Free-roaming cats are a polarizing issue in New Zealand and there is strong need for a comprehensive evaluation of their welfare to better inform population management decisions. In this study, a 5-component visual health-related welfare assessment scale was developed and piloted on a convenience sample of 213 free-roaming companion cats (CC), 210 managed stray cats (MS), and 253 unmanaged stray cats (UMS) from various locations in Auckland, New Zealand. The welfare assessment was performed through distance observation and consisted of body condition score (BCS); coat condition score; nose and eye discharge score; ear crusting score; and injury score. The majority of cats in all groups appeared generally healthy with no nose or eye discharge, ear crusting, or injuries. Although there were no appreciable differences in the apparent welfare of CC and MS cats, future studies with more robust sampling designs are needed to draw accurate inferences. The scale also requires further validation by comparing the visual observations against more detailed physical examination and biochemical data. Nonetheless, the results from this study provide preliminary information about assessing the health and welfare of stray cats as well as considerations for developing and implementing robust assessment scales.
|Publication Title||Frontiers in Veterinary Science|
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