Stella, J., Croney, C., Buffington, T. 2014. Environmental factors that affect the behavior and welfare of domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus) housed in cages. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 160, 94-105.
Understanding environmental factors that affect the behavior of cats in cages is important if caretakers are to improve the welfare of confined cats. The aim of this study was to examine the effects of the macro (room) and micro (cage) environments on cat behavior and their implications for cat well-being. Cats (n = 76) were caged singly at The Ohio State University and randomly assigned to one of four treatment groups that were combinations of a managed (M+) or unmanaged (M-) macro environment and an enriched (m+) or unenriched (m-) micro environment. Cats housed in the M+ environment experienced minimal noise or disruption and a consistent schedule while cats in the M- environment experienced random disturbances and an unpredictable schedule. The m+ environment included hiding and perching opportunities while the m- environment had no hiding and perching opportunity. Cats were observed for 48 h for maintenance, affiliative behaviors (e.g., eating, elimination, soliciting attention), agonistic, avoidant behaviors (e.g., growling, hissing, hiding) using scan sampling and 5-min, continuous focal sampling. At the end of day 2, a stranger approach test was conducted to assess the cats' reactions to the approach of an unfamiliar person. Data analysis of food intake revealed that the effect of treatment (P = 0.03), day (P < 0.0001) and the interaction (P = 0.03) were statistically significant. Cats housed in the M+ environment had a significant decrease in the mean (SD) number of sickness behaviors from day 1 to day 2 (M+m+ 1.6 (0.5), 1.0 (0.9), P = 0.02; M+m- 1.9 (0.5), 1.0 (0.9), P = 0.002) and hiding behavior (M+ 0.6 (0.3), 0.3 (0.4); M- 0.5 (0.4), 0.4 (0.4); P = 0.01), while cats housed in the M- environments did not show such decreases. Significantly more cats exhibited affiliative and maintenance behaviors at the end of day 1 (P < 0.001) when housed in the M+ environment (27/36, 75%) compared to cats housed in the M- environment (4/40, 10%). Differences between cats in M+ and M- in step 3 of the approach test included a shorter latency to interact (M+ 8.6(13.1), M- 15.6(14.8); P = 0.03), longer duration of interaction (M+ 21.1(13.3), M- 13.6(14.6); P = 0.03) and more affiliative behaviors in response to approach by a stranger (M+ 3.7(1.6), M- 2.8(1.7); P = 0.008). These results suggest that the macro environment may be at least as relevant to the cat as the micro environment, indicating that attention to cage enrichment without consideration for the effect of the room may be insufficient to optimize caged cat behavior and welfare.