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.
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.