How to Legally Protect Your Cat if You’re No Longer Around


Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the March/April 2016 issue of Catster print magazine. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine.

In the last decade of her life, my grandmother adopted a sweet adult calico cat named Cali. I remember Cali curling up on the sofa next to my grandmother, gently purring as Grandma stroked her back. When Grandma had to enter the hospital for surgery, she asked my mom to be prepared to care for Cali “just in case.” Thankfully, the preparations were unnecessary, and Cali lived out her remaining years with my grandmother.

But this isn’t always the case. Tragedy can strike a cat owner at any age, leaving a precious pet in a precarious situation. Fortunately, you can take steps now to make sure your cat will continue to live in a happy home, should something prevent you from being able to care for her.

“It is vital that pet owners or pet guardians create legal documents that protect the welfare and security of family pets and all animals,” said Rachel Hirschfeld, animal welfare attorney at law at Pet Trust Lawyer. “When you cannot take care of your pet, for any reason, during your life or after your death, it is truly important to create a legally enforceable plan to protect your beloved pet’s continued care.”


Hirschfield said that a document such as a pet protection agreement allows you to spell out specific arrangements for your cat, should anything prevent you from providing essential care.

“For example, you can state what brand of food your cat likes to eat, the pet’s veterinarian, and even the groomer,” she said. “You can leave money to care for your pets, but it’s optional.”

Stuart Furman, an elder-law attorney at the Southern California Legal Center, noted that any legal plans made for your cat should consider as many potential questions as possible, including:

  • Where will your cat reside on a permanent basis?
  • Has your cat previously been introduced to the new caregiver?
  • Has the person consented in advance?
  • Have you identified a no-kill shelter that will take your cat, should your intended care provider be unwilling or unable?

While Furman typically prepares legal documents for pet owners who are in their senior years, his tips apply to cat owners of all ages. For example, Furman recommended making temporary arrangements with another person for your cat’s care in case you must enter the hospital or travel out of the country. He also believes you should gather all your cat’s veterinary records in advance, so the records can be found easily in case of an emergency.


If your feline companion is a kitten, any pet estate agreements you prepare might need to include provisions to have your cat spayed or neutered. If necessary, the arrangements might need to ensure your kitten is brought up to date on her vaccinations, too.

Happy, contented kitten
Happy, contented kitten by Shutterstock

Don’t worry: Your kitten will probably blend easily into a new household should she need to live in another home.

Be concerned: Your selected caregiver should understand the high energy that often accompanies a kitten.

“Understanding [a pet’s] characteristics is important to protect the animal,” said Furman, “since they can’t communicate on their own.”

Adult cats

Legal provisions for an adolescent or adult cat should also consider the pet’s personality. Your selected caregiver might need to deal with some confused behavior from your cat.

“They sense stress and tragedy and react as you would expect,” Furman said.

Keeping the cat’s routine in place as much as possible can help in a transition, and feeding the same food can help, too. Furman recommended being as explicit as possible in identifying your cat’s dietary preferences and needs.

Furman suggested that you ask yourself these questions: What is the regular food? Feeding times? Amounts? Are allergies identified?

“Many pets have digestion issues if foods are changed,” he said.

Don’t worry: An outgoing, sociable cat might need a grace period to adjust to a new home but will probably be running the household before long.

Be concerned: A shyer cat might need a bit more time to adjust to a new situation and might express her stress through inappropriate behavior. Your intended caregiver should be aware of any potential situations that might occur.


Senior cats

Pet estate arrangements for a senior cat will probably include items related to the cat’s health. Furman suggested the following questions:

  • Does your cat take medications?
  • What are the dosages?
  • How are the medications refilled?
  • Who is your regular veterinarian?
  • Who is your emergency veterinarian?
  • Do you have a list of the cat’s vaccinations including rabies shots?

Don’t worry: You’ve probably taken excellent care of your cat her entire life, so she will probably live out her life happily in her new home.

Be concerned: Make sure your designated caregiver understands all of your senior cat’s medical requirements ahead of time, including any daily procedures such as injecting insulin or administering medications. The caregiver should be willing to provide the daily care should something happen to you.

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