrustful and keep its distance.

For this reason, it is better that you do not try to visit your cat once it’s rehomed. It won’t feel comforted by your presence. Instead, it will just take longer to establish a new sense of security.

I Surrendered My Cat, Can I Get It Back?

If you believe you’ve made a terrible mistake, there are ways to get your cat back. Before you make this decision, however, you should thoroughly consider the repercussions. In the same way, a cat shouldn’t be given away on a whim. You shouldn’t reclaim your cat just because you feel guilty. That’s because the cat:

  • Will experience a great deal of unnecessary stress if it has to be taken back and forth between homes
  • May have already settled in and feel traumatized to leave again, even if it’s going back to its first home
  • Might develop more destructive habits or aggression from the stress, making it less suitable to your home or the new owner’s than before

Consider the repercussions for yourself. If there was a good reason for putting the cat up for adoption, those won’t disappear overnight:

  • Do you have a new way of contending with your allergies?
  • Are family members or roommates okay with the cat’s return, or will this lead to conflict in the future?
  • Have other pets been removed or properly socialized to accept the cat?
  • Are you prepared to deal with the same behavioral issues before, or even worse ones?
  • Do you have a strong reason to believe your financial situation has or will improve so that you can afford the cat?
  • Are you still prepared to take care of its medical or basic care needs?

If you are uncertain about any of these answers, you should avoid getting the cat back. It may comfort you temporarily, but it will be harmful to you and the cat long-term. That’s especially true if you need to rehome the cat a second time.

However, if your circumstances have changed, there are ways to get it back. It will depend on where the cat was rehomed.

Can You Adopt A Cat After Surrendering?

If you gave your cat to a shelter or adoption center, visit this place and see if the cat is still there. If it is, a shelter will often let you adopt your cat back. At times, and depending on your reason for wanting the cat back, they may waive any adoption fees. In other cases, you will need to pay the standard amount to get your cat back.

This is meant to dissuade impulsive owners who don’t have the cat’s best interests at heart. It’s also a way to recoup the expense of caring for the cat in the meantime.

If the cat has already been adopted, you can ask for the contact information of the new owners. The shelter may or may not provide it. If not, then it’s time to accept the situation and move on. If they do, then politely contact the new owners and ask if you can buy or adopt the cat from them. There is a strong likelihood that the answer will be no, so be prepared to accept it with grace if needed.

Can I Ask The New Owners For My Cat Back?

If you rehomed your cat through online listings, local bulletin boards, or friends, you could contact the new owners. Explain your reasons for why you’d like the cat back, and ask if they’d be willing to return it. In some cases, offering to repurchase the cat will help cajole the new owners into agreeing. You should emphasize what has changed about your situation, not just your guilt.

Understand that the new owners are likely attached to the cat, depending on how long it’s been. Likewise, they probably didn’t foresee this change and may not be welcoming of it. If the answer is no, take it with grace. At the least, you’ll be sparing the cat any stress from being relocated and unseated again.

How To Cope With Rehoming A Cat

How to Deal With Giving Away a Cat

If your cat is gone for good, coping with this guilt may not be easy. However, you can lessen this burden in a few different ways:

Taking Your Time

After giving your cat away, the initial few days can be hard. You may unconsciously look for the cat around the house. You may find some of its old belongings lying around and feel sad. This melancholy should fade with time.

Be patient during this time and avoid forcing yourself to feel better. Your heart and mind will eventually adapt to your new situation. Just give yourself the space to let that process happen naturally.

Reflecting Without Fixating on the Past

It may be beneficial to look over old photographs and reflect on the good times you and your cat spent together. However, you should avoid focusing on these for too long. It can leave you feeling guilty for longer.

Focusing on Your Other Responsibilities

Most likely, you have other responsibilities to look after once your cat is gone. This could be other pets, your family, or your career. You can spend some time focusing on these, as they will help distract you from your loss.

Just avoid forcing yourself into distractions 24/7. Feeling sad or guilty is a necessary part of the grieving process. Attempting to suppress these feelings may leave you feeling worse than before.

Joining a Support Group

If you feel overwhelming guilt from rehoming your cat, then consider joining a pet-owner support group. This gives you a chance to connect with other people who have experienced the same guilt you are feeling. You can talk about your feelings in a safe setting and help others overcome their guilt as well.

Checking Up on Your Cat

If the new owner is comfortable with the idea, stay in contact and get updates about the cat for the next few days or weeks. This may include pictures of how the cat is settling in or swapping stories about its funny little habits.

You may be able to advise on how the owner can address small issues that come up. The limited contact can also help you gradually learn to let the cat go.

However, you should avoid visiting your cat. This will confuse it, especially if it’s just settled into the new home. The transition period may take longer as a result, causing unnecessary heartache and stress for everyone involved. Instead, you can stay in contact through email or text.

Being Patient With Yourself

Guilt doesn’t fade away overnight. You may feel a lingering sadness even if you knew there was no way for you to keep your cat. There is no magic cure for this feeling, so you should exercise patience until it subsides.

Each owner follows a different timeline during the grieving process. Some people get over the bulk of the guilt within a few days. Others struggle with it for weeks. You should avoid being too hard on yourself during this time, and remember to keep up with your own self-care. Take comfort in the knowledge that your cat is safe and happy.

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Richard Parker

I'm Richard, the lead writer for Senior Cat Wellness. I'm experienced in all cat health-related matters, behavioral issues, grooming techniques, and general pet care. I'm a proud owner of 5 adult cats (all adopted strays), including a senior cat who is now 20.

5 thoughts on “How To Get Over The Guilt of Rehoming A Cat”

  1. Thank you very much for this article. I needed it so much. The information contained has given me some peace in that my decision was the right one and how to move forward in the sad days ahead. Thank you again.

  2. Thank you so much for this piece of information. I have been struggling very much with the guilt. I had to re-home a stray that I cared for for about 8 months, to the best of my ability and with the help of my daughter, but who was diagnosed with FIV plus my 2 cats would not accept him. It was some time before I was able get him into a sanctuary but, by then, I had grown attached to him. The feeling of guilt/abandonment plus missing him terribly is overwhelming and, with sanctuary placements, no contact is allowed with the new owner so I also have the anxiety of not knowing if he is happy or not. You article has helped me. Kind regards.

  3. I’m thinking about giving my cat away. He was my first cat when he was a baby. And then I got another boy cat. He cried I mean really loud. so then later on they got along. I was playing with my first cat and he bit me had to go to the hospital my arm was swollen had to get antibiotics. A month goes by and he bit me again on my hand he hit a vain . Antibiotics again. Omg don’t know what to do.

  4. Thank you for this article. We have two siblings, boy and girl, that we adopted from a rescue as kittens. They were fine for years then had a couple fights last summer that left us shaken. We found a cat behaviorist who walked us through the re-introduction process, as well as building her confidence during that time. Slowly things seemed to be getting back to normal but there was another incident in April and then again last weekend. We are devastated and heartbroken at the thought of splitting them up and rehoming her but at this point the stress on them, and us, has become too much to bear, especially the fear of either of them getting hurt the next time it happens. We’re just waiting for a spot for her as the rescue agency we got them from believes she would be more easily adoptable. It’s devastating thinking of them no longer being together and her no longer being with us but we have to believe it’s what’s best for them, especially her.

    • I know how that feels.
      I had two cats for 6 years, they grew up together but in March, he started chasing her until she became very fearful.
      Although the boy was much closer to me, I had to rehome him. I’ve been crying and miss him so much since he was rehomed in June.
      I looked at their past videos and photos and missed them playing and sleeping together and it’s just very hard to accept that they are split up and he’s no longer with me.


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