The effect of housing and handling practices on the welfare, behaviour and selection of domestic cats (Felis sylvestris catus) by adopters in an animal shelter
As adult cats can often be difficult to re-home, they may spend long periods in rescue shelters where barren housing and inconsistent handling can reduce their welfare. In this study, 165 adult cats in an animal shelter in Vancouver, Canada, were assigned to four treatments. The Basic
Single treatment reflected typical conditions in that particular shelter, with cats handled in an inconsistent manner by various staff and housed singly in relatively barren cages. Three alternative treatments involved more consistent, positive handling by only the experimenter and research
assistants, plus three housing conditions: Enriched Single (individual cages with opportunities to perch and hide), Basic Communal (group housing with opportunity for each cat to have personal space), and Enriched Communal (group housing enriched to encourage play and cat – cat interaction).
The Basic Single treatment had the lowest percentage adopted in 21 days (45% versus 69-76% for other treatment, and higher stress scores than other treatments. The three alternative treatments did not differ significantly on any measure. Cats euthanised for poor health showed higher stress
levels when alive than other cats. In a questionnaire, most adopters cited certain behavioural/emotional traits ('friendly', 'playful', 'happy') as reasons for selecting cats; these were generally associated with lower stress scores. The results suggest that consistent handling combined with
a range of improved housing options can improve the chances of adoption for adult cats, perhaps by reducing fear-related behaviours that make cats less attractive to adopters.