Research & Data

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24PetWatch Owner Surrender and Acquisition Source Analysis

This analysis quantifies the reasons for surrendering a pet in the U.S., how these reasons changed during COVID-19, how they compare to the 2009 recession and where surrendered pets are first acquired. 

Analysis summary box

Data Insights

Owner Surrenders

Owner Surrender Reason Graph and Text
January 2018 – September 2020 
24PetWatch owner surrender data
  • People surrender both dogs and cats to shelters largely due to factors unrelated to the pet. 
  • From March through September 2020, COVID-19 has not led to a significant increase in the rate at which pets are surrendered due to human reasons.
Top Reasons Owner Surrender Charts
January 2018 – September 2020 24PetWatch owner surrender data
  • Notably, euthanasia is the ninth most cited surrender reason (5.5%) and is higher for dogs (seventh, or 7.4%) than cats (tenth, or 3.7%). 
  • The top reasons for surrendering a pet are largely consistent both prior to COVID-19 and during; this is based on comparisons of March to September 2020 with March to September of both 2018 and 2019 combined: 
    • Too Many Animals – 16.5% prior vs. 18.0% during 
    • Housing – 14.4% prior vs. 11.3% during 
      • This may be due to eviction moratoriums. 
    • Caretaker or Family Health/Death – 9.7% prior vs. 10.2% during 
    • Non-Aggressive Behavior/Personality – 7.7% prior vs. 7.5% during 
    • Financial – 7.0% prior vs. 7.6% during 
  • The 2009 recession had higher surrender rates due to housing and finances compared to COVID-19, while the pandemic has had more of an impact on human health-related surrenders. This is based on comparisons of March to September 2020 with March to September 2009: 
    • Too Many Animals – 18.5% in 2009 vs. 18.0% during COVID-19 
    • Housing – 14.7% in 2009 vs. 11.3% during COVID-19 
    • Caretaker or Family Health/Death – 7.3% in 2009 vs. 10.2% during COVID-19 
    • Non-Aggressive Behavior/Personality – 6.4% in 2009 vs. 7.5% during COVID-19 
    • Financial – 10.8% in 2009 vs. 7.6% during COVID-19  

Sources of Acquisition for Surrendered Pets

Sources of Acquisition Charts
January 2018 – September 2020 24PetWatch owner surrender data

Note: APPA general acquisition data does not evenly align with these categories and is based on pet owners who may have multiple pets and provide multiple sources. 

  • Dogs that are given or rehomed to someone are most likely to be surrendered to a shelter (35.7%) compared to the 23% rate (APPA) at which such dogs are generally acquired.  
    • This suggests that additional community support may be needed to help those with rehomed pets avoid having to surrender them to a shelter. 
  • Pets from litters are disproportionately more likely to be surrendered, making up 17.8% of dog surrenders (4% general acquisition per APPA) and 24.4% of cat surrenders (2% per APPA). 
  • Stray (27.8%) is the most common source of acquisition for cats who end up being surrendered. 
  • The rate at which adopted or purchased pets are surrendered is significantly lower than the rate at which such pets are generally acquired.

Acquired percentage breakdown text box

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Jon Davis 
Business Intelligence and Strategy 
Best Friends Animal Society

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