Note: This article’s statistics come from third-party sources and do not represent the opinions of this website.
While most of us would go to the ends of the earth for our animals, not every pet is able to find their loving, forever home, only knowing shelters as a place of residence. Animals living in shelters suffer from various hardships. For animal lovers, a few of these statistics may be hard for you to learn. Still, they’re important to know.
If you’re thinking about buying a dog from a breeder or even a pet store, we encourage you to read this article first. Many animals need loving homes, and if you visit your local animal shelter, you just may find your next best friend.
Here, we break down animal shelter statistics into different categories.
The 14 Animal Shelter Statistics
- As of 2023, there are over 3,500 animal shelters in the U.S.
- Approximately 6.3 million companion animals enter U.S. shelters each year.
- Approximately 4.1 million shelter animals are adopted yearly.
- About 810,000 stray animals that enter shelters are returned to their owners.
- Roughly 52% of all shelters in the U.S. are kill shelters.
- Approximately 390,000 dogs are euthanized yearly in shelters.
- Five states account for most euthanasia deaths of animals in shelters in the U.S.
- Only 27 states have full bans on using gas chambers as a method of euthanasia in animal shelters.
- Four states still use gas chambers in shelters in the U.S. in animal shelters.
- In 2019, Delaware became the first no-kill U.S. state.
- Only 10% of animals brought to shelters are spayed or neutered.
- Roughly 25% of dogs in shelters are purebred.
- 7 million animals are killed in shelters due to overcrowding.
- In 2020, fewer cats and dogs were adopted from shelters or rescues than in years past.
U.S. Animal Shelter Facts
1. As of 2023, there are over 3,500 animal shelters in the U.S.
(The Humane Society)
Animals end up in shelters for many reasons: abandonment, behavioral issues, not enough time for the pet, etc. It’s hard for responsible pet owners to understand how someone could surrender their pet, but it happens often. That’s why it’s important to understand the commitment before bringing home any animal.
2. Approximately 6.3 million companion animals enter U.S. shelters each year.
Knowing that more than 6 million companion animals are in shelters is heartbreaking, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. It’s estimated that there’s been a decline from 7.2 million cats and dogs entering shelters since 2011.
3. Approximately 4.1 million shelter animals are adopted yearly.
More than 4 million adoptions from shelters is a terrific feat, but it could be even better. Thanks to the many pet advocacy groups in the U.S., the “Adopt, Don’t Shop” campaign has helped thousands of animals in shelters find loving homes. The campaign pushes for people to rescue animals from shelters rather than buy from pet stores.
4. About 810,000 stray animals that enter shelters are returned to their owners.
(Shelters Animal Count)
Luckily, this number shows that some animals simply get out of the yard and wander off. That’s still a staggering number, but at least shelters give pet owners a place to check in case their pet has seemingly vanished. Of this total, 710,000 are dogs, and 100,000 are cats. This highlights the importance of adding a collar with contact information and making sure your pet is microchipped.
5. Roughly 52% of all shelters in the US are kill shelters.
While this number is still high, it’s an improvement. Only 24% of shelters were no-kill in 2016, but that percentage has now doubled—in 2021, no-kill shelters accounted for 48% of animal shelters in the U.S.
U.S. Euthanasia Statistics
6. Approximately 390,000 dogs are euthanized yearly in shelters.
390,000 euthanized dogs are 390,000 too many. The biggest reason for euthanasia in shelters is overcrowding, which highlights the importance of the willingness to commit before bringing an animal home. It also emphasizes the importance of considering adopting an animal rather than paying full price from a breeder.
7. Five states account for most euthanasia deaths in animal shelters in the U.S.
Approximately 800,000 cats and dogs are euthanized in shelters each year, with five states accounting for 50% of those deaths.
In California, 75% of euthanasia deaths are cats.
8. Only 27 states have full bans on using gas chambers as a method of euthanasia in animal shelters.
An outdated and cruel practice, the use of gas chambers to euthanize animals in shelters still goes on today. However, 70 gas chambers in 13 U.S. states have voluntarily closed their chambers since 2013. The majority of shelters in America today practice humane euthanasia carried out by injection of approved drugs.
9. Four states still use gas chambers in the U.S. in animal shelters.
These states are Ohio, Wyoming, Missouri, and Utah. Change.Org is stepping up to help ban these states from using this barbaric method. If so inclined, you can sign the petition too. Every little bit helps; no animal should be put to death in this manner.
10. In 2019, Delaware became the first no-kill U.S. state.
Since animals don’t have a voice, this organization stepped in to be theirs. They care for over 16,000 animals a year, with 96% placed in homes; no animal is ever turned away. This state proves that the vast majority of animals can be saved through simple adoption.
Pet Overpopulation Statistics
11. Only 10% of animals brought to shelters are spayed or neutered.
This low percentage of animals that are spayed or neutered adds to the overpopulation and overcrowding of shelters. This surgery can also lower the risk of your pet suffering from various ailments and even some forms of cancer later in life.
12. Roughly 25% of dogs in shelters are purebred.
Not all dogs in shelters are mixed breeds. Some people prefer to buy from a breeder because they want a certain breed, but breeders are not the only route to finding a purebred animal. Visit your local shelter; they may have the purebred you’re looking for that needs a loving, forever home.
13. 7 million animals are killed in shelters due to overcrowding.
Overcrowding causing the death of close to 3 million animals is a sobering fact. Sadly, when shelters become overcrowded, they have to make room for more animals being brought in. Spaying and neutering your pet is vital in an effort to decrease this number.
14. In 2020, fewer cats and dogs were adopted from shelters or rescues than in years past.
Roughly 36% of dogs and 43% of cats were adopted through animal shelters in 2019–2020, despite the number of pet owners increasing overall in the same time period. Sadly, these percentages have declined—44% of dogs and 47% of cats were adopted through shelters in 2017–2018.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long do animals have before euthanization?
Depending on the state you live in, most require a 5–7-day stay before being put down. A holding period law active in over 30 states requires this time frame so owners who have lost an animal can contact their local shelters to reclaim them. Sadly, this isn’t always the case; the time frame can be as little as 48 to 72 hours before euthanization. (Animal Legal and Historical Center)
Are some animals victims of domestic violence?
Some animals end up in shelters because of domestic violence. Animal cruelty and domestic violence go hand in hand. In a 2017 study, 89% of victims of domestic violence had companion animals that were also harmed or killed by the victim’s abusive partner. People who abuse animals are much more likely to abuse humans too. (Animal Legal Defense Fund)
What can I do to help?
One way you can help is to volunteer at your local shelter or rescue. They always need help, whether from donations, funding, or just spending time with the animals. It takes a substantial amount of money to run a shelter or rescue, and your monetary donation can help in many areas. You can also offer to foster an animal until they find a forever home.
How can I start my own rescue or shelter?
It is possible to start your own community outreach program. The first step will be to assess your community to discover what holes need to be filled and proceed from there. Rescue Central is a great place to start. Here, you can find valuable information and resources to help you run a successful rescue or shelter. (HSUS)
How can I avoid needing to surrender my pet?
Being a pet owner is a huge responsibility and should not be entered into lightly. One must have the financial stability and commitment to have a successful outcome for the animal. Owning pets can be expensive, especially if they have medical issues, and you must be prepared for that.
When you adopt an animal, you must be prepared to commit to the animal for the rest of their life. One of the problems with overcrowding in shelters is that people get animals without any education on how to properly take care of them. Most behavioral issues are from the owner not properly training their pet. If you need help with training, your veterinarian can guide you in the right direction to get help.
Certain behavioral issues may also be a medical condition. If your pet suddenly starts relieving themselves in the house, for example, take them in for an examination by your vet. It could be a treatable issue.
Finally, spay or neuter your pet. Remember that only 10% of animals in shelters have been spayed or neutered. Low-cost spay/neuter programs are available—this is one of the most important health decisions that you can make for your pet. (ASPCA)
How do I know if my local shelter is professionally run?
You can go to your local shelter and evaluate how they run the operation. A reputable shelter will have the following: a sick or isolation ward for sick animals, a compassionate staff, a veterinarian on site and on call 24 hours a day, a humane method of euthanasia (or even better, none at all), a pre-adoption checklist and follow-up evaluation, and a quiet place to meet any potential animal that you’re thinking of adopting. (PETA)
All animals deserve a shot at a good life. It’s unfair for any animal to end up in a shelter because the owner gets “tired” of them or simply can’t handle or afford their care. Educate yourself before adopting, and make sure you can commit for the duration of the animal’s life.
Animals should be cared for as family members. If you move to a new state, the animal should accompany you, just like a child. Animals are innocent creatures that rely on us humans to take care of them. They don’t understand why they’re in a shelter—they just want love. In return, they’ll give you more love than you can ever imagine.
We hope that this information has given you a better understanding of animal shelters and what you can do to help. Not everyone can afford to donate money, but there are so many other ways that you can help. All shelters can use old bedding, blankets, food and water bowls, or just your time. The animals in these shelters will be most grateful for anything that you can give or do.
Featured Image Credit: hedgehog94, Shutterstock