I cringe every single time I walk into a shelter and see adult cats or a group of kittens housed inside of an aquarium like cage with little room to explore or toys to play with. I have seen 10 pound male cats jammed into a 4 square foot cage with only one spot to sleep and 5 kittens packed into a 9 square foot cage for the 5 of them which I do not consider acceptable by any stretch of imagination. These cats often end up sick with herpes virus due to stress. It is obvious that some animal control facilities have little choice due to funding, management and other factors beyond their control but specialized rescues and more advanced animal shelters really have no excuse not to evolve. Also I feel like that animal control facilities can still provide toys and enrichment at the very least. Some facilities do not even offer basic deworming which costs only pennies per cat so I cannot say that I am surprised.
At the rescue I run it has been our mission from the very beginning to avoid small cages because they are boring and offer no enrichment opportunities for the cat in the long term. When the cat finally gets picked up by a potential adopter the cat is too starved for adventure that they pay little attention to the person. You always want to provide a better place for them than where they came from or you are doing them no favors. The smallest cage we are willing to house an adult cat in is about 8 square feet and the smallest we use for a kitten is 5 square feet. We will go down in size only if the kitten has a bone fracture that requires strict confinement. We try to give each adult 12 square feet and each kitten around 4-6 square feet each. The Department of Agriculture guidelines state that each cat under 8.8 pounds will need 3 square feet and that each cat over that will need 4 square feet. I think as animal advocates that we need to strive toward not just meeting the minimum standard.
We have mostly switched over to using a 100 square foot kitten room for our kittens and large enclosures for our adult cats. We do have several 25 square foot enclosures set aside for more kittens as needed for overflow. Giving the adoptable cats more room to run, roam, play and socialize will increase their health and happiness which is priceless. Taking proper care of the cats in your care is all about allowing them to express natural species like behavior which is impossible in small cages. The enclosures we use are 25 square feet and were only about $400 each. We do not make much money and even I think that $400 is not very much for a long term housing structure that is durable and easy to install in one hour or less with one person. Or if a shelter has only small stainless steel cages – the can use a specialized piece of equipment to cut a hole and combine the two cages with a portal.
Cats Benefit From:
- Elevated Space
- Interactive Toys
- Scratching Units
- Catnip and Treats
- Toys That Connect To The Cage
- Distance Between Bowls and Litter
- Activity To Watch (Cat Television)
- Sunlight and Music
I house severely injured kittens and sick kittens at my house inside of 30 square foot enclosures which I made myself with plastic panel kits that I bought on Amazon which are meant for ferrets. It cost me $80 for the large enclosure to make and $50 for the small enclosure to make. I like to use a big enclosure even for injured and sick kittens because I include all types of toys, scratching posts, beds and hiding locations to keep them comfortable. It really is about giving the cat a choice with how they want to ride out their recovery. Being able to surround themselves with their own scent by marking the post by scratching for instance is really beneficial. We do not want kittens sleeping in their boxes which often will happen in a cage after a cat has had surgery. I bought a ton of plastic panels and used zip ties to combine them for this project. I first got this idea when I was being sent 15 kittens with only a 2 day notice and no way to purchase anything extravagant so I had to get creative.
My idea of combining plastic panels worked marvelously from day one and they have held up with no damage for the past 3 months of use at our house. They are very easy to tear down, put together, modify and store so I love them more than commercial cages. I will post a tutorial at some point on how to go about putting together the enclosure along with adjusting them so different aged kittens or adult cats do not escape. I find that a two leveled enclosure works best for kittens under 14 weeks then you have to go up one level after that. The one level enclosure work for under 8 weeks and is ideal for orphans. I even found a way to make a door within the plastic panel structures with the use of eye hooks and small bolt snaps so you easily enter into the structure then back out rather than trying to step over it. I managed to make a 25 square foot enclosure that was two levels high in just 30 minutes without any instructions or specialized tools.
I would say the most unfair use of small space is to house a large cat inside of a 3-4 square foot cage with little room to move around as I stated in the beginning of this article. This can lead to muscle atrophy and boredom that results in stress related illness. I have also seen a shelter house a cat that has been at the shelter for a very long time inside of a small cage which will only lead to an increase in stress and illness. You can literally see the cat become stir crazy once they have had enough of living in a cage which will often display to me as pacing back and forth, constantly meowing, biting or scratching at the bars and sleeping all of the time. At our no-kill rescue we have it so cats can watch birds chirping on the television and have some calming music that goes on during the night time for them when we are gone.
I have a problem with small cages because it often breaks the personality and individuality of the cat who is housed and it is becoming a big problem for shelters. I think some people believe that a cat does not need as much attention, enrichment or socialization opportunities as dogs do and that is simply not true. A small cage often ends up with cat litter in the water, water in the food and a muddy mess by the end of the day. A cat also does not like to eat near his water or near his litter box because in the wild the cat is worried about contaminating his kill (prey). As you can see there are so many downsides to a small cage including less of a mess and a better life and increased adoptability overall. I know that about 35% of our adopters say that they choose to adopt from us because we are working towards a cage free like housing and they love that.
At the very least I would expect to see toys, pipe cleaners attached to the cage, elevated perching locations, scratch pads and other fun activities but usually that is not the norm. Typically the cats are left to just stare at an empty cage all day long like they are literally in prison. It is not like these items are very expensive because they are not. You can buy 500 pipe cleaners for $10 and a package of 100 ping pong balls for $10. Enrichment is the easiest and cheapest option that you can go with for keeping cats happy. I will make an enrichment guide and cat housing guide as follow up posts to this post a later time in time. For now your homework is to give your cats more space to be themselves and to thrive.