Monday 19 May 2014

The Role of Cat Shelters

The role of cat shelters is to provide care, food and housing for unwanted and abandoned cats and where possible to re-home them.  Rehoming should be done as quickly as possible in order to minimise stress for the cats.  A wide variety of cats enter shelters.  They vary widely in age, in health and in respect of their vaccination status.  Some cats are stray cats and some are feral and you will see purebred pedigree cats as well as random bred moggies at cat shelters.
Adopted from Animal Rescue League of Southern Rhode Island

Managing and controlling infectious diseases at shelters is a major task.  A study concluded that up to 11% of healthy cats on entry to a cat shelter carry a contagious virus such as calicivirus. These cats may well spread the virus amongst the existing shelter population.  The sheltered environment may not be the primary source of viruses but viruses are more likely to spread within the shelter environment between infected and non-infected cats and to reactivate latent infections.  In addition, as shelter cats are liable to be stressed, latent infections may be reactivated and/or become more severe.

Experts are able to measure the stress of the cat using what is called a Cat-Stress-Score (CSS).  The test is based on body movements and postures including measuring pupil size.  The test tells people the stress level in individual cats confined to a small space and how the stress might change over the time the cat is at the shelter.

Cats which have no previous experience of being in boarding catteries, or accommodation other than his or her own, are liable to be more stressed on entry to a cat shelter.  Although the age of the cat does not impact upon the stress that the cat suffers from, it does impact upon the way the stress levels decline while the cat is at the shelter.  Older cats got used to the shelter more quickly indicated by a more rapid decline in stress.

The more dense the population of shelter cats are, the more stressed they become.  A minimum floor space per cat of 1.7 m² is recommended for acceptable stress levels but the figure only relates to cats who know each other in a stable group and in enclosures that were well adapted for the cats.

Some cats and shelters stay for a very long time, perhaps years, if the shelter genuinely does not kill any cats other than on genuinely humane grounds due to terminal illness.  Under these circumstances, it is important that the cats are handled by a familiar person on a regular basis.

Shelter cats who are handled regularly and who are able to interact with people regularly are more likely to be comfortable in the hands of a stranger and such a stranger may be a person who wishes to adopt a particular cat and therefore the importance of interactions with shelter staff for long staying cats is important in respect of the success rate of adoptions.

Source: The Welfare of Cats - Rochlitz.

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