Liu, S., Paterson, M., Camarri, S. et al. 2020. The effects of the frequency and method of gentling on the behavior of cats in shelters. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 39, 47-56.
Gentling of cats in a shelter has been shown to increase contented behaviors and reduce anxiety, but it is not clear how gentling should be provided. Two experiments were conducted in cats confined to cages, each having a central room with a large shelf at the back of the cage and a small one at the front and a separate, closed-off litter area. In experiment 1, cats were gentled daily for five days, with either one session of 6 minutes per day or three sessions of 2 minutes each per day, both with and without accompanying human vocalizations. One daily gentling period of 6 minutes, without human vocalizations, appeared more beneficial than three daily periods of 2 minutes. Cats gentled for 6 minutes per day increased the time they spent at the front of the cage (P < 0.001), suggesting that they were soliciting further gentling. Cats that were gentled without vocalizations spent less time playing with toys in the cage (P < 0.001). If vocalizations were included with a single long period of gentling, the cats spent more time in the litter tray, or lying down, suggesting that they did not solicit gentling (P < 0.001). In experiment 2, to investigate optimum gentling time, cats received four gentling treatments (0, 3, 6, or 9 minutes/day) with a different treatment each day over four days, using a Latin Square design. During gentling, the time that cats spent on the cage floor increased with the gentling duration (P = 0.006), and purring (P = 0.001) and eating/drinking (P = 0.02) were both higher in the 6- and 9-minute treatments than in 3-minute treatments. There were no effects of gentling on behavioral responses to a stranger, simulating a visitor to the shelter. We conclude that gentling encourages cats to spend more time on the floor, rather than at the back of the cage on a shelf, a posture which might attract potential adopters, and that gentling is best performed over several days for 6-9 minutes/day and without the inclusion of vocalizations.