Rehnberg LK, Robert KA, et al. The effects of social interaction and environmental enrichment on the space use, behaviour and stress of owned housecats facing a novel environment. Applied Animal Behavior Science. 2015 (169):51-61.
Cats are often housed in captive environments, whether a boarding facility or animal shelter. This can invoke high levels of stress for these animals. Thus there is a need to identify and adapt strategies to alleviate this stress. These investigators examined whether use of objects and social interactions altered the stress level of housed neutered cats. They used behavior scoring, levels of the stress hormone in feces, and video analysis of the cats’ use of space as well as behavioral characteristics to evaluate the reaction/preferences.
In general, they found that they preferred concealed areas or raised vantage points to large open spaces and owner-scented resting areas. Highly stressed cats displayed more passive behavior, and less diversity of behaviors. Extended social interaction with caregivers reduced the stress level by day 2.
Individual characteristics of cats affected stress levels, as cats with no history of previous confinement, older cats, and male cats displayed higher stress levels. Thus cats with particular attributes may be more vulnerable to experiencing stress in confinement.
Additionally, certain behaviors may indicate higher levels of stress. The investigators concluded that stress may be effectively reduced through extended interactions with carers, and enriching the captive environment through addition of hiding spots and vertical climbing structures. (MK)