Optimising cage space of shelter cats increases likelihood of adoption

As part of the Capacity for Care (C4C) program, optimising cage space at shelters has found to be a very important component in improving the health and behaviour of shelter cats leading to lower deaths at shelters and increased adoptions. There is an optimum cage size and it has been found that increasing the size of cages has an overall beneficial effect despite automatically reducing the number of cats in the shelter. There is a greater throughput which more than compensates for the lower numbers.

Cats need places to hide in shelter cages
Cats need places to hide in shelter cages

That is my interpretation of an observational study on the relationship between Capacity to Care as an animal shelter management tool and cat health, euthanasia rates and adoption rates.

Essentially, the researchers stated that if a shelter optimises the capacity for animal housing it can improve the functionality of the shelter. It’s about optimising the number of animals. Either too few or too many can present barriers to adoption rates. For example, crowding can contribute to increased risk of contagious diseases spreading.

RELATED: Video: POV-what a senior cat at a shelter sees and hears as adopters walk by

They state that “Contrary to concerns of helping fewer cats with a reduced number of housing units [because they are larger units], key outcome measures reportedly improved such as adoptions increasing by 15% and the average length of stay decreasing from 40 days to 22 days.

High quality housing of shelter cats is a major component of Capacity for Care which is a management model helping shelters to better meet the needs of their cats and dogs. It provides conditions to meet five essential freedoms which improve the welfare of the animals. The five freedoms are: freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from fear and distress, freedom from pain, injury or disease and freedom to express normal behaviour (my thanks to the Humane Society of Canada).

Cat hoarding cat in cage with no water or food
Cat hoarding cat in cage with no water or food. Photo: PETA.

RELATED: Feline Temperament Profile (FTP) test to evaluate shelter cats before adoption

The researchers worked with three shelters. The number of animals at the three shelters was reduced by 44%, 28% and 17% respectively. The average overall length of stay decreased by 31%, 11% and 9% respectively. The average length of stay to adoption decreased in all three shelters. Cats had a higher probability of adoption after implementation of Capacity for Care. And there was a lower probability of the cats being euthanised or dying after the implementation of these changes.

In all they made 17,634 observations across the three shelters during the study. They were all Canadian shelters, private, non-profit open admission with a contract with at least one municipality to provide animal control and sheltering services.

Housing that is considered to be correct provides at least 18 ft² (1.67 m²) per cat in group housing rooms with two portal doors open with two compartments per cat.

The conclusion of this observational study is that an increased individual housing size i.e. the cages are larger with a commensurate lower daily population size shortened the length of stay to adoption of the cats and increased the probability of adoption and also lowered the probability of shelter death through euthanasia or other cause.

I have summarised the study as I see it. If you want to read the study then please click on this link.

RELATED: 3 kinds of animal shelter in the USA (according to Nathan Winograd).

P.S. the accommodation facilities of rescue cats are one factor in their welfare and therefore their adoptability. There are other aspects such as consistent handling by the same staff as opposed to inconsistent handling by various staff in relatively barren cages. Enriched single cages with opportunities to perch and hide and enriched communal housing to encourage play and cat-to-cat interaction, results in less stress and less stress results in better health which in turn leads to a higher rate of adoption.

Below are some more articles on studies.

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Clowder of shelter kittens try and escape their cage. Worker pushes them back.

Cat shelter worker has to be too firm with kittens as they try and escape their small glass-fronted cage.
Cat shelter worker has to be too firm with kittens as they try and escape their small glass-fronted cage. Screenshot.

Watch this cat shelter worker’s behavior and tell me what you think. I believe that the video was made in China or perhaps another Asian country and that this is an animal or cat shelter. The kittens want to get out of their little, glass-fronted cage. Of course. He opens the door and guess what happened? All of the kittens lunge for the exit which results in what we see in the video: the man pushing them back rapidly and I have to say with little or no delicacy. I understand why he did it. If the kittens escaped into the room, it might be hard to capture them. And perhaps he’d be in trouble with his supervisor but this is mad. And it was all videoed on what must be a security camera.

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Rescue cat jumps for joy from cage into arms of employee

Rescue cat jumps for joy from cage into arms of employee
Rescue cat jumps for joy from cage into arms of employee. Screenshot.

This rescue cat jumps for joy from his cage into the arms of a shelter employee. As it was videoed in slow motion on a smartphone, it is certain that this ginger tabby does it every time his cage is opened. It was predicted which allowed the video maker to be prepared. And it is great but at the same time sad because he is desperate to escape his cage. I do hope he has been adopted. I suspect that he has because of his keenness to get out and into a nice home. Ginger tabbies are popular. It is said that ginger tabbies have nice characters.

RELATED: Are male, orange tabby cats the most friendly?

Note: This is an embedded video from another website. Sometimes they are deleted at source or the video is turned into a link which stops it working here. I have no control over this.

Cat cages in cat shelters don’t seem to contain places in which to hide

RELATED: Orange, red, yellow, ginger or marmalade cats

Below are some more pages on rescue cats.

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What cats live the longest?

It probably helps to divide up the world of cats into five brackets when answering the question in the title. The reason for this is because each group has, in general, a different lifespan.

  • Random bred domestic cats living in good homes
  • Purebred domestic cats living in good homes
  • Stray and feral cats
  • Wild cats living in the wild
  • Wild cats living in captivity i.e. zoos

Random bred domestic cats living in good homes

These are the cats who probably live the longest, just ahead of captive wild cats. Today, there is a newspaper article about a gorgeous black cat, Poppy. Poppy’s human guardians are wondering whether she is the oldest cat in the UK at 27. She might be. It is an exceptional age. She still has a good appetite which is a good sign. Geoff says that she is a brilliant cat. The oldest cat ever is Creme Puff, from Texas, USA, who was 38 years and three days.

Poppy and Geoff. Poppy is 27
Poppy and Geoff. Poppy is 27. Picture in public domain (as assessed).

Poppy is a random bred cat. What I mean is she’s not a purebred, pedigree cat. This is important because random bred cats live longer than purebred cats in general. The phrase “in general” is important because longevity depends to a large extent on the individual cat’s genes as well as the environment that they have lived in. Random bred cats can live to 18-years-of-age and older. Some people quote about 15-years-of-age as the average but I would go a little higher.

Cola oldest cat
Cola on of the ‘oldest cats’. Photo (annotated) in public domain.
Rubble - how a cat aged to 32
Rubble – how a cat aged to 32. Picture: Michele Foster. Words added by PoC.

Purebred domestic cats living in good homes

I’m afraid that purebred cats in general have a shorter lifespan than random bred cats because of selective breeding which is effectively inbreeding. I’m not saying that all purebred cats have shortened lives but in general it is known to be true. They can suffer from inbreeding depression which is a weakened immune system and of course recessive genes importing inherited illnesses into a cat shorten their lifespan. All purebred cats have inherited genetic diseases to varying degrees. The modern Siamese cat is the worst together with the Persian flat-face. I would say that the average age for a purebred cat is probably around 12 to 15 years, about three years less than the average random bred cat lifespan.

The Oldest Siamese Cat
The Oldest Siamese Cat. Photo: Guinness World Records.

Stray and feral cats

People who don’t like feral cats say that their lives are miserable and that they live for about three years. This is an exaggeration. But it does depend upon circumstances. Volunteers running TNR programs, managing successfully a feral cat colony in which the cats are fed clearly prolongs their life. Some of these cats might live as long as a domestic cat living in a good home. Although their lives are lkely to be shorter on average. Feral cats die of diseases that would normally be treatable in the domestic cat sphere. Individual feral cats living a very harsh life will probably die at a young age and they may be killed by a predator such as a coyote in America. Roads and vehicles are also massive hazards.

Cat-to-cat love
Cat-to-cat love in a feral colony. Photo in public domain.

Wild cats in the wild and in captivity

My reading of the lifespan of wild cats in the wild is that they live on average to about 10 years of age. It depends a lot on circumstance once again and the species to a certain extent. To take one example, the leopard. A gentleman, Brian Bertram, used old photographs and postcards to track the history of two females in the Serengeti. He estimated that they lived for at least 10 and 12 years respectively. A female leopard in Londolozi Game Reserve produced nine litters in twelve years of observation. So she lived to at least 12 years of age and beyond. In the Israeli desert a female leopard was recorded for 16 years.

North China leopard
North China leopard. Photo courtesy of Chinese Felid Conservation Alliance.

As for the jaguar, another big cat, in Central America, one scientist estimated that only a few jaguars in Belize live to more than 11 years old. This implies that most jaguars live to less than the age of 11. In captivity jaguars have lived to the age of 20 to 25 years and one female lived to 32-years-of age (amazing). This is clearly the equivalent of and perhaps better than your average domestic random bred cat.

As for the mountain lion a.k.a. the puma, they can live to 19 and 20-years-of-age in captivity. In the wild, a long-term study in California found that females lived an average of 7.5 years while males lived for just over 6.5 years. Although one female was at least 13 years of age.

Taking the smallest wild cat species, the rusty-spotted cat, one individual lived to 12-years-of-age in captivity. We don’t have information about their lifespan in the wild to the best of my knowledge.

Rusty-spotted cat
Rusty-spotted cat. Photo in public domain.

To take a medium-sized wild cat, the bobcat, in a very large survey of 90,000 bobcats, the oldest individual was 23 years old. The bobcat is considered to be fairly long-lived in the wild, living to between 10 and 17-years-of-age. In captivity they’ve been known to live to 25 and 22-years-of-age.


I hope that this gives you a feel for the lifespan of the various species of cat on the planet. My conclusion is that the wild cats in captivity can live longer than the average domestic cat whereas wild cats in the wild live for a shorter time.

Source: I am deeply endebted to Mel and Fiona Sunquist the authors of Wild Cats of the World for the wild cat information. I relied on myself for the rest.

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Video of caged cat at shelter tells us how desparate he is to get out

Cat wants to be out of his cage asap
Cat wants to be out of his cage asap

I found this short video a bit distressing. This young tabby cat, understandably, shows signs of desparation to get out. He’s probably bemused and confused as to why he is where he is. He is flailing his arms around through the cage towards the person making the video. He wants to make contact and from that something good might happen like being released from his damnable cage and taken to a nice home. That’s what he is used to and he doesn’t understand why he has to live in 3 feet by 2 feet space for the indeterminate future.

Hopefully, his commitment to ‘escape’ has been converted into impressing a visitor to adopt him to give him exactly what he wants and what he deserves: a human guardian in a human environment. That is what domestic cats have evolved to like provided the human respects the wild cat within. Do all rescue cats at shelters have the same desparate desire to escape their cages?

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Animal shelter accused of mislabelling many cats ‘feral’ and ‘fearful’

The San Bernadino City Animal Shelter has been accused of mislabelling many cats at their facility as either ‘fearful’ of ‘feral’. You can see in the photograph that two lines of yellow tape have been placed across all the cages in this part of a room. The word “CAUTION” is written on the tapes.

Rescue cats at shelter allegedly mislabelled
Rescue cats at shelter allegedly mislabelled

Brittney Place accuses the shelter of incorrectly labelling the cats. She said that most of the cats in the photograph are not even close to being feral nor are they fearful.

A friend of Brittney was told that the friendly cats were the other side of the room and the ones you see in the photograph were unfriendly.

She accuses the interim shelter manager, Macomber, of doing everything he can to make things harder for the public to adopt rescued cats. The tapes running across the room are massively off-putting to the public. Brittney wants to prove the shelter manager wrong and asks supporters to contact the shelter manager and staff to encourage them to change their opinion about these cats.

Facebook Post

Below is the embedded post on Facebook from which I took the details on this page. I’m doing my duty and spreading the word. Please do the same if you feel so inclined.

This is what SBC (San Bernardino City Animal Shelter) has turned into…a place where "Feral" & "Fearful" cats get…

Posted by Brittney Place on Wednesday, March 6, 2019

I have tried to get the shelter to comment on this without success currently. I am having trouble locating contact details and it’s not clear where their FB page is. If you can help find their FB page or contact details please leave a comment.


I have to say that in my experience the assessment of rescue cats in shelters as to their adoptability is fraught with difficulties. Common sense dictates that it is unreliable to assess cats in cages in a strange environment like an animal shelter. They are going to be anxious because of the environment. This doesn’t mean that they are inherently fearful or feral. Also many cages at shelters are inadequate in size and design. They provoke fearfulness.

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Single or Group Housing at Cat Shelters?

This is How to Lower Cat Stress at Shelters
This is How to Lower Cat Stress at Shelters. Large cage.

Please read a page about reducing cat stress at shelters.

Cat shelters interest me because cat rescue interests me and lots of cats end up at cat shelters. The question that arises for shelter owners, employees and animal control people is how best to house a lot of cats in a limited amount of space. I have seen pictures of cat rescue facilities where the cats live as an interacting community, inside and out. There is lots of space and it looks good for the cats. Cat House on the Kings come to mind. There is a beautiful no kill cat rescue in Brazil who operate this way too. The picture below is from this cat sanctuary:

Cat Sanctuary Cat Brazil
Cat Sanctuary Cat Brazil – Photo copyright fofurasfelinas (Giane Portal)

This special place is at Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil.

Research has been carried out on the best way to house a lot of cats at shelters. In one study1 it was concluded that cats living freely together resulted in slightly higher stress amongst the cats than if separated due to the fact that cats are forced together who would not otherwise necessarily associate with each other. Scientifically put it is called: ‘inappropriate social grouping of unrelated adult cats’. Cats like to choose their friends. The same applies to us so it is about common sense. It should be said that in this study the comparison was between:

  • cats housed communally and
  • cats housed singly or in small groups of two or three, each cat being familiar with the other – ‘cospecifics’.

The comparison was therefore a little weighted in favour of being separated (cats placed in ‘discrete units’). I does though highlight the potential problems of putting cats together. The same problems can exist in multi-cat households.

An obvious problem with housing cats in a shelter as a freely mixing community is that the community is constantly in flux. New rescue cats are constantly being introduced. Cats don’t do well under these circumstances. They prefer routine and familiarity. They form associates. It was found that it was very stressful for some cats when introduced to a small group of cats (4-7 cats). The long term cats were more relaxed and had formed friendships2. Where the cat community was stable research indicated that the cats’ behavior patterns did not indicate high levels of stress3.

Where cats were housed singly in a cage that was totally without any enriching aspects and these cats were handled by a number of employees the cats were more stressed and consequently less adoptable than cats in groups of 8 in a large cage that was environmentally enriched and where only one or two employees handled the cats4. Stable groups living in a cat friendly environment interacting with familiar humans is preferable – common sense it seems but nice to have that confirmed.

Back from the Cat Sanctuary...

The conclusion is that it is probably better to place newcomers to a shelter in discrete units (separated). When a group of cats that are familiar with each other enter the shelter the group should be kept together. If the cat is at the shelter for some time he or she can be moved to communal housing but consideration should be given to the cat’s personality. Some cats won’t like communal living no matter how well managed and set up it is. The communal housing should preferably be:

  • relatively stable as a group
  • the environment should be enriched to allow natural behavior
  • the group should not be too large (but compare with Cat House on the Kings)


1. Ottway and Hawkins 2003
2. Durman 1991
3. Smith and others (1994)
4. Gourkow 2001

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This is How to Lower Cat Stress at Shelters

According to a study more cage space can reduce cat stress at shelters, and as URIs are are linked to feline stress, lower the prevalence of upper respiratory infections (URIs). It is believed that the incidence of upper respiratory infections among cats at shelters is as high as 30%. These infections are one of the prime reasons for feline euthanasia at shelters. It would help to know how to reduce them as it would save lives.

This was a large study conducted over the period 2008 to 2009 which included 18,373 adult cats. The average space allocated to each cat is typically 4 square feet at animal shelters in the US. The researchers concluded that to minimize stress at shelters cats should be given about eight square feet of floor space in their cages. As you can see this is twice the current average amount of space. The researchers suggested that further studies would clarify the minimum amount of space required to see a beneficial effect.

This is How to Lower Cat Stress at Shelters
Photo: Cris at Flickr published under a creative commons license.

Another stress factor was moving cats within the animal shelter. If cats are moved less than two times in the first week after arrival they are less likely to contract upper respiratory infections compared to shelter cats that are moved more often. This is in line with what cat owners know about domestic cats moving home. They find it stressful and take a long time to settle.

Another stress factor for felines at shelters is that they’re not always provided with double-compartment cages. Double-compartment cages allow one side of the cage to be cleaned while minimizing the disturbance to the cat who remains in the other side. These split compartments also allow for the separation of bedding, water, food and litter box. This, too, reduces feline stress.

Of these factors to most important is the size of space available. The study author, Kate Hurley, DVM, said that the study demonstrates that URIs are preventable by simply providing more space.

Benefits for staff too

The knock-on effect from preventing URIs in felines at shelters is that the cats are happier and therefore the staff are also happier and less stressed because the job is made easier. Adoptions should increase, the shelter should be more successful and employees have to euthanize cats less frequently. Euthanizing cats is automatically stressful and unpleasant and if it is not something is wrong.

I wonder whether any shelters have taken on board these findings. As mentioned, the study was conducted 10 years ago. This is sufficient time to expect to see shelters with larger cages for their cats. I don’t know of a follow-up study. Dr Hurley wanted to see changes among shelters with respect to their cage configurations for cats. She agreed that there would be a cost in modifying the shelters but this would be recouped in saving money through lower veterinary bills in dealing with high numbers of URIs.

The study was funded by the Morris Animal Foundation. About 3.2 million cats enter US shelters each year.

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