Moody, C. M., Mason, G. J., Dewey, C. E. et al. 2019. Testing two behavioural paradigms for measuring post-handling cat aversion behaviour. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 210, 73-80.
Owned, shelter, and laboratory cats undergo handling and restraint throughout their lifetime for routine health examinations and necessary procedures. Many cats display fear and aggressive behaviour during health examinations, and there is potential for these behaviours to result in incomplete examination, and inadequate diagnosis and treatment, which are cat welfare concerns. Given the lack of validated methods to assess cat responses to restraint, the current study aimed to validate two behavioural paradigms: 1) a Handler Aversion Test, and 2) a Conditioned Place Aversion (CPA) test, to assess aversion response differences between passive restraint (the control) and full-body restraint (known to be negative). Cats were initially assessed as either friendly or unfriendly during interactions with a stranger, and this was included as a covariate in analyses. During the Handler Aversion Test, cats were restrained with the passive (n = 20) or full-body (n = 18) restraint, and aversion was assessed by measuring cat latency to approach the handler. CPA testing was carried out separately in laboratory (n = 10) and shelter (n = 42) cats using an apparatus made up of two visually-distinct compartments: cats were handled with passive restraint on one side, and full-body restraint on the other side, with handling methods counter-balanced between compartments. After handling, cats were placed into the apparatus and dwelling time was assessed for each compartment. For the Handler Aversion Test, only 38 out of 51 cats could be trained to walk the required runway, and latency to approach the handler was not significantly different between treatments (P > 0.1). During CPA testing, laboratory cats and friendly shelter cats showed aversion towards the full-body restraint compartment, spending most of their time in the passive compartment (P = 0.043, P = 0.035, respectively); a result not seen in unfriendly shelter cats. The current results suggest that, as assessed in the current study, the CPA test is more sensitive than the Handler Aversion Test for detecting differences in cat aversion responses between a known negative and control restraint technique.