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Risk factors for aggression in adult cats that were fostered through a shelter program as kittens

By K. A. O'Hanley, D. L. Pearl, L. Niel

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Aggressive behaviour in cats is a threat to human and animal safety and can also impact cat welfare if breakdown of the human-animal bond leads to neglect, relinquishment or euthanasia. The influence of both early and adult management factors on aggressive behaviour in cats was examined by surveying owners of adult cats that were reared in foster care. Adoptive owners of cats aged 1–6 years completed a survey that included questions on current cat behaviour and on the home and social environment (N = 262). Early management details for these cats as kittens were extracted from shelter records. Through factor analysis on fear and aggression questions from the owner survey, the following outcome variables were identified and further analyzed using logistic regression: frequency of aggressive behaviours toward 1) the owner, 2) novel people, objects and situations, and 3) other cats; and severity of aggressive behaviours toward 4) people in general contexts, and 5) other animals. The odds of owner-directed aggression were higher in female cats, and lower in households with three or more cats, or when owners reported using positive reinforcement. For novel people, objects, and situations, the odds of aggression were higher when owners reported using positive punishment, and we found an interaction where female cats raised without mothers had lower odds of aggression compared to male cats raised with mothers. Furthermore, the odds of severe aggression toward people were greater when the owner reported using positive punishment, and lower with three or more cats in the household. The odds of aggression toward other cats were increased in female cats, cats with equal indoor/outdoor access compared those without outdoor access, and cats that were owner surrendered rather than stray as kittens. Lastly, the odds of severe aggression toward other animals were increased when the owner indicated there were other pets living in the household and when owners reported using positive punishment, and lower when provided with training enrichment. We did not find any associations between aggression and early management factors related to early social exposure that have been anecdotally suggested to influence aggression (e.g., bottle-reared, singleton, early rehoming age). Instead, the majority of factors associated with the various forms of aggression were related to cat characteristics, the adoptive home environment and training methods. These results highlight several potential areas for future research, and for owner education to reduce cat aggression, particularly for kittens acquired through shelter-run fostering programs.

Date 2021
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 236
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2021.105251
Author Address Department of Population Medicine, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, 50 Stone Road E., Guelph, ON, N1G 2W1,
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Age
  2. Aggression
  3. Aggressive behavior
  4. Analytics
  5. Animal behavior
  6. Animals
  7. Animal welfare
  8. Behavioral research
  9. Carnivores
  10. Cats
  11. Differences
  12. Environment
  13. Mammals
  14. Pets and companion animals
  15. risk factors
  16. Sex
  17. shelters
  18. vertebrates
  19. Veterinary sciences
  20. welfare
  21. young animals
  22. Zoology