Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: June 29, 2023 by Crystal Uys

cat staring its sleeping owner

Nobody wants to think about becoming ill, incapacitated, or dying, but as responsible cat parents, we owe it to our cats to think ahead and make arrangements for their care when we can’t be there to take care of them anymore. There are a number things you can do to ensure peace of mind not just for yourself, but for family and friends who may not know what to do in the event of your death or any other emergency.

Designate a caretaker

Find one or two responsible friends or relatives who will agree to take care of your cat if something unexpected happens to you. Ideally, these will be people who know your cat, and who your cat is familiar with. Provide them with keys to your home, and make sure they know your cat’s basic routine when it comes to feeding and care. Make sure they have your veterinarian’s contact information.  Another option for this may be your trusted cat sitter, but be sure to make arrangements for their fees to get paid out of your estate.

Discuss your expectations

When choosing a caregiver for your cat, thoroughly discuss your expectations with that person. Do you expect them to give your cat a permanent home, or do you want their help to care for your cat temporarily while they find a new home for her? Remember that this person will have complete control over your cat’s care, including making decisions about veterinary care, so make sure that you choose someone you trust to make the same or similar decisions to what you would choose. Always have an alternate caregiver, and stay in touch with both the primary and alternate caregiver periodically to ensure that the arrangements you made are still valid. Peoples’ lives change, and while someone may have been the ideal caregiver at one point, circumstances may prohibit them from being available if and when the time comes.

cat playing with owner
Image Credit: Dora Zett, Shutterstock

Consider a humane organization

If you can’t find an individual to help, you can consider a humane organization, but be aware that most organizations do not have the room or the funds to care for your cat, and they certainly can’t guarantee that your pet will find a new home. There are a few organizations that specialize in caring for pets of deceased owners, but it’s probably never an ideal situation. Your cat was used to living in a home, with all the love and attention that comes with that, and ending up even with the best of these types of organizations will most likely be extremely stressful for most cats.

Legalize the arrangement

Once you have found one or two potential caregivers, legalize the arrangement. There are a number of options, including wills and trusts, and which is right for you will depend on your situation. Requirements will vary by state. Trusts are  becoming more popular because they allow you more control over how your pet will be cared for. The goal is to end up with a legal document that provides for continued care for your cat either on a permanent basis or until a new home is found for him. The arrangements should include authorizing sufficient funds from your estate to care for your cat temporarily, as well as cover costs to look for a new home. Keep in mind that it can take weeks or even months to find an appropriate new home for cats, especially if they are older or have special needs, so be sure to allocate sufficient funds.

Your best bet is to consult with an attorney about the legal aspects of the arrangement. There are also numerous online services available that provide low-cost help to set up standard legal documents. I used LegalZoom for a number of documents such as my will, power-of-attorney, medical directive, and more, and I’ve been pleased with their services.

If you already have legal documents in place to care for your cat, remember to review them periodically to ensure that they will still meet your cat’s needs.

Image Credit: RODNAE Productions, Pexels

Additional considerations

There are a few other things you can do to ensure continued care for your cats in the event that something happens to you:

  • Carry a wallet alert card with contact information for your emergency care givers.
  • Make sure that emergency care givers know how to contact each other.
  • Post emergency contact notices inside your front door. Include favorite hiding places for your cats on this listing – depending on your cat’s temperament, he may be scared when a stranger enters your house.

This is the kind of thing that none of us want to deal with, but once you’ve put these arrangements in place, you won’t have to worry about your cats ending up at a shelter, or worse, euthanized, because there were no other options.

Featured Image Credit: MOUii, Shutterstock

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31 Comments on Who Will Care For Your Cat If You Can’t?

  1. Ingrid, I found your post. That’s a really important topic!
    It may apply not only to pet owners who are retired/elderly. I’m in my 40-s, single and I live alone. Should anything happen to me – a car accident/major health issue – my cat would have suffered for days, before someone would have realized he’s here. Even then – his future would be bleak.
    I need to put some plan in place too so that my cat will be protected!
    Thanks for opening my eyes.
    We take life and well-being for granted but it doesn’t always work like that.

    • Albert, I agree that this applies not just to elderly cat guardians. It’s also very important for those who live alone. Something I think is helpful is to carry a wallet card that lists your emergency contacts AND states that there are cats at your home that need to be cared for, along with the contact information for the person who has a key to your home and knows how to care for your cats.

  2. I live in a small town with very few facilities for animals other than a pound that keeps them for a short time and then does the unthinkable. I have very little family and my closest friend is allergic to cats so I often worry about what will become of them if I can’t manage to outlive them. I also have my father’s cats because he died without arrangements in place. So, at present I am feeding and caring for my animals and his so I know all too well that this is an important issue. My problem is, even if I were to make out a will or leave instructions, there is no one to leave my darlings with.

    • Kathie, if you can’t find anyone locally who would be willing to take your cats, I’d encourage you to research sanctuaries for cats, even if they’re not in your town or state.

  3. There’s a organization that help folks plan to make sure that these pets don’t end up in shelters… has most of the paperwork to help people start organizing their thoughts and paperwork to start the process. It’s a fabulous organization!

  4. My son and daughter (adults ) and I discussed what would happen with our animals if anything happened to any of us. My daughter has a husband and son so hers would be cared for; my son is single so his would need care; I am single so the same for me. We all agreed that no one needed to worry about the permanent care of our animals (son and I have cats, daughter has dogs & cats) if anything was to happen to any of us, the animals would remain in our family and not “gotten rid of”. When I became very ill early January and was in the hospital for 4 days, my daughter came to my home and took care of my cats, medications, food and litter. When I was recuperating, she came and cleaned and changed litter. After this incident I will make soome plans in my trust for my animals. I have 6 cats ages 17, 14, 11, 10, 8 & 2. Nice to know that all these creatures are considered family members, not just in my home but in the entire family. Thanks for the great information, I will pass it to others for their animals needs.

    • I’m glad you have the peace of mind to have arrangements for the care of your cats, Scarlet. Thanks for passing this on.

  5. Thank you so much Ingrid for this insightful, sensitive and well written article on a difficult subject. You treated it in a really concrete yet sensitive manner. I agree with all readers here, this is a subject all pet parents should be aware of, and that should be addressed by professionals who care for our cats.

  6. My mom has made a plan for me in case something happens to my parents. Hazel came to live with us after her owner’s dementia worsened and he needed to go to a rehabilitation facility. It is super sad to think about, but we all feel better knowing that there is a plan in place. Thank you for posting this important subject Ingrid.

    • I’m glad your mom has a plan, Gracey. Hazel is so fortunate that you took her in when she needed a new home.

  7. i actually did think of it-way back. i never take things for granted…and i’d only want someone i TRUST involved with elizabeth. i can’t even…
    but..once i got sick a few years ago-i knew this is something i had to keep in mind. tho i am not deathly ill-at all-i just.-it woke me up. even a car crash. i just must be prepared.
    bad thing: i talked with my boyfriend=who loves her…but he and i broke up..and i just..can’t. but i have other close people. even having 2 people…eek-or is that being too gloomy.

      • haven’t been over til now..but always “need” The Conscious Cat” 🙂

        anyway–thanks ingrid..i heard and agree.

  8. This is a real worry to those of us with lots of pets — i have eight cats and three collies in my house. Part of the cats belong to my kids but the rest and the dogs are mine and it is a big concern. I have spoken with friends about this in the past — i believe we are covered but i guess i need to verify that — put it in writing and make it “legal” so they won’t be hauled off to the shelter when someone doesn’t know what to do, though i am sure my kids will remember. I hope. This is something that I will bring up with my vet at the next appt, just as doctors keep copies of our “living wills” we owe it to our pets to protect them.

  9. Ingrid, I’m so glad you posted this. So many rescues at the shelter I volunteer at lately are there because of their owner’s death, illness, move to the retirement home where pets aren’t allowed or for simple financial reasons. More than a million homeowners lost their homes to foreclosure in the past year. In financially hard times, pets often bear the brunt and are abandoned or neglected.

    • Layla, I’ve seen a few too many pleas on social media sites lately about these types of situations. It’s not a happy topic, but it’s so important.

  10. This is an excellent post Ingrid. Like everyone else, I often think about this problem. And I really don’t know what I am going to do about a plan. How do you find homes for 16 cats, four of which are feral and probably could not be caught. So this subject is on my mind all the time. I am hoping that I can find someone that could possible round them up and at least put them in a no-kill shelter but if not, I guess they will all have to make the best of what that can get. It is horrible to think about it. I guess I need to start getting rid of them now. I don’t know.

    • Thanks, Marg. I know it’s a tough subject to think about, but I’m sure there are options for you – and I think I know you well enough by now that your comment about getting rid of them now was not meant seriously!

  11. Thank you so much for writing this, Ingrid–it’s been on my mind for quite awhile as we see so many at our rescue who have lost their owners due to death or terminal illness. There are many that are not as fortunate and will end up at kill shelters or on the streets because in my experience surviving family members are often overwhelmed at the time and are rarely the animal lovers the deceased were. This is beautifully written and emphasizes the importance of making a sound plan in the event something happens to us.

    • Thanks, Shannah. You make an excellent point. Family and friends have so much to cope with when someone dies, often the pets are the last thing they can deal with.

  12. This was on my mind for awhile. I have already made sure Steeler will be taken care of if I were unable to care for her. She is like a child to me and I have set forth who and they have agreed that she will be cared for just as I care for her. I have trust in that. Having a pet, which I never did, puts a perspective on things. I covered all the bases on my legal requirements and now Steeler will never be alone. She will be loved. So I think this article should be a pamphlet for all new pet owners. To many end up in shelters or on their own. Very sad.

    • Bernie, it’s always been interesting to me that even though most pet owners treat their pets like children, so few make arrangements for their continued care. I’m not a parent (of non-furry children), but I’d wager to say that most parents of humans have legal arrangements in place for their kids.

  13. My dad had noting. I was stuck with four cats. Mom and two babies and his elderly old man Tee. I couldn’t bear the thought of taking them to a shelter. My dad would have haunted me. I found a forever home for the three girls (all stayed together in the same home) and kept the old man set in his ways. 18 and still kicking.

    • I’m glad you were able to find homes for your dad’s cat, and that you were able to keep the old man. It must feel a little like you still have a part of your dad with you.

  14. Intelligent and well written…a copy of this should be in every clients welcome packet on first visits..
    I just redid NY will for s is not fun to think about it..but I have 4 cats..4 dogs…..the cats were given a generous stipend to live out their lives with Exec. Director of a shelter…

    • Thank you, Corgivet. Come to think of it, in all my years of working at veterinary clinics, this topic was never addressed with clients on a routine basis. Usually, it would only come up when a client asked whether the vet would take care of their pets after the client’s death. If you’d like to use this for your clinic, contact me off line – I’d be happy to make it available.

  15. You are right, I hate thinking about this! We really have no one that would take our pets in this scenario. We’ll just have to outlive them all!

    • I wasn’t able to do this for my cats until I had to talk about these arrangements with my father almost ten years ago. Up until then, I didn’t want to deal with the subject at all. But I realized how important it was for my dad to know that his affairs were going to be in order and that I would know what to do once he died. While I’m not ascribing these same emotions to our cats, I know that I felt better once I had put everything in place. Somehow, it took the charge out of the subject and it was replaced with peace of mind.

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