Cat housing in rescue shelters: a welfare comparison between communal and discrete-unit housing
Cats living long-term (over one month) in shelters were assessed for behavioural indicators of stress, using a stress scoring method in combination with behavioural observation. It is hypothesised that because of the inappropriate social grouping of unrelated adult cats and group instability, communal housing creates more stress than discrete-unit housing. Seventy-two cats were observed: 36 were housed communally with unfamiliar conspecifics, and 36 were housed in discrete units, either alone or with other previously familiar conspecifics. The mean stress score was greater in communal housing than in discrete-unit housing. Stress scores range from 1 to 7, with 1 indicating no stress experienced, and 7 indicating extreme stress. Individual scores showed that cats in discrete units, in comparison to those in communal housing, gained a significantly higher percentage of observations in the score 2 category, indicating that no stress was being experienced. Cats in communal housing gained a significantly higher percentage in the score 4 category (stressed). Score 5 was found exclusively in communal housing, but only in 2% of instances. Extreme stress was not found in cats housed under either condition. Cats in the different types of housing differed in their frequencies of hiding, play, sleeping/resting in close contact with one another, and agonistic behaviour. There was no difference between housing types in frequency of eating, drinking, grooming, and toilet use. In this study, cats housed communally experienced moderately higher levels of stress than cats housed in discrete units. Further research is recommended to determine the effect on stress levels of longer shelter residence time and of changes in group size and/or density.
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