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Intake: What can you find out about each cat?

The information you have about what the cat’s life was like before it came to you is vital to the individual care for that cat and its outcome. This information forms the foundation of each cat’s portfolio that records not only the cat’s back story but also your own observations and understanding of the cat that you acquire during its stay. Piece together as much as you can about each cat’s life and experiences as this is valuable information to be cherished and to be passed on to the new owner – often the story of the cat is the first thing which draws a person to it.

Intake process

You will need intake forms that capture as much relevant information as possible about each cat. For some cats, strays for example, there will be much less information available.

Staff will need to be skilled at talking through the questions with owners to obtain full and meaningful answers. For example, owners may be reluctant to share information about behaviour problems in case this prevents a cat being homed.  Reassuring people that this information will benefit the cat and that unwanted behaviour is not always continued in a different setting can be helpful.

Here are some ideas to help you manage your intake process.

  1. Develop a systematic process for all enquiries that allows staff to provide a planned approach with a full assessment. Ensure that there is a record of all current enquiries with action plans, waiting lists, timelines and allocated responsibility
  2. Consider using community-based assessments (visiting cats in their current homes) if resources are available for all but true emergency situations.  This allows cats to be properly assessed in their familiar environment and supports better care planning and outcomes (see example)
  3. Provide staff who deal with requests for help with ways of responding which include offering advice and support and arranging for community visits or referral to other sources
  4. Avoid the immediate panic response of bringing cats into your homing centre without an initial assessment- many situations are not urgent, and once reassured that action will be taken, most people are happy to wait
  5. Give staff clear guidelines of when to escalate any queries from the public and bring in more senior or specialised staff
  6. Ensure that any legal requirements for storing personal data in your country are adhered to


Case study:

RSPCA Canterbury and District Animal Centre received a telephone call from a woman who had multiple cats that had been left with her by her daughter. It was established at this point that she had ownership of these cats. There were four adults and several kittens, currently being housed in her spare bedroom. They had not been neutered and she reported that one of the adult cats was so aggressive that she was unable to get in to feed them, clean the litter trays or interact with the kittens. She wanted the RSPCA to take the aggressive one and leave her with the others (she planned to sell the kittens). A home assessment was arranged for two members of the team to establish what kind of home (pet or non-pet) these cats required. When they visited, the team members found that the woman actually had several other cats of her own, kept as indoor cats, some of which were not neutered. When they met with the cats in the bedroom upstairs, they found one young adult was confident and friendly but the other three adults were very frightened. The female cat that the woman reported had been aggressive had a litter of five kittens with her that were approximately 3 weeks old.

The action plan discussed with the woman was as follows:

  • The woman agreed to sign over the three adult cats that were frightened. After careful history taking it was established that they had not had positive experience of people at a young age, so after discussing the implications of this with the woman, it was decided that they needed a non-pet home. It was agreed that the woman would keep them for a short period awaiting the provision of a suitable place for them to go
  • She wanted to keep the friendly, young adult so it was agreed that the centre would arrange for her (and the woman’s own cats) to be neutered
  • The kittens were taken into the centre and hand-reared (they were all healthy and the staff were confident that pet-homes could be found if they provided them with the necessary positive experiences with people and the normal sights and sounds of a typical home from this point forward). The staff explained to the woman the need to care for them in a particular way, otherwise, they would not be happy pets, and she agreed that she didn’t have the time to do this so signed them over to the RSPCA

The staff kept in regular touch with the woman and 3 days later a farm home was found for the three adult cats. They were taken into the centre for neutering and then taken to their new home (a 25-acre smallholding where they have lived happily since then). The kittens were reared and developed into friendly and confident kittens and they were all found pet homes when they were 8 weeks old.

If the staff had not made a visit to the woman’s home then they would not have known about the other cats that were not neutered, they would not have been able to give the kittens the positive early experiences they needed, and the two other adult cats would have remained in a domestic home and continued to be frightened.

 Intake paperwork

This is the information that you get from the cat’s previous owner or the person who has known the cat in some capacity prior to admission to your homing centre.

  • The person who has brought the cat to you will have some key information and it is your role to establish what that is
  • They may know something about the cat that you can use to inform decision-making regarding how you care for it during its stay, what the most appropriate outcome may be and the best home/owner match. For example, if they refer to the cat as shy with strangers, you may want to house the cat in a quiet area of the homing centre, provide it with plenty of places to hide and give it longer to settle


Do the best you can

You may be reading some of the content on this page and thinking ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘I wish it was that simple!’ We know that life is complicated and when you are dealing with cats (and people) nothing is black and white. Following Cat Friendly principles is all about doing the very best you can under difficult circumstances. So, if you read something and think ‘impossible!’ then maybe consider what you could do instead that would have a positive impact. We know we cannot achieve perfection as it isn’t a perfect world.

Be pragmatic and be satisfied with ‘good enough’ when the ideal seems impossible.

You will need paperwork, maybe in the form of a questionnaire, that you can ask the person to complete as best they can or you can agree to fill in any forms with them during a face to face informal interview. Information on intake forms is only helpful if it is relevant and interpreted properly, so whether you are reviewing existing paperwork or creating a new document, make sure you ask yourself this:

  • Is the answer to this question relevant or helpful in some way to care for this cat or decide the best choice of outcome?
  • Do I know how to interpret the significance of any answers that might be given to this question?
  • Do I need the information contained in the answer to this question for the purposes of the cat’s personal records?

If you answer ‘no’ to any of the questions then it is probably not necessary to ask that particular one and it can be removed from the form; most people don’t like filling in questionnaires so the shorter and more relevant the better!

The kind of information that you do include will be about the cat’s back story:

  • Where was the cat reared?
  • Where did the cat live?
  • Who did the cat live with?
  • What has been the cat’s lifestyle up to this point?

Intake questions

Here are some examples of intake questions for owned, stray and abandoned cats. All the questions may not be relevant for your situation (they were written for the UK) and you may think of more that you would like to ask.


Cat Friendly Homing Questionnaire – Intake information for owned cats

Questions you may want to include in your questionnaire:

  • Date the cat was brought in

About the owner and their household:

  • What is your name, address and contact telephone number?
  • How many rooms do you have in your home (excluding toilets and bathrooms)?this may be useful to know to give you some idea of the size of the property (although room size may vary enormously) that this cat has been used to
  • How many rooms does the cat have access to?if the cat doesn’t have access to all the rooms of the home this may indicate there is a problem that you need to explore: is the cat banned from the bedrooms as a member of the family has an allergy? Is the cat fighting with another cat? Is the cat soiling in the house? Is the cat noisy at night?
  • What kind of area surrounds your home? Is it rural (1 or 2 houses surrounded by countryside), semi-rural (on the edge of a village or small town surrounded by countryside) or in a town or city?this may give you some idea of the density of cat population that the cat has been used to, on the basis that if the area is built-up with high numbers of residential properties then it is likely there will be a high number of pet cats in the area too. This, of course, is most significant for those cats with access outdoors
  • Is your home adjacent to a busy road?if the cat has not been injured on the road previously then this may indicate that the cat stays away from busy roads, obviously dependent on what access the cat has to the outdoors and at what time of day
  • Other? (give details)this gives the owner the option of describing another kind of area not included above, eg the person may live on a houseboat or in a high-rise apartment and not feel the above options were relevant
  • How long has the cat lived at this address?if the cat has only lived at this address for a short period it may mean that the cat has moved home previously with the owner, which can then be discussed to find out more, or the owner may only have had the cat for a short time
  • How many people in your home?you may wish to specify here whether there are any children in the household and, if so, their ages
  • On average, how much time do people spend in the home?you may wish to ask about weekdays or weekends as the time spent at home often is greater at weekends. This will enable you to establish how much time the cat is used to having people around. Don’t assume you have to mimic this in the new home, as not all cats need (or want) someone there 24 hours a day

About the cat’s veterinarian:

  • What is the name, address and telephone number of the veterinary practice where your cat is registered? – it would be very helpful to ask the owner for their cat’s medical history to be provided to keep with the cat’s records (you will need to remove the owner’s name, address and contact details if you intend to attach these details to the cat’s records for the future)

About any other pets the owner may have:

  • Do you have a dog? How much time does your cat spend near or with your dog? – if the owner has more than one dog you may need to ask them to list each dog separately if the cat’s response to them varies. This won’t necessarily guarantee the cat’s response to any dog in the future but at least you will know that there has been a history of positive or negative cohabitation

About the cat(s): – you will need to ask the owner to complete one section for each cat if they are bringing more than one cat into the centre

  • What is the cat’s name?
  • Date of birth?
  • Gender?
  • Age when neutered?
  • Breed?
  • When and where acquired?
  • Is your cat microchipped?you can record the number here
  • Has your cat lived with other cats? If so, does your cat show any of the following behaviour to other cats in the household? – the first four options below, if ticked by the owner, might suggest that the cat had a positive relationship with another cat in the home. The next four options may indicate some conflict, however you cannot draw any conclusions from this list alone, as play fighting can be misinterpreted as something more negative and some cats that are generally comfortable with each other can have some moments of conflict. The answer to this question also does not guarantee a good or bad relationship with different cats in the future
    • Grooming, or being groomed by
    • Rubbing
    • Sleeping with
    • Playing with
    • Hissing, growling
    • Staring
    • Fighting
    • Actively avoiding
    • Don’t know – some people may just not have observed anything, so it is helpful to give them the option to say they haven’t really noticed
  • Was your cat handled as a kitten?with this and the two following questions, you are trying to establish whether or not this cat had positive early experiences with people and other animals at a young age (between 2 and 8 weeks). Many owners do not have this information but it is very useful to know
  • Exposed to other pets?
  • Exposed to visitors?
  • Hand-reared?some hand-reared kittens grow to become challenging adults, either because they are very needy (over-attached and get distressed when their owner isn’t there) or they can become easily frustrated and can lash out when things don’t go their way. This doesn’t apply to all hand-reared kittens by any means, but it’s a useful piece of background information

About the cat’s health:

  • Is your cat vaccinated? If yes, please provide vaccination certificate
  • Does your cat suffer from any health problems? If yes, give detailsideally you don’t want to rely on the owner’s assessment of the cat’s health so having the medical records is the best option

About the cat’s diet:

  • What do you feed your cat? How much wet food? How much dry food?it can help the cat to continue to feed it the same diet in the centre to avoid any digestive upset that may occur with a change of food
  • How often do you feed your cat? – keeping to the same feeding intervals (if practical) may also help the cat

About the cat’s behaviour: – it may be helpful to list a series of statements and then give the owner the opportunity to tick a box that best describes to what extent they agree or disagree with the statement. You would need five boxes: Strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree and strongly disagree. This doesn’t mean that the cat will always behave in this way in another home with different people, but it can give you an idea of how the cat might respond. The following are suggested statements:

  • My cat is friendly with everyone
  • My cat prefers contact on its own terms
  • My cat is playful
  • My cat likes to be in the same room as me
  • My cat is needy (always wants to be with me wherever I am and constantly seeks my attention)
  • My cat hides away most of the time
  • My cat hides when visitors come
  • My cat spends a lot of time on top of cupboards or high objects
  • My cat bites or scratches me if it doesn’t get its way
  • My cat likes to be picked up
  • My cat is easily frightened
  • My cat is very independent

About the cat’s routine:

  • Does your cat go outside? If it does, what access is there to the outdoors (e.g. cat flap, on-demand via a window etc.)?
  • Are you aware of many cats in your neighbourhood? If you are, do you see them in your garden or near your home?this may indicate, if the owner reports numerous cats, that their own cat has been struggling with a dense cat population in its territory
  • How does your cat respond to other cats outside?this may be behaviour specific to that situation but if the owner reports that the cat is extremely aggressive to other cats and actively seeks out other cats to fight with then you may be wise to look for a new home for this cat in an area where the population density is low 

About the cat’s indoor litter trays: – this is useful information to know, particularly if the cat has soiled in the house (see below), in which case there may be an issue with the litter facilities that the owner is providing. If there are no issues around house soiling, then it may be useful for the new owner to know what the cat comfortably used in its previous home

  • How many litter trays do you provide for your cat/s?
  • What type of tray? Eg covered with a flap entrance? Open?
  • What type of litter do you use, give name and type if known, eg clay, wood, silica, corn?
  • Where are your trays located?

About any problem behaviour: – being non-judgemental and building a relationship of trust with the owner is important so they can discuss information with you that they may otherwise have withheld. It is important to reassure owners that having a history of a problem behaviour does not mean that their cat cannot find a wonderful home, it is, however, important to know what may have caused issues for the cat in the past so that a similar situation can be avoided in the future

Has your cat ever had a history of any of the following?

  • House soiling (urine or faeces)
  • Aggression towards other cats
  • Aggression towards humans
  • Aggression towards dogs or other animals
  • Over-grooming causing hair loss
  • Persistently anxious behaviour
  • Eating non-edible substances (e.g. wool, plastic) – once you have established the presence of any of these issues it is worth exploring them further: when did the problem behaviour start, how frequently does it occur, under what circumstances?
  • Is your cat behaving in a way which is difficult for you to tolerate (other than the above)? If yes, what is the behaviour causing concern?
  • If you are currently experiencing problem behaviour in your cat, and this is the reason why you are considering rehoming, would you wish to keep it if you could get the necessary advice to stop the behaviour?it is always worth exploring the option of the owner continuing to keep the cat with some helpful advice. However, once an owner has decided to relinquish their cat (not an easy decision for most) then they may well be beyond the point of changing their mind.

About the owner’s reason for rehoming their cat:

  • What is the reason why you wish to rehome your cat?
  • Would you wish to keep it if it was possible to get the necessary help? 

You may wish to add other questions on different topics that are relevant to your particular country or area or exclude some of those listed above. Ensure however that there is a reason for asking each question and that the answers give you some useful information that will help you care for the cat or find the cat the right home.


Cat Friendly Homing Questionnaire – Intake information for stray cats

Questions you may want to include in your questionnaire: – you may wish to adapt this questionnaire and use the questions before the cat comes in so you can explore the option of the cat remaining where it is with the necessary care in place

About the cat:

  • Date the cat was brought in
  • Colour?
  • Coat length?
  • Distinguishing features? – this can be, for example, coat markings, a kink in its tail, odd coloured eyes etc
  • Is the cat wearing a collar? – you may find a circle of hair loss around the neck indicating the cat did wear a collar but it has come off. This may be useful information in any advertisement to let everyone know that you are looking for the cat’s owner
  • Is the cat a kitten or an adult?
  • Gender?
  • Neutered?this can be obvious in the adult male as an unneutered tom cat will usually have two very obvious testicles between its anus and penis and its urine will have a very pungent smell. They also tend to have a broad head and large cheeks. It is more difficult to establish whether or not a female cat is neutered, so an examination at the veterinary clinic would be required to look for surgical scars
  • Obviously pregnant?
  • Signs of ill health? Trauma? – any evidence of health problems requires immediate referral to a veterinarian

About the background information:  – these are questions for the person bringing in the stray cat

How long have you been aware of the cat in your area?

Is the cat obviously friendly?some people may overstate the cat’s friendliness, so you want evidence of genuine friendliness such as coming to call with its tail held vertically in the air, approaching and choosing to stay near the person while it is being stroked etc.

Can you touch the cat? If so under what circumstances if the person says they can touch the cat when its eating in their back garden this doesn’t mean it is friendly or used to people, it may just be tolerating the contact as it is really hungry

What makes you think this cat does not have a home?some people will unwittingly feed a cat that lives a few houses away, thinking it is a stray without a home

Are you or anyone else currently feeding the cat?feeding any cat that comes to visit can be very confusing for the cat and should not be encouraged. Even well-fed cats with perfectly good homes are opportunistic feeders and will return to places regularly if they get food there          

What steps have you taken to establish if the cat has an owner?it is likely that the cat does belong to someone, so you want to encourage anyone to make the necessary enquiries before you consider taking the cat in. This involves not just speaking to people in the same road but getting some information about the cat on the community’s social media page, doing a leaflet drop in the wider community (bearing in mind that cats can travel in straight lines and don’t have to use the road system so may actually live several streets away), putting a paper collar on the cat with a telephone number for the owner to call etc          

About the environment:

Where was the cat found or in what area was the cat known to be living? – if the cat is not claimed by an owner and is subsequently homed it is often sensible to home the cat some distance away from where it was found otherwise it may go back to familiar territory with nobody to care for it

Since you have been aware of the cat, do you know where it has been sheltering? – most cats are self-reliant and will find a warm and dry place to sleep. If the cat appears at the person’s back door soaked through and cold then it is possible that, for whatever reason, this cat is not coping well with being outdoors and may well be a lost pet

You may wish to add other questions on different topics that are relevant to your particular country or area or exclude some of those listed above. Ensure however that there is a reason for asking each question and that the answers give you some useful information that will help you care for the cat or find the cat the right home


Cat Friendly Homing Questionnaire – Intake information for abandoned cats

Questions you may want to include in your questionnaire:

  • What date was the cat left at the centre?
  • Was the cat abandoned with other cats? – this may be useful information for record purposes if there are repeated incidents of multiple cats being abandoned at the same time – it could indicate that someone local to you is struggling to cope
  • Is the cat a kitten or an adult?
  • What carrier is the cat contained in? (eg cardboard box or sturdy cat basket made from plastic, metal wire or wicker) – this may give you an indication of whether or not this is a friendly pet cat. If the cat is contained in a cardboard carrier it is more likely to be young, sick or docile (or it would not have stayed contained)
  • On first inspection, does the cat look distressed in the carrier? (e.g. rapid or open-mouth breathing, wide eyes/dilated pupils, shaking, drooling, howling, hissing) – this can give an indication that the cat is very distressed and needs to be placed somewhere quiet for a period in a pen/cage with plenty of hiding opportunities to let it settle and feel more secure
  • On first inspection, does the cat appear friendly in the carrier? (e.g. Face rubbing the side of the cage, direct eye contact, body rubbing, miaowing) – this may suggest that the cat is confident and friendly but don’t take any chances and open the carrier until the cat is in a secure environment. The journey may still have been very unsettling for the cat and it may try to escape.
  • On first inspection, does the cat look sick or injured? If so, give details – this requires immediate assistance from a veterinarian and recording details of what is observed at this point is useful to record
  • Is the cat ear-tipped?this will show that the cat is likely to be a street or feral cat which has been neutered as part of a TNR programme. (Ear tipping is removing the top tip of the left ear under general anaesthetic to identify a neutered cat)
  • Have you scanned the cat for a microchip?if you do find a microchip it is important to record the number on this form for future reference. You can then start the process of tracing the owner
What else to consider

You may also be able to establish, from the previous owner’s perspective, what the cat’s temperament is like or how the cat behaved towards other cats, dogs or people. Bear in mind that a cat’s underlying temperament helps us to predict how it might behave in a given situation but other factors about that situation will also influence how the cat feels about it and ultimately, how it behaves. Such factors include things such as density of external cat population, presence and quantity of resources (such as feeding bowls and beds), owner behaviour, other cats etc. For example, a cat with a confident and friendly temperament may still display behaviours suggesting it is distressed if the situation it is placed in pushes it beyond its ability to cope, eg, too much attention from young children, the family dog, living alongside other cats. Information from a previous home may show what didn’t work for the cat, such as living in a multicat household, or you may find something important hidden in the answers to the questions on the intake form, for example, when an owner says the cat is very affectionate ‘on its own terms’ this may mean that the cat will swipe you if you try to stroke it when it is not in the mood.

It is also important that staff and volunteers are not judgemental about situations – owners may be struggling with complex issues in their lives and not have many options and choices. The aim is to get as much information as possible about the cat and not to criticise people (see communication skills).


> Intake: supporting policies

Our thanks to the Petplan Charitable Trust for their support in the development of this website

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