A University built an enriched environment for cats in a contraceptive vaccine research study. This is a novel and welcome approach to using cats in research programs. We are used to seeing cats in cold, sterile environments and killed at the end of the research e.g. USDA research on toxoplasmosis over many years. The conventional animal testing facilities are completely unacceptable to a large section of society.
The University of Illinois created a purpose built enriched environment for rescue cats used in contraceptive vaccine research. The photo shows us better than words what it is like:
It was described as a ‘pole barn’. It housed 35 cats. The facility and operation was classified as a ‘dual-licensed’ USDA research facility and an Illinois Department of Agriculture animal shelter.
In effect, the university researchers created a hybrid animal shelter/cat research facility. It looks great. The sort of environment that home owners could consider creating.
The spokesperson for the researchers Amy Fisher said:
“Cats are far more complicated and intelligent creatures than a lot of people realize. To see them respond to our training and really thrive with the enrichment we offered was very rewarding. I’d encourage anyone who has cats to think about what they might need in their environment to live a richer life.”
The cats were chosen from animal shelters and were in a high risk category for euthanasia. They were adopted into homes after the research. They got used to going into the exam room for ultrasounds.
Unfortunately the feline contraceptive vaccine did not work sufficiently well to be considered as a useful alternative to spaying and neutering. It was an injectable contraceptive vaccine called GonaCon which had been shown to be effective in several mammals. It would be very nice if we could create a really effective and safe contraceptive pill for cats. It could be a game changer in the feline world.