Nowlan, S. Y., Burlingame, L. A., Na, J. et al. 2014. Toys and technicians: 2 keys to a successful enrichment program for singly housed felines. American Association for Laboratory Animal Science [AALAS] Meeting Official Program, 583. (Abstract #P132).
Social or group housing is well known as the ideal environment for maintaining cats in a research setting as it allows specific behaviors such as play, grooming, and climbing. When social housing is not possible, enrichment items and personnel interactions are essential to providing a stimulating environment. We wanted to know which enrichment items consistently allowed our cats to demonstrate species-specific play behaviors and whether personnel being present impact their level of play. A feline infectious disease project necessitating singly housed cats was conducted at our institution. We wanted to maximize the opportunities for interaction with enrichment items and identify which items they spent the most time playing with. Twenty one 14-wk-old female SPF cats were housed singly for an 11-wk study. Eight different enrichment items were rotated through their environments. Scoring was done both while the technician was present and remotely recorded video. Items were scored using a number ranking-system of low-1, medium-2, and high-3 activity levels. Three toys showed a higher level of interaction both with and without the technician present; a basic cellophane crinkle ball (2.5), a heavy duty zip tie attached to the cage bar (1.9), and a crumpled piece of paper (2.0). As the clinical conditions of the cats were affected by the virus, their overall level of play with no personnel present dropped significantly while their level of interaction with the technician maintained high. Based on this data we determined that species-specific behavior depends critically on interaction with animal caretakers and/or laboratory personnel as cats become ill in this study. We conclude that when personnel are not present, enrichment items that are most likely to encourage play and therefore species specific behaviors should be provided to singly housed cats.