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The effects of social interaction and environmental enrichment on the space use, behaviour and stress of owned housecats facing a novel environment

By L. K. Rehnberg, K. A. Robert, S. J. Watson, R. A. Peters

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Abstract

Every day, millions of domestic cats are held temporarily in captive environments, such as boarding catteries and rescue shelters. Being in confinement can potentially invoke high levels of stress for these animals. Therefore, there is a need to develop appropriate strategies to reduce these effects. Here, we investigated the effect of physical (inclusion of different objects) and social (extended social interaction with carers) alterations to the environment of owned neutered cats in confinement on their level of stress. To assess stress levels we used behavioural stress scoring (Cat Stress Score: CSS), faecal glucocorticoid metabolite analysis and CCTV recordings. We examined how cats used objects/space in confinement, if spatial preferences and behaviour were related to stress load, and if stress load was affected by social interaction. We calculated an electivity index, which measures utilisation of features in proportion to its availability in the environment, to show that cats displayed a preference for concealed areas and raised vantage points over large open spaces and owner-scented resting areas. Results of linear mixed models indicated that cats with the highest behavioural stress scores spent less than half as much time in open areas as cats with the lowest stress scores ( P=0.023). Furthermore, cats with the highest behavioural stress scores spent 10% more time in passive behaviours ( P=0.008), suppressed essential maintenance behaviours ( P

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 169
Pages 51-61
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2015.06.002
Language English
Author Address La Trobe University, Department of Ecology, Environment & Evolution, Melbourne, Victoria 3086, Australia.richard.peters@latrobe.edu.au
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Tags
  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal welfare
  3. Cats
  4. Characteristics
  5. Effect
  6. Enrichment
  7. Feces
  8. Glucocorticoids
  9. Interactions
  10. Metabolites
  11. models
  12. peer-reviewed
  13. shelters
  14. Stress
  15. utilization
Badges
  1. peer-reviewed