Cats In Cages: Enrichment Vs Environment
Animal shelters, kennels, and other organizations that house cats in cages often seek to improve welfare by providing enrichment inside cages, such as toys and spaces to hide. This study, published in Applied Animal Behavior Science, evaluates how both cage enrichments and outside environmental factors impact cat behavior and welfare. The results offer some interesting findings for cat caretakers.
In the study, 76 cats volunteered by their guardians were held in cages and observed for 48 hours. The cats were divided equally into four treatment groups: combinations of managed or unmanaged macro environments (rooms that did or did not feature regular husbandry schedules and minimal noise and disruptions); and enriched or unenriched micro environments (cages within the rooms that did or did not feature a box that cats could hide in and perch on). The authors collected data on factors such as eating habits, bowel movements, sickness behavior, body positions and other behaviors, and responses to a stranger, then compared results for each group. Significant findings include the following:
- Cats in all groups had suppressed food intake on day 1, but cats in managed rooms recovered their appetites more quickly on day 2, independent of cage enrichment.
- Cats in all groups more frequently urinated and defecated on day 2, and cats held in managed rooms were more likely to use the litter pan.
- Between 80% and 100% of cats exhibited sickness behavior on day 1; while cats housed in managed rooms had a significant decrease in both sickness and hiding behaviors from day 1 to day 2, cats housed in unmanaged rooms did not.
- Cats afforded the opportunity to hide (through a hide box in enriched cages) were in general likely to be in the hide box when observed, with those in unmanaged rooms observed to be hiding for the longest durations of time.
- Significantly more cats exhibited affiliative behaviors (e.g. rubbing, eye contact) and maintenance behaviors (e.g. grooming, stretching) at the end of day 1 when housed in the managed rooms compared to cats housed in the unmanaged rooms, indicating that cats in managed rooms acclimate more quickly than those in unmanaged rooms.
- Cats in unenriched cages showed more alert behaviors (e.g. dilated pupils, tensing) than cats in enriched cages.
- Cats in managed rooms exhibited a shorter latency to interact, longer duration of interaction, and more affiliative behaviors in response to approach by a stranger.
The authors note that there are two significant takeaways from the study, both of which offer guidance for shelters and other organizations that house cats in cages. The first is that cats require a period of adjustment time in order to acclimate to new environments. As the majority of cats in the study acclimated to confinement at the end of the 48 hours, the authors suggest that this may be the minimum amount of time needed.
Secondly, the authors state that when it comes to the welfare of cats housed in cages, “the macro environment appears to be at least as important to the cat as the micro environment.” In simpler terms, the environment surrounding caged cats—including noise levels and care routines—is likely just as important as the enrichment provided inside the cages. The authors recommend that caretakers seeking to improve caged cat welfare take steps including “modifications to husbandry protocols, management changes such as decreasing noise levels, and housing cats in areas away from dogs.”