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Environmental enrichment for shelter cats

Dantas-Divers LMS, Crowell-Davis SL, Alford K, Genaro G, D’Almeida JM and Paixao RL. Agonistic behavior and environmental enrichment of cats communally housed in a shelter. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2011; 239: 796-802.

For cats in shelters or other types of confinement, improvement of welfare involves addressing social and cognitive needs, as well as the essentials of food, water, and protection from the elements. To this end, the provision of environmental enrichment offers an inexpensive and effective way to enhance the quality of life for confined cats. Puzzle feeders have been recommended because they can provide stimulation and increase positive social contact. However it is important to avoid frustration and disputes that can lead to aggressive behavior. These researchers observed a group of cats in a communal setting for dominance or aggression issues when a puzzle feeder was provided for enrichment. Twenty seven neutered cats (6 male, 21 female) housed in a single enclosure had been living together for 3 years. The colony was video recorded and baseline behavior information was determined. Then, a puzzle feeder was added for one hour a day every other day.

Puzzle feeder
Photo from original article

The cat food is below the plastic pipes, requiring exploratory behavior to access it.

The investigation showed that addition of the enrichment device did not enhance aggression in this stable group of cats. The authors concluded that a stimulating item that can be shared by all individuals in a stable group, such as a puzzle feeder of appropriate size, can play an important role in promoting positive social interactions among cats and improving their welfare. [MK]

Related articles: Ellis SLH. Environmental enrichment: Practical strategies for improving feline welfare. J Feline Med Surg. 2009; 11: 901-12.