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Effect of Catnip on Shelter Cats

Ellis SLH, Wells DL: The influence of olfactory stimulation on the behaviour of cats housed in a rescue shelter, Applied Animal Behaviour Science 123:56, 2010.

This study looked at the impact of environment enrichment in a shelter situation through provision of “novel smells” (odors other than those normally encountered in the shelter environment) in the cat’s enclosure. The odor exposure in the form of odorless cloth, or cloths with odor of rabbit, catnip, or lavender, were placed in the pen with the cat for three hours daily on five consecutive days (30 cats per “odor”, and one group of 30 with no cloth). The cats’ behavior was recorded every five minutes on days 1, 3, and 5. Overall, cats showed relatively little interest in the cloths, spending just over 6% of the total observation time interacting with these stimuli. However, animals exposed to the catnip-impregnated cloths exhibited significantly more interest in the stimulus than animals exposed to the other cloths, spending an average of 11% of the observation time interacting with the objects. Regardless of the odor, or lack thereof, the novelty of the cloth lasted only about one hour. Overall, the results suggest that certain odors, notably catnip, may hold potential as environmental enrichment for captive domestic cats. [MK]

Related articles:
Ellis SLH: Environmental enrichment: Practical strategies for improving feline welfare, J Feline Med Surg 11:901, 2009.