Relationship Breakups: What’s Best for Your Cat?

[Image source: Anna Ogiienko on Unsplash]

Going through a relationship breakup can be an emotionally difficult time for all involved, including our beloved pets. As a cat lover, when you’ve made the hard decision to separate from your partner, it’s understandable to also feel worried about how your feline friend will adjust to changes in their familiar environment and routine.

The aim of this article is to provide practical advice to UK cat owners for ensuring the best possible outcomes for your cat’s welfare when navigating a split with your partner. Whether you’re married, cohabiting, or in a long-term relationship, breakups bring challenges. By planning ahead, creating consistency, and prioritising your cat’s needs, you can make this transition as smooth as possible.

When a relationship ends, one of the many major decisions you’ll have to make will be determining custody arrangements for your cat. And if you have several cats that are bonded, separating them could cause unnecessary distress and anxiety. Can the cats stay together and be jointly cared for by both partners?

Whether one or several felines are affected, if one person will become the primary caretaker, how will visits with the other person be handled? These logistics should be discussed ahead of time with your cat’s welfare at the forefront.

It’s also critical to evaluate how potential new living situations will impact your cat. Space constraints, other pets, noise levels and more could affect the animal’s ability to adjust. For example, a shy cat might struggle in a hurried, bustling shared house. Consider your pets’ individual personalities and needs when relocating them.

If you are married and getting divorced, pets are considered joint property under UK law. The court can decide who gets custody based on factors like who originally owned the pet, who cared for them, living situations, and the cat’s welfare needs. Petnups will be taken into consideration and shared custody is an option too. It goes without saying that amicable agreements focused on consistent care and the cat’s best interests should be made without court intervention, and open communication between spouses is clearly the best way to achieve this.

If you are an unmarried couple separating, the legal ownership of your cat will depend on whose name is on the adoption papers or who purchased the cat. However, courts can still consider caregiving duties and living situations when determining custody arrangements.

Many couples don’t realise that the legal position if you’re not married is entirely different. As one family lawyer points out, “as recently as 2019, 46% of people asked mistakenly believed that there exists a concept of ‘common law marriage’ and that unmarried couples enjoy the same rights and legal protection as married couples. Quite simply, this is wrong.”

For unmarried couples, creating your own informal shared custody agreement can avoid messy battles over pet rights. Discuss who your cat is most bonded with, living conditions for the cat with each partner, and how to split costs/vet visits.

Regardless of marital status, treat cats as beloved family members, not property to be divided. Prioritise adjustments that are least disruptive to your cat’s routine and environment.

As we all know, cats are creatures of habit who thrive on routine and consistency. When experiencing major upheaval such as moving home, maintaining some familiarity can be calming. Try to keep your cat’s care schedule, feeding times, walking routes, if they are accustomed to going outside, and interactions as regular as possible. Gradual change is key.

If the decision is made for your cat to stay in their familiar home environment with your ex-partner, there are some key steps to make the separation easier on your pet.

Even if you will no longer be living together, avoid having your cat experience the sudden loss of one of their guardians. Make time to give your cat affection, cuddles, playtime, and their favourite treats before physically leaving the home. Don’t simply drop them off and sneak away without a proper goodbye.

You can also help your cat adjust to your absence by leaving behind familiar items like used bedding or worn clothing with your scent. This can provide ongoing comfort. Exchange such items periodically so they retain your scent.

When the time comes for goodbye, keep things brief. Lingering can unintentionally stress your cat if they sense and react to your own emotional state. Offer reassurance but don’t disrupt their routine longer than needed. In the initial period after leaving your cat behind, resist the urge to excessively check in or visit. Allow your cat time and space to settle into their new situation. As hard as it is, limiting contact early on prevents reopening wounds.

[Image source: Zane Lee on Unsplash]

If neither partner can provide a home for your cat, you may need to explore responsible rehoming options. Pet charities such as Cats Protection have seen a recent large increase in cats being offered for rehoming. As Peter Shergold, their Head of Field Operations indicates, “We are now regularly hearing from struggling owners who have had to make the heartbreaking decision to give up their cat because they can no longer afford the costs of their care”. So, with this in mind, it’s important to consider all options carefully, rather than automatically turning to a cat shelter. Where possible, try to rehome your cat(s) together with a trusted friend or relative so their bonded companion stays consistent. Thoroughly vet any new owners or shelters to ensure your cat’s needs will still be met. By continuing to focus on your cat’s emotional needs and consistency through a major transition, you can help set them up for ongoing health and happiness.


  • Have open conversations about custody arrangements, focused on your cat’s best interests
  • Consider your individual cat’s personality, bonding, routines, and environment
  • Maintain your cat’s schedule, feeding times, interactions, etc as much as possible
  • Introduce new environments gradually using pheromones and familiar items
  • Exchange scented items to comfort your cat, as they adjust to one guardian
  • Provide affection and proper goodbyes for your cat when separating, and limit initial visits and contact to allow your cat to settle in
  • Explore shared custody arrangements if possible


  • Fight over your cat like a possession during heated disputes
  • Make custody decisions based on spite or ‘winning’ the cat
  • Disrupt your cat’s routine abruptly or sneak away without goodbye
  • Change environments hastily without an adjustment period
  • Separate bonded cat pairs unless absolutely necessary
  • Expect your cat to adjust overnight to a radically new situation
  • Attempt to replace an absent guardian immediately with a new partner

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