Guide to adopting a cat or dog in France, how to get pet advice

300,000 pets are abandoned in France annually but stricter rules on pet ownership may help animals find forever homes

man hold puppy at animal shelter
Many animal shelters are almost at capacity
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The Ministry of Agriculture estimates that between 750,000 and one million pets are adopted each year in France. If you are thinking of welcoming one into your home, we can steer you through the process.

Animal adoption is encouraged in France to reduce the number of abandoned pets, thought to stand at around 300,000 a year.

End of confinement made animal care hard

The situation seems to have gotten worse since the Covid-19 pandemic. Animal shelters say more people than usual took on pets when they were at home during confinement, and many subsequently gave them up when returning to work made it more difficult to look after them.

Read more: Thousands of animals await adoption in France after Covid lockdowns

Leading animal welfare association the Société Protectrice des Animaux (SPA) says its 62 shelters are almost at capacity since Covid, and there has been a worrying 56% increase in pets other than cats or dogs, such as guinea pigs or reptiles, classified as NAC, nouveaux animaux de compagnie.

The organisation is appealing to anyone who wants a pet not to buy, but to adopt from one of its shelters instead.

Illegal to show an animal in a shop window from 2024

In December, a new animal protection law was passed, which includes measures to curb the number of abandoned pets. First-time owners will have to sign a certificate confirming they understand the responsibilities involved.

There is also a new seven-day “cooling-off” period before the owner can take possession of the animal, to avoid impulse pet purchases.

The actual contents of the certificate have not been drawn up, so this measure has yet to be implemented.

Other restrictions in the law include a ban on pet shops selling dogs and cats from 2024.

It will also be illegal to show any animal in a shop window.

Meanwhile, there will be stricter rules for animal advertisements on websites, and sales to under-18s without the consent of a parent will be illegal.

A lesson on caring for pets is to be introduced into civic education in schools.

Finally, there will be higher penalties for animal cruelty and abandonment. Anyone responsible for the death of an animal through mistreatment can be sentenced to up to five years’ imprisonment and receive a €75,000 fine.

Read more: France launches €20m action plan against animal abandonment

Vaccination, sterilisation and microchips

When you buy, adopt or are given a pet, sterilisation and vaccination are highly recommended, but not obligatory, other than vaccinations against rabies for dogs travelling abroad and for dogs classified as 1 and 2 (regarded as “dangerous”).

Responsible animal welfare associations will, however, hand over a dog or cat only if it has had the appropriate vaccinations and has been, or will be, neutered. They are entitled by law to ask for a donation to cover vet and care costs. Identification is a legal obligation, either by tattoo or microchip. Microchips are the more common, and are the only form of ID accepted if you wish to travel with your pet.

The procedure should be done by a vet before a cat is seven months old (born after January 1, 2012) or four months for a dog (born after January 6, 1999) and costs between €40-€70.

They are registered on the Fichier National des Carnivores Domestiques by the organisation I-Cad, which was created in 2012. Details can be found at Take-up is low. It is estimated that 12-35% of dogs and 54-90% of cats are not currently identified.

Read more: Second-home owners in France to register travelling pets with I-CAD

To improve awareness, the new animal protection law says vets must display a notice reminding pet owners that identification is obligatory.

Ownership documents and insurance

A dog or cat must be weaned and over eight weeks old before being handed to a new owner, who should receive a document with details about the animal, a veterinary certificate, and confirmation that the previous owner has notified I-Cad to change ownership details.

In the near future, the new responsibility certificate will also be required for first-time pet owners.

Pet insurance for vet bills is worth looking into, although the cheapest policies can be limited in scope so it is questionable whether they represent good value for money.

There are plenty of opportunities to adopt from animal shelters in France. The SPA organised 40,000 adoptions in 2021. It discusses all aspects of adoption with prospective owners, arranges visits to the new home, and claims only 3.8% of animals are returned because it has not worked out.

It asks for a donation to cover vets’ fees, which is €250 for a dog (€300 if it is less than six months old) and €150 for a cat or a kitten.

Other national animal welfare charities include Fondation 30 Millions d’Amis and the Fondation Assistance aux Animaux.

There are also hundreds of small-scale adoption and animal shelter associations throughout the country.

Adoption could be at least 15 year commitment

Some, like Phoenix in Dordogne, were set up by Britons and boast great success in re-homing abandoned animals in their care.

Phoenix president Gillian Le Solleu says it is important that new owners consider all the implications for what could be at least a 15-year commitment.

“We will visit potential owners in their homes, if possible, and will not hand over the paperwork until they have had their pet for a month, to make sure the pet is right for them.”

She recommends that potential owners match the animal to their energy levels and remember that some smaller dogs need more exercise than some larger dogs.

“Our animals are with foster families until they are adopted, giving us a good idea how an animal will behave in a home.

“If animals are in a shelter where they have to be kept in a cage, it is more difficult to judge their character. Take that into account when you assess the animal,” she says.

“I feel you should think as carefully about adopting an animal as you would a child.”

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