van der Leij, W. J. R., Selman, L. D. A. M., Vernooij, J. C. M. et al. 2019. The effect of a hiding box on stress levels and body weight in Dutch shelter cats; a randomized controlled trial. PLoS ONE 14(10), e0223492.
While staying in an animal shelter, cats may suffer from chronic stress which impairs their health and welfare. Providing opportunities to hide can significantly reduce behavioural stress in cats, but confirmation with physical parameters is needed. Therefore, the aim of this study was to determine the effect of a hiding box on behavioural stress levels (scored by means of the Cat-Stress-Score) and a physical parameter, namely body weight, during the first 12 days in quarantine for cats newly arrived cats at a Dutch animal shelter. Twenty-three cats between 1 and 10 years of age were randomly divided between the experimental (N = 12) and control group (N = 11) with and without a hiding box. Stress levels were assessed on days 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 12 according to the non-invasive Cat-Stress-Score (CSS). Body weights were measured on days 0, 7 and 12. Finally, adoption rates and length of stay (LOS) were determined. Major findings of the study are: (1) the mean Cat-Stress-Score decreased with time for all cats, but cats with a hiding box showed a significant faster decrease in the CSS, reaching a lower CSS-steady state seven days earlier than the control group; (2) nearly all cats in both groups lost significant body weight during the first two weeks; (3) hiding boxes did not significantly influence weight loss; (4) no differences were found in the adoption rates and the LOS between both groups. Hiding enrichment reduces behavioural stress in shelter cats during quarantine situations and can therefore be a relatively simple aid to shelter adaptation. It offers no prevention however against feline weight loss, which indicates a serious health risk for shelter cats.