The Importance Of Space For Group-Housed Cats
We know that cats in shelters experience stress. It is believed that they show higher levels of stress during the first two weeks of being at a shelter than they do after the two-week mark. Finding a balanced group dynamic is key to this process. This usually sorts itself out after cats have had a chance to familiarize themselves with one another. In a group housing situation, this initial two-week period might be crucial. Cats that adjust well and seem more playful or happy are generally seen to be easier to adopt. In a home setting, bringing a new cat into the fold can be complicated, especially if space is tight. In any setting, giving an optimal amount of space can make all the difference for a successful integration.
This study from Sweden looked at the “social and spatial behaviors expressed by large groups of cats” at different densities and areas. In Sweden, people are allowed to keep up to 15 adult cats, but they must have at least 2m2 each. This study looked at the high end of that, studying several groups of 15 cats at a time. The cats were given various forms of enrichment such as shelves and hiding places and were fed twice a day. Using spaces ranging in size from 1m2 to 4m2 per cat (with the largest space having two “rooms” available at all times), the researchers found that increasing the space had an effect on “solitary play,” an indicator of good welfare.
Interestingly, when provided more space, the cats in the study licked each other, had more body contact, and were more active. Also interestingly, there was very little inter-cat aggression in any of the areas studied. This might be attributable to the amount of other enrichment provided. This was true even in the smallest spaces included in the study. There is also a strong likelihood that these cats would be familiar to each other given the shared shelter experience. This study is a good reminder about the importance of enrichment and space for cat welfare. While limited resources may sometimes prevent us from providing as much as we would like, it’s important to provide what we can.