Minority of unfriendly shelter cats become more friendly during their stay at the shelter

In general terms, a study concluded that 80% of shelter cats were classified as friendly or very friendly on the first assessment while those that were not became more friendly over time.

Cat in shelter
Cat in shelter. Picture in public domain.
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Shelter cats who might be described as grumpy and aggressive become more friendly during their stay at the shelter. So says a study published on the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour website entitled “Changes in Sociability of Shelter Cats“. To those who have experience of animal shelters, I would think that the conclusion would be unsurprising as it simply confirms what they are already aware of. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting little study which may help shelters.

The study’s objective was to monitor in two-weekly intervals changes in the sociability of shelter cats during their stay at a shelter over a year. They monitored 158 cats. They rated them on a five-point scale. If they scored 1 they were assessed as being very friendly and if they score 5 they were considered to be very unfriendly.

At the first assessment of all the cats, 81% were assessed as at level 1 or 2. In other words 8/10 of the cats were friendly or very friendly. 63.6% of the cats did not change their score during their stay at the shelter. 3.4% showed a temporary improvement or worsening in sociability.

The most noticeable change in friendliness or sociability came from those cats whose behaviour was rated as neutral i.e. a score of 3, or those with a score of 4 or 5. They found that during their stay in the shelter these cats generally improved their sociability towards a familiar person. They state that “Although it appears that cats with lower levels of sociability remain in the shelter for a longer period of time, improvements may increase their adoption potential”. As a consequence, they recommended programs to increase cat sociability and that further research was required.

Comment: On my interpretation, what they are saying is that when an unwanted cat is first brought to an animal shelter they enter an entirely strange place with strange noises, strange animals and unknown people all around them. They are bound to be anxious except for the exceptional and highly confident cat. This is going to make them defensive and therefore unsociable. They will retreat from people who want to help them because they don’t know them.

We see this all the time in ordinary homes when the resident cat is super-friendly with their human caregiver but when a stranger comes into the home they race out of the back door into the garden. And then they come back into the home when the stranger leaves. It’s the same thing.

But over time a cat becomes used to strange places and unknown people. In short, they become socialised to these events, places and people. They get used to it and therefore they become less defensive and in turn present themselves as more friendly. This is all that is happening and therefore, as mentioned, I don’t think the study is particularly useful but it has some value which is why I am mentioning it.

Note: For the sake of clarity I have simplified the title. They state that there was a permanent improved score in 26 of the cats or 29.5%.

It was published on October 22, 2021. I am working off the abstract which is the summary. I have not read the entire study but I don’t feel that I need to. You can go to the study by clicking on this link if you wish: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2021.10.012

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