Defining an Adoptable Animal

Jennifer Coates, DVM
By Jennifer Coates, DVM on Jan. 17, 2013

Last reviewed on January 21, 2016

Animal shelters are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Many have limited resources and more animals in need of placement than people who are willing to adopt them. This leads to tough decisions like determining if money and time should be spent making an animal with health or behavior problems "adoptable," or whether those resources would be better used elsewhere and the individual in question euthanized.

Up until recently, shelter personnel have had to make these life and death decisions on the fly, having little hard evidence regarding what potential owners might be willing to take on and what truly makes a pet unadoptable. Research is improving this situation though, as is evidenced by a paper entitled "Assessment of owner willingness to treat or manage diseases of dogs and cats as a guide to shelter animal adoptability" that appeared in the January 1, 2013 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The researchers involved in the study sent out surveys to veterinarians and pet owners in Iowa to "determine what types of behavioral or medical issues owners would be willing to address and treat and how companion animal veterinarians would classify various diseases or behavioral issues according to what they thought most clients would consider to be healthy, treatable, manageable, and unhealthy (unmanageable or untreatable)."

The results are encouraging. As stated in the paper’s conclusions:

The animal owner survey results supported the veterinarians' assertions regarding which disorders or conditions owners would consider treatable or manageable, in that most cat and dog owners stated a willingness to expend the money and undertake the methods of care that would be required to treat chronic or serious health conditions. For example, at least 50% of veterinarians identified conditions such as mild to moderate diabetes mellitus, autoimmune disease, keratitis, or neoplasia as being treatable or manageable, and most owners expressed a willingness to use treatment modalities (give injections, pills, or eyedrops), make substantial financial commitments to veterinary care, and make frequent trips to the veterinarian to address chronic illness or injuries in their animals… If cat or dog owners are willing to make a major investment, both financial and temporal, in the treatment of their animals' illnesses or behavioral deficiencies, this suggests that there are other reasons special needs animals are difficult to place… The common perception is that potential adopters want young, healthy animals that will remain active and energetic for many years. However, the acquisition of an animal is only one reason that persons approach animal shelters when selecting a domestic animal companion; other reasons include a desire to help animals in need or to give hard luck cases another chance at a good life. To facilitate the adoption of special needs animals, shelters can provide comprehensive, point-of-contact information regarding the type of commitment required to manage various chronic health or behavioral disorders and conditions and develop promotional materials (posters or advertisements) emphasizing the positive aspects of each animal.

So it looks like we may be underestimating potential pet owners. The presence of a treatable or manageable condition is not reason enough to disqualify a dog or cat as potential adoptee.

What do you think? Would you be willing to adopt a pet with medical or behavioral issues, or have you done so already?

Dr. Jennifer Coates


Assessment of owner willingness to treat or manage diseases of dogs and cats as a guide to shelter animal adoptability. Murphy MD, Larson J, Tyler A, Kvam V, Frank K, Eia C, Bickett-Weddle D, Flaming K, Baldwin CJ, Petersen CA. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2013 Jan 1;242(1):46-53.

Image: Wiley the hound by Kathy Doucette / via Flickr

Jennifer Coates, DVM


Jennifer Coates, DVM


Dr. Jennifer Coates is an accomplished veterinarian, writer, editor, and consultant with years of experience in the fields of veterinary...

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