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The effect of hiding enrichment on stress levels and behaviour of domestic cats (Felis sylvestris catus) in a shelter setting and the implications for adoption …


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This study investigates the effect of hiding enrichment on stress and behaviour of kennelled cats. Forty-three cats were studied either with a BC SPCA Hide & Perch™ box as enrichment, or with an open bed as control. Observations consisted of Stress Score, approach test and scan sample, recorded daily over the five days following a cat's entrance into the adoption centre, and again on the 14th day if the cat was still present. Days until adoption was noted for cats adopted during the study period. A survey was given to adopters of study cats in an attempt to determine the motivations underlying their choice of cat. A significant reduction in stress was noted between all study days in the enriched group. Stress levels in this group declined further between the fifth and the 14th day, while those of the control group increased. Cats in the enriched group were significantly more likely to approach and displayed relaxed behaviours much more frequently. No significant difference was found between the two groups in days until adoption, percentage adopted, or in the reasons provided by the new owners in the adoption survey; however temperament was found to be the highest ranked reason for choosing a cat from either group. Results of this study suggest that the welfare of kennelled cats is greatly improved if they are provided with the opportunity to perform effective hiding behaviour, and that the ability to perform such a behaviour does not decrease the likelihood of those cats being adopted.
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© 2007 Universities Federation for Animal Welfare
The Old School, Brewhouse Hill, Wheathampstead,
Hertfordshire AL4 8AN, UK
Animal Welfare 2007, 16: 375-383
ISSN 0962-7286
The effect of hiding enrichment on stress levels and behaviour of domestic
cats (Felis sylvestris catus) in a shelter setting and the implications for
adoption potential
K Kry*and R Casey
38 Spokane Street SW, Calgary, Alberta, T2W 0M5, Canada
Department of Clinical Veterinary Science, University of Bristol, Langford, Bristol BS40 5DU, UK
* Contact for correspondence and requests for reprints:
This study investigates the effect of hiding enrichment on stress and behaviour of kennelled cats. Forty-three cats were studied either
with a BC SPCA Hide & Perch
box as enrichment, or with an open bed as control. Observations consisted of Stress Score, approach
test and scan sample, recorded daily over the five days following a cat’s entrance into the adoption centre, and again on the 14th
day if the cat was still present. Days until adoption was noted for cats adopted during the study period. A survey was given to adopters
of study cats in an attempt to determine the motivations underlying their choice of cat.
A significant reduction in stress was noted between all study days in the enriched group. Stress levels in this group declined further
between the fifth and the 14th day, while those of the control group increased. Cats in the enriched group were significantly more
likely to approach and displayed relaxed behaviours much more frequently. No significant difference was found between the two
groups in days until adoption, percentage adopted, or in the reasons provided by the new owners in the adoption survey; however
temperament was found to be the highest ranked reason for choosing a cat from either group.
Results of this study suggest that the welfare of kennelled cats is greatly improved if they are provided with the opportunity to perform
effective hiding behaviour, and that the ability to perform such a behaviour does not decrease the likelihood of those cats being
Keywords:adoption, animal welfare, behaviour, cat, hiding enrichment, stress
In the past, most research in the field of animal welfare
focused on those animals used for production or maintained
in a zoo setting. In recent years however, increasing
attention has been given to welfare issues of domestic
animals kept as companions. The cat (Felis sylvestris catus)
has recently become the most popular pet, with 8 million
owned in the UK alone (Rochlitz 2000) and attention to
welfare issues of this species is emerging. Among the
general population, the largest welfare issue for companion
animals is believed to involve some sort of intentional abuse
(Watt & Waran 1993). Although heinous, this type of crime
does not affect a large proportion of the animal population
and therefore may not be truly considered as the largest
issue (Podberscek 1997). One of the larger issues concerns
the quality of life of those cats without a home (Rukavina
2001). Whether a cat is a stray or, for one reason or another,
it becomes unwanted by its owner, its destination is
typically some form of kennel or shelter system. Although
the number of healthy cats euthanised in these systems is an
ethical rather than a welfare issue, the lives of those animals
while they are within the system is very much a welfare
issue. It is the responsibility of the people involved in the
management of such facilities to ensure the favourable
welfare of the animals while present.
Stress is a normal aspect of life and is experienced by all
living animals (Dawkins 1998). Problems arise when the
amount of stress experienced by an animal exceeds a certain
level and becomes distress. At this point, the coping mech-
anisms of the animal are no longer adequate (Moberg 2000)
and there are serious implications for the animal’s welfare.
Biological functions may be impaired, such as decreased
fertility and immunosuppression (Archer 1979).
Psychological impacts may also be noted, often manifested
in abnormal behaviours such as stereotypies or self-mutila-
tion (Wechsler 1995; Toates 2000). It is for this reason that
stressors, especially those created by human intervention,
should be minimised.
Entrance into a shelter system may be an extremely stressful
experience for a cat and may lead to levels of distress.
Previously, the cat would have lived in a home situation or
as a stray or feral, spending its life freely outdoors.
Whatever the cat’s origin, it is likely that the shelter system
presents several aspects of novelty. A new environment that
contains new people, new animals, and new smells
contributes to the novelty of the situation. A cat may feel
Universities Federation for Animal Welfare Science in the Service of Animal Welfare
376 Kry and Casey
mere curiosity when exposed to a novel stimulus provided
it is otherwise comfortable and some degree of familiarity
exists (Holmes 1993). When exposed to an entirely novel
situation, however, on average, cats will experience stress to
some degree (Levine 1985). In addition to the stress
resulting from novelty, stress is also created through the act
of being confined, and the inability to perform many natural
behaviours (Landsberg 1996). Although some kennels have
an excellent standard for cage size, it is unlikely that even
these large enclosures are comparable to the size of home
range, be it a house or outdoor territory, previously enjoyed
by the cat (Heidenberger 1997). Procedures such as de-
worming and de-fleaing, as well as more invasive proce-
dures such as neutering, are often routine in shelter systems.
Although these processes are designed to aid the cat, they
are also quite likely to result in stress. Shelters often meet
exceptional standards for care of an animal’s physical
health, however, the assurance of positive psychological
health may be minimal.
It is unlikely that the need for shelters will be completely
eliminated at any point in the near future. Millions of cats
worldwide will continue to be exposed each year to the
inevitable stressors associated with shelters. It is, therefore,
crucial that the focus be on minimising this stress through
enrichment and providing the cats with a situation that
better helps them cope with their new environment.
Forms of enrichment which have been investigated in the
past and which are used in shelters include both social and
inanimate enrichment. Although there is individual
variation in cats as to preference for any type of enrichment,
many generalisations can be made. Upon initial entrance,
enrichment should focus on allowing effective coping
behaviours for acute stress, such as provision of perching
areas (Rochlitz 1999). Proper use of a synthetic formula of
feline facial pheromone has been found to be effective in
reducing anxiety (Griffith et al 2000). The husbandry
routine of the shelter also has an impact on the cat’s ability
to adapt. By performing tasks such as cleaning and feeding
at similar times of day the cat may come to expect when
certain events will happen. Predictability has been shown to
be of great importance in reducing stress levels of many
animals (Carlstead et al 1993b). The structure of the kennel
itself is of importance and details ranging from material
used for its construction (Smith et al 1994) to interaction
with elements outside the kennel (Newberry 1995) can
influence welfare. Factors such as reduced transit time to
the shelter and time between entrance to the shelter and allo-
cation to a kennel have also been shown to influence time
required by a cat to adapt to the shelter (McCune 1994).
Social contact with either people or conspecifics influences
the welfare of the cat (eg Kessler & Turner 1999a). If the cat
is properly socialised, interaction with others can greatly
improve its welfare. However if the cat is not socialised,
then contact results only in further stress production.
Generally, frustration resulting from boredom and limita-
tions on the opportunity to engage in natural behaviours
leads to the development of chronic stress (McCune 1994;
Toates 2000). Enrichment devices that attempt to alleviate
this type of stress include toys and feeding enrichment such
as puzzle feeders (McCune 1995). The novelty of such
stimuli is extremely important to their effectiveness, and
therefore these devices must be continually changed.
The ability to hide is a necessity for cats when exposed to a
stressor (eg McCune 1994; Smith et al 1994; Rochlitz
2000). However, when a shelter considers enrichment for a
cat, this method may often be overlooked. The argument
commonly presented is that if a cat takes advantage of the
opportunity to hide, its visibility to the public is limited. As
it is less likely to be seen by the public, it is less likely to be
adopted. Therefore, even if the animal’s short-term welfare
may improve through the provision of such enrichment, it is
theorised that the effect on adoption potential more than
counteracts this benefit. This, however, may be a miscon-
ception. When a cat is better able to cope with a stressful
situation it is usually more adaptable, extroverted and
friendly (Loveridge et al 1995), making it an even more
likely candidate for adoption (Turner 2000).
To date, no research has been found for which the primary
goal was to determine the effects of hiding enrichment on
stress in shelter cats, or whether this enrichment affects the
adoption potential of the animal. Secondary observations
have noted that an attempt to hide resulted in reduced stress
levels (Carlstead et al 1993b) and that cats showed a prefer-
ence for hiding enrichment (Smith et al 1994). Preliminary
observations suggest that cats provided with a hiding box
have reduced stress, adapt more readily to a shelter, perform
more natural behaviours, and appear more ‘friendly’ (Soules
2002). However, none of these studies determined if proper
hiding enrichment would decrease stress beyond that of
conventional housing designs.
The purpose of this study was to determine the effect of
hiding enrichment on stress levels of cats at initial exposure
to a shelter system. The impact of hiding enrichment on the
likelihood of adoption of these cats was also investigated.
Materials and methods
Animals and environment
Forty-three domestic short-hair cats were studied at
Kirkintilloch Cats Protection Adoption Centre. Upon arrival
at the shelter, the cats were allocated to either the enriched
group or the control group. Randomisation was achieved by
allocating alternate cats entering the shelter into the two
treatment groups. Twenty-two cats were allocated to the
enriched group, consisting of 14 females and eight males,
ranging from six months to 18 years of age (median age six
years). The other 21 cats were allocated to the control
group, consisting of 13 females and eight males, ranging in
age from one to 15 years (median age seven years).
Enriched and control kennels were located randomly
throughout the adoption centre. Cats generally arrived at the
adoption centre between 1400 and 1700h. Day one of data
collection was the day following the cat’s arrival, as a
minimum of two hours adjustment is required for accurate
© 2007 Universities Federation for Animal Welfare
Hiding enrichment and stress in the domestic cat 377
Cat Stress Scores to be achieved (Kessler & Turner 1997).
All cats in this study were housed singly in pens that
consisted of an indoor area containing a water dish, a food
dish and a toy, and an outdoor area, containing a shelf and
litter tray. The outer portion was accessible through a cat
door in the back wall of each indoor section. The front doors
of the kennels were made of transparent plexi-glass, such
that views of the inside of the adoption centre as well as
visual contact with cats housed across the hallway, were
possible. As the walls of each pen were solid the cats were
unable to view their neighbour, although auditory and
olfactory communication were possible. A single tier
system existed, such that all kennels were located at the
same height. Indoor portions of kennels of enriched cats
contained a BC SPCA Hide & Perchbox (a two-tiered
cardboard box with a lower hiding space ([53 × 30 × 22 cm;
length × breadth × height] with two access openings, and an
open upper sitting area [53 × 30 × 9 cm;
length × breadth × height] [supplied by the BC SPCA, BC,
Canada]) as well as a heating pad and duvet. Indoor sections
of kennels of control cats contained a ‘bed’ (an open plastic
basket, measuring 60 × 40 × 10-18 cm;
length × breadth × height) with a heating pad and duvet.
Data were collected for each cat between 1530 and 1630h,
except where otherwise noted, on days one through five as
well as day 14 for any cat that remained in the kennel at that
time. The same observer collected all data, which consisted
of a Cat Stress Score, scan sample and approach test.
Adoption data were also collected for any study cat homed
during the course of this study.
Cat Stress Score
Cats were assigned daily Stress Scores according to the Cat
Stress Score system developed by Kessler and Turner
(1997). This scoring system ranks the level of stress
perceived in the cat based on observations of its posture and
behaviour as described in the ethogram devised by the UK
Cat Behaviour Working Group (1995). The scores range
from one (no stress) to seven (extreme stress). Cats were
assigned an initial score, with a second score given on
reassessment following 15 minutes of no interaction. The
two scores were then averaged to assign the cat its daily
Stress Score. The change in score between day one and each
of the other observation days was determined for the
purposes of analysis.
Approach test
Two approach tests were used on each cat, separated by
15 minutes of no interaction. In the first approach test, the
observer stood 10 cm in front of the closed doors of the
kennel. The initial reaction of the cat was noted as approach,
retreat, or no reaction. The latency of the cat to approach the
front of the kennel was also recorded, up to a maximum
time of 60 seconds. If the cat was located at the front of the
kennel at the start of the test, the observer stood at the
opposite side and latency to approach was determined as the
time taken by the cat to approach that opposite side of the
kennel. Cats that did not approach were assigned maximum
time scores of 60 seconds. The same data were recorded for
the second approach test, which was conducted in a similar
fashion to the first approach test, except in this test the doors
of the kennel were opened. To maintain consistency in the
tests, no noises or actions were made by the observer during
either of the approach tests. Change in latency to approach
between days one and five was determined for analysis as
an increase, decrease, or no change.
Scan sample
Scan samples were taken twice daily for each cat. The first
reading occurred between 1300 and 1400h, while the public
was allowed access to the cats. The second recording was
taken between 1530 and 1630h, after the shelter was closed
to the public. General observation was made of the cat’s
location in the kennel; either in or on the BC SPCA Hide &
Perchbox/bed, behind the BC SPCA Hide & Perch
box/bed, or elsewhere in the kennel. Activity was also noted
as restful sleep, alert rest (differing from restful sleep by
constant attentiveness to external stimuli), sitting, or active
(all other activities involving movement). Location and
activity results were totaled over all study days for the
purposes of analysis.
A record was kept of the number of days the cat was present
in the adoption centre before being adopted, for those cats
that were adopted by the end of the observation period. A
survey was given to adopters in order to assess the impor-
tance of various factors in deciding which cat to adopt.
Factors included age and sex of the cat, appearance of the
cat and kennel, and temperament of the cat. Each item of the
survey consisted of a number scale of one to five, with one
being strongly disagree, three being neutral, and five being
strongly agree. A space was also provided for the adopter to
list additional factors that were considered important in
choosing their specific cat. Adoption data were collected for
an additional two-week period following the end of other
observations. This time scale was decided upon by
averaging the days until adoption of cats adopted earlier in
the experiment. Any cats not adopted by the end of this
additional period were given a maximum score of 60 days
for analysis purposes.
Statistical analysis
Due to the non-normal distribution of the data, non-para-
metric statistics were used to analyse continuous data.
Mann-Whitney Utests were used to analyse the change in
Cat Stress Score, latency to approach, and adoption data.
Chi-square tests were used to analyse approach reaction,
change in latency to approach, and scan samples, due to the
categorical nature of the data. Data from all cats of one
group were combined as previous studies have found that
there was no statistically significant difference in results
obtained from cats of different sex, age, or breed (Kessler &
Turner 1997). Data were analysed using Minitab
version 13.32.
Animal Welfare 2007, 16: 375-383
378 Kry and Casey
Cat Stress Score
Differences were noted between the two treatment groups in
the median Stress Score found on each observation day
(Figure 1). As there was already a significant difference
noted on day one of data collection, analysis of the Stress
Score noted on individual days gives unclear results with
regards to the effect of the enrichment on stress. This effect
is better determined through an analysis of the change in
Stress Score over the study days, thus negating the initial
difference between treatment groups. Between day one and
each subsequent observation day, a significant change in
Stress Score was noted for the enriched group compared to
the control group (Figure 2). Stress Score changes between
day one and two were found to have a significant difference
(w= 459.0, P= 0.0003). The median change in Stress Score
for the enriched group was -0.75, and 0.25 for the control
group, indicating an average increase in stress in the cats of
the control group, while that of the enriched group had
decreased. The median change in Stress Score for the
enriched group between days one and three was -1.00, and for
the control group was -0.25 which was also significant
(w= 582.5, P = 0.0009). A significant difference between
the groups was found between days one and four (w=
502.5, P= 0.0009). The median change in Stress Score for
the enriched group was -1.37 and for the control group was
-0.50. Between days one and five, a significant difference in
Stress Score change was also noted (w= 574.0, P= 0.0005).
The median change in Stress Score for the enriched group
was -1.75 and for the control group, the median difference
was -0.75. Two weeks after the cats first arrived in the
shelter, a significant difference was still noted for change in
Stress Score between the two groups (w= 110.0, P=
0.0059). The median change in Stress Score for enriched
cats was -2.25, and for control cats was -0.375.
Approach tests
Approach test 1: kennel door closed
Initial reaction:
A significant difference was noted between the reaction of
the enriched and the control cats throughout all observation
days (χ2= 9.686, df = 2, P= 0.008). Enriched cats
approached more often, with a total of 18 percent of
reactions being approach. They also retreated less often,
with only one percent of reactions noted as retreat. The
control cats, however, were less likely to approach and more
likely to retreat, with only 10 percent approaching, and
eight percent retreating.
Latency to approach:
No significant difference in latency to approach was noted
between the two groups on any of the observation days.
This is due perhaps to the high proportion of cats that did
not approach and were therefore assigned maximum time
scores of 60 seconds resulting in skewed data. Cats of either
group that did approach showed a continued decrease in
latency throughout the days with a slightly larger decrease
noted for the enriched cats (latency median for enriched
group = 37.5 seconds on day one, 5.0 seconds on day five;
latency median for control group = 17.5 seconds on day
one, 12.5 seconds on day five). However, this change was
not found to be significantly different (χ2= 1.22, df = 2,
P= 0.543)
Approach test 2: kennel door open
Initial reaction:
Throughout all observation days, the enriched group
approached 32 percent of the time, and retreated nine
percent of the time, while 59 percent of the time showing no
reaction. Cats in the control group approached 25 percent of
the time and retreated 14 percent of the time, while
61 percent of the time showing no reaction. These differ-
ences, however, were not found to be significant (χ2 = 2.213,
df = 2, P= 0.331).
Latency to approach:
No significant difference in latency to approach was noted
between the groups on any of the observation days,
although a much higher proportion of cats were observed to
approach at some time when compared to approach test 1.
For cats that did approach, those in the enriched group
showed a decrease over days while those in the control
group remained constant (latency median for enriched
group = 21.0 seconds on day one, 2.0 seconds on day five;
control group = 5.0 seconds on day one, 5.0 seconds on day
five). Again, this difference in change was not significant
(χ2= 5.411, df = 2, P = 0.067).
Scan samples
A significant difference was noted between the activities of
the two groups totaled over all observation days (χ2= 8.152,
df = 3, P= 0.043). The cats in the enriched group were
sleeping restfully more often than those in the control
group. Sleep consisted of 20 percent of all observed activi-
ties in the enriched group, as compared to the control total
of 11 percent. Control cats were resting alert and sitting
more often than the enriched cats. Seventy percent of activ-
ities of the control cats were alert rest, and 14 percent
sitting, while these totals were 65 percent and nine percent,
respectively in the enriched group. Active behaviours were
identical in both groups, comprising six percent of all
behaviours observed for each group (Figure 3).
A significant difference was noted in the location of the cats
in the two groups during the scan samples indicating a pref-
erence for the BC SPCA Hide & Perchbox over the
control bed (χ2= 34.248, df = 2, P < 0.001). Cats in the
enriched group were observed either in or on their BC
SPCA Hide & Perch box 77 percent of the time, and
located elsewhere in the kennel 23 percent of the time. At no
time were any of the cats attempting to hide behind their BC
SPCA Hide & Perchbox. Cats in the control group used
their basket 61 percent of the time, and were located
elsewhere in the kennel 39 percent of the time. Thirty-six
© 2007 Universities Federation for Animal Welfare
Hiding enrichment and stress in the domestic cat 379
percent of these instances occurred when the cat was
attempting to hide out of view behind its basket (Figure 4).
Days until adoption
No significant difference was noted in the number of days
required for adoption of cats in the enriched group as
compared to the control group (w= 388.5, P= 0.977).
Twenty-one percent of enriched cats were adopted, with a
median of 12 days. Twenty percent of control cats were
adopted with a median of 13 days.
Adoption survey
No significant difference was found between the two groups
for ratings of the various questions on the adoption surveys.
The median score for the importance of sex or age of the cat
was 3.0 for the enriched group and 4.0 for the control group,
Animal Welfare 2007, 16: 375-383
Figure 1
Median Stress Score (± interquartile) of cats in enriched and control treatments on each observation day.
Figure 2
Median change in stress score (± interquartile) of cats enriched and control treatments between later observervation days and day one.
380 Kry and Casey
however this difference was not significant (w= 59.0,
P= 0.3545). The median score for the importance of
physical appearance of the cat was 4.0 for the enriched
group and 3.5 for the control group, and again, this differ-
ence was not significant (w= 73.0, P = 0.6234). The median
score for importance of the appearance of the kennel was
3.0 for the enriched group and 2.5 for the control; this
difference was also not significant (w= 74.0, P= 0.5484).
For both groups, the temperament of the cat was the most
important factor. This was slightly more so for the enriched
group (median score 5.0) than the control group (median
score 4.5), however the difference between the two groups
was not significant (w = 71.5, P= 0.7234).
Other influencing factors were listed for four of the adopted
cats, three from the control group and one from the enriched
group. Alternative reasons listed included suitability with
children (enriched cat), indoor nature of the cat, lack of
allergic reaction, and sympathy.
Cat Stress Score
Results of this study support previous suggestions that
hiding enrichment is beneficial for cats entering a novel or
otherwise stressful environment (Smith et al 1994; Rochlitz
1999; Soules 2002). Enriched cats showed much lower
stress levels than control cats. The implications of the
significant decrease in Stress Score noted between the two
groups are extremely important to the welfare of cats main-
tained in any captive environment.
It may be presented that the reduced stress could be the
result of the provision of perching areas rather than, or as
well as, hiding areas. Due to limitations of resources, it was
not feasible to have a study group that was allowed access
to only a hiding area. Any hiding enrichment device placed
in a kennel would inevitably provide a perching area on top.
In order to provide a hiding area alone, the top of the enrich-
ment would need to connect to the ceiling of the enclosure,
or the area would need to be formed directly into a wall of
the kennel. However, although it has been stated that the
provision of perching areas can aid in stress reduction, such
perches are generally a great height above ground level.
This height provides the cats with a viewing location that
allows them to effectively scan their surroundings
(Rochlitz, 1999). The impact on stress levels from the slight
elevation of 22 cm provided by the perch of the BC SPCA
Hide & Perchboxes may be considered minimal.
Kessler and Turner (1999b) suggested that a Stress Score of
lower than three is acceptable as this merely represents a
baseline level of stress present in any living animal. An
elevation above this level represents the response to an
acute stressor and is not a problem if these levels are not
sustained. That is, if either the stressor is removed or the
animal is able to cope successfully with the stress (Moberg
2000). The results from the control group show that these
animals were maintained at a relatively high stress level.
Only study day five showed a median stress score of less
than three, with the median score rising above this value
again by day 14, indicating that the stressor had not been
removed for the majority of the animals. The fact that
enriched cats had an acceptably low Stress Score, obtaining
and maintaining a score of less than three as of the third
study day, indicates that these animals were able to cope
effectively with this stress. The increase of stress in the
control group after two weeks is potentially indicative of the
development of chronic stress. This work has not assessed
chronic stress; however, the absence of this increase in the
enriched group, suggests that coping effectively with the
acute stress first encountered upon entry into the shelter,
may prevent chronic stress from occurring.
Approach test
The results of this study clearly indicate a higher incidence
of approach by a cat to a person at their kennel when the cat
is provided with hiding enrichment. Although a cat has the
ability to hide, and may utilise such facilities in order to
cope more effectively with stress, it is also more likely to
leave its enclosure and approach a person present at its
kennel. A cat that responds by approaching a potential
owner, even through a closed door, projects a more
favourable personality (Turner 2000).
Although no significant difference was found for the cats to
approach when the cage door was open, this may be due to
the fact that this second test, although performed after a
time of no interaction, was still performed following the
first test for which significant results were obtained. In
previous studies, a similar problem was noted, whereby the
interest in the observer by the cat appeared to have dimin-
ished by the second trial of the day (Hoskins 1995). It is this
decreased interest, rather than an increased fear or stress
response that resulted in the cat’s lack of reaction.
Scan sample
Carlstead et al (1993b) noted a behaviour in their study cats
which they termed ‘attempting to hide’. This consisted of
the cat attempting to conceal itself as much as was possible
with the resources available. Control cats in this experiment
were often observed performing this type of behaviour,
typically by crouching behind their beds. It is reasonable,
based on the appearance of these cats and the description
given by Carlstead et al, to presume that they too were
attempting to hide. This actually made them less visible to
the public than a cat hiding in its BC SPCA Hide & Perch
box. In addition, this coping strategy was apparently inef-
fective at reducing the stress experienced by the animal.
Smith et al (1994) noted a higher proportion of time spent
alert by cats not yet adjusted to a new environment.
Vigilance has often been associated with anxiety-related
behaviour problems in house cats. When a cat is anxious
about the presence of other cats, either inside or outside the
house, it may often be observed sitting vigilant in an area
where it can view these ‘intruders’ (Beaver 1992). Upon
visual confirmation of the presence of another cat, the stress
level of the already anxious cat will increase further and
behaviour problems such as spraying are a common result
© 2007 Universities Federation for Animal Welfare
Hiding enrichment and stress in the domestic cat 381
(Hart & Pedersen 1991). Results from this study confirm
this alert type of behaviour in cats with a higher stress level.
The cats of the enriched group appeared generally less
anxious as they performed more true resting behaviour
and less alert resting behaviour than did the cats of the
control group.
Adoption results
Days until adoption
No significant difference was found between the two groups
for the number of cats adopted or the number of days it took
for those cats to be adopted. The claim that providing hiding
areas to cats in adoption centres reduces their visibility to
the public and will therefore reduce the likelihood of their
adoption is not valid. This claim may be made with the best
intentions for the cat, hoping that faster adoption of the
animal results in the best welfare outcome. However, from
the stress results of this study, cats forced to stay in the
adoption centre without the ability to use a BC SPCA Hide
& Perchbox have a greatly reduced welfare while their
adoption potential is not actually improved.
Adoption survey
For both the control and the enriched group, the adopters
rated the temperament of the cat as being the main factor
influencing their decision to adopt the cat they chose. This
is an important factor to consider when deciding what
enrichment to provide to animals kept in shelters. Each cat
has its own distinct personality (Feaver et al 1986; Mendl &
Harcourt 2000), however, it is generally agreed that a cat
which is less stressed is more likely to portray ‘friendly’
characteristics and generally appear more appealing to a
potential owner (Turner 2000). The results of this study
agree with this statement. The enriched cats, which had
lower stress, approached more rapidly, hid behind kennel
furniture less, and spent less time actively resting. The
general public may interpret these behaviours as the cat
possessing a less nervous temperament. Although cats
provided with hiding enrichment might be slightly less
visible to the public, the portrayal of a more favourable
personality may counteract any resulting negative impact on
adoption potential.
Further applications
There are differing opinions of the long-term effects of
confinement on stress levels in cats. Field (2002) found a
significant increase in behavioural indicators of stress in
cats present in a shelter for eight weeks as compared to the
same cats tested after only two weeks. There were indica-
tions of the development of chronic stress after an initial
acute stress response had subsided. Rochlitz et al (1998),
however, found a significant decrease in physiological and
behavioural indicators of stress after five weeks in a quaran-
tine facility. In the quarantine facility, despite the drastically
reduced overall level of enrichment, the cats were provided
with a hiding area that was not made available to the cats in
the shelter system studied by Field. Results from this study
seem to suggest that the ability to hide delays, if not elimi-
nates, the chronic stress response, however the long-term
effects were not investigated beyond a two week time span.
It would be of interest to investigate if the cause of the
discrepancy between the previously mentioned studies is
the result of better adaptation through the provision of
hiding enrichment. If this coping mechanism proved
effective at minimising both acute and chronic stress, it
would have crucial implications for the welfare of cats
maintained in a captive environment, be it a shelter, a quar-
Animal Welfare 2007, 16: 375-383
Figure 3
Proportion of total observation in which cats of the a) enriched
and b) control treatments engaged in various behaviours.
Figure 4
Proportion of total observations in which cats of the a) enriched
and b) control treatments were noted in various locations.
382 Kry and Casey
antine facility or a laboratory, and may be applicable to non-
domestic cats maintained in zoos, as suggested by Carlstead
et al (1993a).
It may also be interesting to investigate the effects of this
type of enrichment on pair- or group-housed animals. In the
pilot study for this experiment it was noted that when a pair
of cats were given a BC SPCA Hide & Perchbox, one
would often sleep in the hide portion while the other slept in
the perch. This effectively allows for increased resting areas
for the cats without occupying increased floor space, which
is generally limited in shelters. By increasing resting areas
in such a way, there may be a reduction in stress caused by
competition for resources between group-housed animals
(Heidenberger 1997). It may alternatively be the case that
with the provision of only one hiding area there could be an
increase in competition for that resource, resulting in
increased stress levels. This could only be determined
through further investigation.
Animal welfare implications
Cats are exposed to a number of stressors upon entering a
captive facility such as a shelter. The welfare of the animal
depends on its ability to cope effectively with these
stressors. The natural instinct of a cat when exposed to a
threatening situation is to retreat, however if physical
removal is not possible, then it will attempt to conceal itself
from view. By providing cats entering an adoption centre
with enrichment that allows them to perform this coping
behaviour, a drastic reduction in stress is observed. The
likelihood of the cat being adopted is no different if it is
given this enrichment, however its welfare while in the
adoption centre is greatly improved.
The authors would like to thank Cat’s Protection for the use
of their facilities at Kirkintilloch Adoption Centre and for
funding the second author. We are also grateful to the staff
at the Kirkintilloch Adoption Centre for their help and
support. Great thanks go to the BC SPCA for provision of
the BC SPCA Hide & Perchboxes. We would also like to
thank Donna Brander for her insightful suggestions and
editing and the referee of this paper for thoughtful
comments. Thanks are given to the University of Edinburgh
for the opportunity for one of the authors to pursue an MSc
in Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare, for
which the research reported in this paper was partial fulfill-
ment of the requirements.
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... Included in these publications was one dissertation (Hawkins, 2005), which was comprised of multiple studies evaluating two different types of interventions-hide boxes and human interaction. Six publications presented studies evaluating the impact of hide boxes (Ellis et al., 2021;Hawkins, 2005;Kry and Casey, 2007;Leij et al., 2019;Moore and Bain, 2013;Vinke et al., 2014). Four publications evaluated the effects of human interaction (Gourkow et al., 2014a;Gourkow and Phillips, 2015;Hawkins, 2005;Liu et al., 2020). ...
... A consistent finding in several studies was that during the first week after intake, cats that received hide boxes had lower CSS scores than cats that did not receive hide boxes. By the second week in the shelter, the CSS scores were the same for cats that received hide boxes and those that did not (Ellis et al., 2021;Hawkins, 2005;Kry and Casey, 2007;Leij et al., 2019;Vinke et al., 2014). Physiological measurements, such as urinary cortisol: creatinine ratio, and physical metrics, such as weight loss, did not correlate with the CSS and did not differ between the cats that received hide boxes and those that did not (Hawkins, 2005;Vinke et al., 2014). ...
The aim of this scoping review was to provide an overview of the published welfare and quality of life assessments that are available for shelter cats. The specific objectives were to identify the available assessments, characterize the assessments as validated or non-validated, and discuss how the available tools were used in the shelter environment. Literature published globally, in English or with an available English translation, between the years 2000 and 2021 was identified through searching five databases and hand searching. Abstracts and full papers were screened, relevant articles obtained based on the inclusion criteria, and welfare assessment methods were characterized. Of 687 unique citations identified, 30 met the inclusion criteria of including a quality of life assessment or welfare analysis in shelter cats. There were seven validated ethogram-based assessment tools and two validated physiological-based assessment methods used to evaluate stress and welfare. Assessment tools were used to either evaluate a cat’s acclimation to the shelter environment or evaluate welfare interventions. The Cat Stress Score (CSS) was the most commonly used tool to evaluate stress, with its inclusion in 19 publications. However, the stress level identified on the CSS only correlated with measures of physiological stress in one out of four studies, highlighting the difficulty and complexity of determining stress levels in cats. In general, welfare assessments that incorporated physical and behavior metrics provided a comprehensive evaluation of general welfare and were shown to be reliable between raters. Cats generally acclimate to the shelter within a few weeks. Stress and welfare assessments indicated that the acclimation period was less stressful for cats that were provided hide boxes and/or human interaction. Shelters should consider incorporating a validated assessment into their welfare program and incorporate interventions, such as hide boxes or structured human interaction, to help relieve acute acclimation stress.
... Companion animals in shelter facilities experience a variety of stressors, including unfamiliar surroundings, loud noises, lack of space, and insufficient social and environmental enrichment (Hennessy et al. 1997;Kry 2007;Ellis & Wells 2010;Scheifele et al. 2012). Supported self-rehoming may alleviate stress associated with shelter stays by removing the need to intake animals into these unfamiliar environments. ...
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As animals experience distress in animal shelters, leaders call for increased efforts to divert intake of companion animals away from shelters. One novel intake diversion strategy is supported self-rehoming, where owners find new homes for their animals without surrendering to a physical shelter. This study aimed to identify predictors of successful diversion of animals through the ‘Rehome’ online platform. Data for dogs (n = 100,342) and cats (n = 48,484) were analysed through logistic regression to assess the association of animal- and owner-related factors and outcome. Overall, 87.1% of dogs and 85.7% of cats were successfully diverted from animal shelters, out of which, 37.8% of dogs and 35.3% of cats were kept by their original owner. Multiple animal-related factors predicted increased odds of diversion (e.g. younger, smaller). Dog and cat owners who set a longer rehoming deadline (i.e. > 8 weeks) were over twice as likely to keep or adopt out their animal. Dog owners who surrendered for owner-related reasons had increased odds of diversion in comparison to animal behaviour issues. We conclude that online-supported, self-rehoming platforms provide pet owners with an alternative to relinquishment that may reduce the intake of animals to shelters; however, owners with animals that are not preferred by adopters may have to decide whether to keep their animal or relinquish their animal to a shelter or rescue. These results provide guidance for animal shelter professionals on the likelihood of successful diversion programmes given certain animal and owner characteristics.
... Some previous studies have focused on cat adaptation to confinement in cattery, shelter, or laboratory settings. However, these are limited in their ability to assess the needs and welfare of cats within a longterm, indoor-only home (Ottway & Hawkins 2003;Kry & Casey 2007;Stella et al. 2014;Rehnberg et al. 2015;Foreman-Worsley & Farnworth 2019). It has been suggested that outdoor cats may benefit from higher quality of life generally than indoors cats due to their ability to find their own amusement, express their natural behaviours, and choose whether to be inside or out (Rochlitz 2005). ...
Full-text available
Play is often considered an indicator and promotor of animal welfare and may facilitate closer cat-human relationships. However, few studies have empirically investigated these associations. The current study aimed to investigate play-related factors associated with four welfare outcome measures in cats ( Felis catus ) including: cat quality of life; cat-guardian relationship quality; problem behaviour prevalence; and behavioural changes. An online survey was developed using demographic information, questions related to play and resources, free text sections and the following validated measures: cat quality of life (QOL), the cat owner relationship scale, and the adult playfulness trait scale. Responses were completed by 1,591 cat guardians from 55 countries. Higher cat playfulness scores and a greater number of games played were significantly associated with higher cat QOL scores while longer amounts of daily play, greater number of games, both cat and guardian initiating play and higher guardian playfulness scores were all significantly associated with higher cat-guardian relationship scores. Exclusively indoor housing was significantly associated with both higher cat QOL and higher cat-guardian relationships scores compared to cats with outdoor access. Behavioural changes associated with distress in cats were reported when play was absent. Play may be an important factor in assessing and maintaining cat welfare. Further research into the mechanisms of how play impacts welfare and cat-guardian relationships is needed.
... Furthermore, these boxes allow cats to exhibit concealment behaviors, which can help reduce their stress by allowing a normal feline coping mechanism [51]. Kry and Casey [52] showed that providing a hiding place improves the well-being of cats entering a new or stressful environment by allowing them to display their natural behaviors and reducing stress, which leads them to demonstrate less aggressive behaviors towards humans. Previous studies have shown that owning insufficient carrier boxes has been identified as a important impediment to pet evacuation particularly for feline evacuation [53,54]. ...
Full-text available
Introduction: A bioterrorist attack is the intentional release of pathogenic micro-organisms, such as viruses, bacteria, or their toxins, with the aim of causing illness or death in people, animals, or plants. In this study, we investigated the knowledge and practices related to bioterrorism preparedness in Central Portugal. Methods: A descriptive cross-sectional study was performed with a convenience sample in the population of Aveiro, Central Portugal, to assess their knowledge about bioterrorism, self-perceived preparation to act in case of bioterrorism and pet owners’ preparation. An online validated questionnaire was completed by 198 participants from January to February 2020. Results: In this study, 46.0% of the respondents answered that they knew nothing about bioterrorism or had never heard about the possibility of bioterrorist attacks. In the case of an attack, 77.8% participants did not consider themselves prepared to act, and 62.1% did not know how to use personal protective equipment. More than half of the respondents (60.6%) were not familiar with the local emergency response system in response to catastrophes/bioterrorist attacks. Almost all respondents (95.6%) assigned high importance to drinking water and food for pets, but only 22.9% of respondents attributed high importance to pet carrier boxes, an item essential for cat evacuation. Conclusion: This is the first survey of this kind in Portugal concerning bioterrorism preparedness in citizens and animals. Results suggest that Portuguese knowledge is limited, and people have inadequate preparedness for a bioterrorist attack. These results reinforce the importance of further studies to better understand the existing gaps in knowledge of Portuguese citizens, strengthen the need to adopt the One Health concept in preparedness plans and emphasize the crucial role of health education in prevention.
... Returning to the shelter is potentially stressful for cats, leading to a compromise in their welfare. While it is impossible to definitively say for all cats if being in a shelter is more stressful than living in a home [3], the type of shelter housing [4,5], density of cats [6,7], cat intake origin [8], and provided enrichment in a shelter [4,9] can impact the level of stress cats experience. Cats who are more stressed in the shelter eat less, lose more weight, and are more likely to develop upper-respiratory infections. ...
Full-text available
There is considerable research on why cats are initially relinquished to shelters, but much less attention has been given to returns, despite the significant implications for shelter capacity and cat welfare. Furthermore, the structure of many databases fails to account for cats who are returned beyond 30 days, despite this making up a substantial portion of returns. In the current study, we examined common risk factors and reasons for return in a population of 2642 shelter cats. We found that cats who were older at the time of adoption or had a bite history had an increased risk of return, whereas cats that were in foster care prior to adoption had a decreased risk of return. We divided the returns by the time to return (<30 days: short term, >30 days: long term) to examine whether time to return had an impact. Approximately half the cats were returned in the short term. Cats were more likely to be returned for reasons, such as behavior, unwanted, and other pet in the short term and personal reasons, cost, euthanasia, and stray in the long-term return. Strategies to reduce returns should consider different solutions for short and long returns to maximize effectiveness.
... Hiding is common in a novel or stressful situation, increasing the cat's ability to cope. [30][31][32][33] The preferred location in the practice is often the bottom half of their carrier or other safe, contained area (eg, high-sided cat bed, small pet weighing scales with higher sides, or under towels or blankets; Figure 1). Confident < Improved feline wellbeing during visits and more broadly, due to improved care < Better human safety 19,20 < Improved feline responses during future visits < Increased efficiency, with shorter examination times and fewer team members involved 7 ...
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Practical relevance The ‘2022 AAFP/ISFM Cat Friendly Veterinary Interaction Guidelines: Approach and Handling Techniques’ (hereafter the ‘Cat Friendly Veterinary Interaction Guidelines’) support veterinary professionals with feline interactions and handling to reduce the impact of fear and other protective (negative) emotions, in so doing enhancing feline welfare and In implementing these Guidelines, team satisfaction and cat caregiver confidence in the veterinary team will increase as the result of efficient examinations, better experience, more reliable diagnostic testing and improved feline wellbeing. Veterinary professionals will learn the importance of understanding and appropriately responding to the current emotional state of the cat and tailoring each visit to the individual. Clinical challenges Cats have evolved with emotions and behaviors that are necessary for their survival as both a predator and prey species. A clinical setting and the required examinations and procedures to meet their physical health needs can result in behavioral responses to protective emotions. Cat friendly interactions require understanding, interpreting and appropriately responding to cats’ emotional states and giving them a perceived sense of control while performing the required assessment. Evidence base These Guidelines have been created by a Task Force of experts convened by the American Association of Feline Practitioners and the International Society of Feline Medicine, based on an extensive literature review and, where evidence is lacking, the authors’ experience. Endorsements These Guidelines have been endorsed by a number of groups and organizations, as detailed on page 1127 and at and .
... Salivary cortisol measurement is less invasive than blood sampling and can potentially reflect short-term stress in the same way as plasma cortisol levels [19]. The cage environment was enriched by providing opportunities to hide, such as a hiding box and/or partially covering the cage front, which can reduce fear and stress in cats [15,[20][21][22][23]. Leij et al. [24] found that hiding enrichment also minimized behavioral stress in shelter cats. ...
Full-text available
Background and aim: In Thailand, domestic cats are the most common companion animal, and many are admitted to veterinary clinics for neutering surgery; however, such environment can induce stress. This is the first study to evaluate stress in hospitalized cats after neutering surgery using cat stress score (CSS) and salivary cortisol levels, including the impact of providing a hiding box (B) and/or administering a pheromone product to reduce stress. Materials and methods: The study design was based on a randomized controlled clinical trial. A total of 80 domestic cats undergoing routine neutering surgery were assessed for their behavioral demeanor scoring system (DSS) as friendly (DSS1) and aggressive (DSS2) based on a DSS. During admission, the cats were randomly allocated to single standard cages with one of the following treatments: (B), feline facial pheromone (P), a combination of hiding box and the pheromone (BP), or no additional enrichment (C). Cat stress score, food intake, and hide-seeking behavior were recorded. The cortisol enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay kit was used to assess the salivary cortisol level. Results: On the 1st day of admission, aggressive cats had a significantly higher CSS (4.16 ± 0.29) than friendly cats (3.27 ± 0.16). Both demeanor cat groups showed statistically significant reductions in stress levels earlier than the control group after providing the enrichments. Saliva cortisol measurements ranged from 0.24 to 0.66 ng/mL. No statistical differences in cortisol levels were observed between the 1st day and other days of admission. In contrast, no differences in food intake and hide-seeking behavior were seen within each group during the same period. Conclusion: Results suggested that stress and stress responses in cats depended on behavioral demeanor. The provision of enrichment, including hiding box and feline facial pheromone in singly housed caging reduced stress, especially in aggressive cats. However, salivary cortisol analysis, food intake, and hide-seeking behavior were ineffective for assessing stress in cats after neutering surgery.
Practical relevance The ‘2022 ISFM/AAFP Cat Friendly Veterinary Environment Guidelines’ (hereafter the ‘Cat Friendly Veterinary Environment Guidelines’) describe how the veterinary clinic environment can be manipulated to minimise feline patient distress. Many components of a veterinary clinic visit or stay may result in negative experiences for cats. However, much can be done to improve a cat’s experience by making the veterinary clinic more cat friendly. Exposure to other cats and other species can be reduced, and adjustments made with consideration of the feline senses and species-specific behaviour. Caregivers can prepare cats for a clinic visit with appropriate advice. Waiting rooms, examination rooms, hospital wards and other clinic areas can be designed and altered to reduce stress and hence encourage positive emotions. Changes need not be structural or expensive in order to be effective and make a difference to the cats and, in turn, to cat caregivers and the veterinary team. Moreover, by improving the all-round experience at the veterinary clinic, there are positive effects on preventive healthcare, identification of and recovery from illness, and compliance with treatment. Clinical challenges Good feline healthcare necessitates visiting the veterinary clinic, which, simply by being outside of a cat’s territory and familiar surroundings, may lead to negative experiences. Such experiences can trigger negative (protective) emotions and associated physiological stress, which can result in misleading clinical findings, patient distress, prolonged recovery from illness, further difficulties with handling at subsequent visits and potential veterinary personnel injury. There may be a mistaken belief that veterinary clinics must undergo significant renovation or building work to become cat friendly, and that, if species cannot be separated, then clinics cannot improve their care of cats. These Guidelines aim to dispel any such misconceptions and provide detailed practical advice. Evidence base These Guidelines have been created by a Task Force of experts convened by the International Society of Feline Medicine and American Association of Feline Practitioners, based on an extensive literature review and, where evidence is lacking, the authors’ experience. Endorsements: These Guidelines have been endorsed by a number of groups and organisations, as detailed on page 1161 and at and .
This book brings together a range of scientific perspectives from biomedical research on stress and welfare, and assesses new approaches to conceptualizing and alleviating stress. While much of the focus in on conventional farm animals, there is also consideration of fishes, laboratory animals and zoo animals. The 30 contributors include leading authorities from North America, Europe, New Zealand and Australia. This book is invaluable for advanced students and researchers in animal behaviour, animal welfare, animal production, veterinary medicine and applied psychology. For more information see the CABI Publishing online bookshop (
One of the primary purposes of this book is to examine the issue of animal welfare, particularly in terms of the effects of stress on the behavior and health of laboratory animals. My chapter defines the concept of stress. I am not certain whether one who undertakes this task either has an enormous ego, is immeasurably stupid, or is totally mad. Attempts at definitions of stress have bewildered many an illustrious scholar, and there is no reason to assume that I will be any more adept at accomplishing such a definition. One of the major problems is that most of the definitions have dealt with outcomes, and therefore stress has been defined by either a behavioral or a physiological response. The behavioral responses have been paradoxical, so agitated animals and immobilized animals are both considered stressed. Similarly, vocalizing animals and nonvocalizing animals are also both considered stressed. It would be difficult to list all of the physiological measures that have at some time been used as indices of stress. Overwhelmingly these have included aspects of the endocrine system as well as autonomic responses, temperature changes, and changes in brain activity. Unfortunately the behavioral and physiological sequelae of stress are not always in accord. Furthermore the various physiological indices of stress, when examined simultaneously, indicate that the changes in terms of magnitude and direction are not always concordant.
Companion or pet animals are an integral part of many societies. Ownership rates of at least one pet for every two households (50%) have been reported in numerous countries, including the UK (Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association 1996), The Netherlands (Endenburg et al 1990), Poland (Fogle 1994), the USA (Rowan 1992), France (Anon 1995a) and Australia (Anon 1995b). While on one hand the animals gain from their close association with humans by being sheltered, fed and loved, they can also suffer neglect, cruelty, abandonment, unnecessary euthanasia, and may develop behaviour problems. The quality of our relationships with these animals is indeed variable.
Sixteen domestic cats were used to investigate the pituitary-adrenal, pituitary-gonadal and behavioral consequences of an unpredictable handling and husbandry routine. After a 10-day baseline period of standard laboratory procedures, eight cats (‘stressed cats’, STR) were subjected to a 21-day period of altered caretaking characterized by irregular feeding and cleaning times, absence of talking and petting by humans, and daily unpredictable manipulations. Eight control cats (CON group) were maintained for 21 days on the standard caretaking schedule. Behavior was recorded on time-lapse video 24 h day−1, urine was collected daily for cortisol analyses, and hormone stimulation tests with synthetic adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH) were conducted before and after the 3-week treatment period. Results indicate that the STR cats were chronically stressed by the altered caretaking routine. Urinary cortisol concentrations were consistently elevated throughout the 3-week period, adrenal sensitivity to ACTH was enhanced and pituitary sensitivity to LHRH was reduced. Active exploratory and play behavior was suppressed, and STR cats spent more time awake/alert and attempting to hide. Hiding was negatively correlated with cortisol concentration and, therefore, may be an important behavior for coping with uncontrollable and unpredictable captive environments. These results indicate that qualitatively poor caretaking is a potent psychological stressor for confined cats that may eventually compromise reproduction through behavioral or physiological mechanisms. To promote well-being, caged cats should be provided with appropriate places for concealment.