Windschnurer, I., Häusler, A., Waiblinger, S. et al. 2022. Relationships between owner and household characteristics and enrichment and cat behaviour. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 247, 105562.
Owners may enhance their cats’ welfare by social enrichment (e.g. positive human-animal interactions), and physical enrichment (e.g. play objects). The purpose of this study was to investigate associations between owner characteristics (e.g. attitudes, attachment), household characteristics (the keeping of one or more cats) and owner behaviours enriching their cats’ lives. Another aim was to use the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB, using question sets targeting attitudes towards behaviours directed/activities provided to cats, normative and control beliefs) to identify predictors of owner behavior, represented by duration of a play session, number of toys constantly available/cat and frequency of outdoor access. Finally, we aimed to investigate associations between owner and cat behaviours. To this end, an online survey was conducted among cat owners. Questions assessing general attitudes, beliefs about cats’ needs, attachment, frequencies of owner-cat interactions, access to play opportunities and cat behaviour (play, unwanted behaviours) were summarised to components after principal component analyses. Owner attitudes and attachment systematically correlated with frequencies of human-cat interactions (e.g. tactile and non-tactile) and access to various play objects (p < 0.05). The general attitude that cats are ‘Beneficial’ and the TPB attitude ‘Important to play with cats’ were significant predictors of the duration of a play session (β = 0.15/0.14), accounting for 8% of the variance. Owner age, the husbandry decision to keep one or more cats and the TPB attitude ‘Important to offer different toys’ significantly predicted the number of toys constantly available/cat (β = −0.12/−0.47/0.45), accounting for 36% of the variance. Predictors of the frequency of outdoor access were the TPB attitude ‘Important to offer outdoor access’ and the control belief that the outdoors were too dangerous (β = 0.23/−0.60), accounting for 62% of the variance. According to structural models, an effect of attachment on owner behaviour is mediated by attitudes. Owner behaviours systematically correlated with cat play (p < 0.05) but not problem behaviours. The overall results suggest clearly identifiable relationships between attitudes, owner and animal behaviour. They provide insight into attitudes and owner behaviours to target when designing interventions to influence cat owner behaviour. Since positive owner–cat interactions were associated with cat play behaviour, a potential indicator of enhanced welfare, this study underlines the important role of the owner for cat welfare.