Wednesday 23 May 2012

Housing Cats at Shelters

The method of housing cats at shelters has an effect on how adoptable the cat is to potential adopters. It also affects the amount of stress suffered by the cat at the shelter. I'd like to summarise the conclusions of three studies into housing at shelters.

Ottway and Hawkins 2003

Cats that did not know each other and who were housed in communal groups were more stressed than cats that were either (1) housed singly or where (2) cats where housed as a group but the cats were familiar with each other.

Durman 1991

When cats are housed in small groups of 4-7 cats in rooms in a shelter, newly introduced cats were stressed and were aggressive towards other cats. After four days of attempts to escape and vocalisations that showed signs of stress, these signs subsided. However, other signs of stress such as sitting underneath shelving changed more slowly. After two weeks an "equilibrium" was reached. After one year cats were more likely to have formed friendships.

Gourkow 2001

Cats kept alone in small stainless steel cages with food, water, litter tray and bedding with visits and handling by a number of different people where "less likely to be adopted" or adopted later than the other cats. The other cats were handled by one or two people only in the same way each time and were housed:
  1. as single cats in the same stainless steel cage but it had wooden shelving and an area to hide;
  2. in groups of eight cats in a communal cage with hiding places and shelving;
  3. as for 2 but with more furniture.

Overall conclusion (mine): new cats at shelters are probably better off being housed singly or in their original group until acclimatized to the new surroundings and then introduced to other groups if there is a space problem at the shelter. The environment should be "enriched" and provide hiding spaces. Being kept apart initial also allows checks on health and behavior etc.

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