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Identification of separation-related problems in domestic cats: A questionnaire survey

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Identifying and preventing the occurrence of separation-related problems (SRP) in companion animals are relevant to animal welfare and the quality of human-pet interactions. The SRP are defined as a set of behaviors and physiological signs displayed by the animal when separated from its attachment person. In cats, SRP has been insufficiently studied. Thus, the objective of this study was to develop a questionnaire for cat owners which identifies behaviors that may indicate SRP, as well as relates the occurrence of SRP to the management practices applied in the sampled cats. The associations of SRP with cats' characteristics , as well as owner, environmental, and management traits were investigated. The questionnaire was developed based on the scientific literature about separation anxiety syndrome in dogs and a few papers in cats, and it was completed by 130 owners of 223 cats. Analysis of owners' answers was done through categorization and acquisition of relative frequencies of each response category, followed by Fisher's exact test, chi-square tests in contingency table and Multiple Correspondence Analysis. Among the sampled animals, 13.45% (30 / 223) met at least one of the behavioral criteria we used to define SRP. Destructive behavior was the most frequently reported behavior (66.67%, 20 / 30), followed by excessive vocalization (63.33%, 19 / 30), urination in inappropriate places (60.00%, 18 / 30), depression-apathy (53.33%, 16 / 30), aggressiveness (36.67%, 11 / 30) and agitation-anxiety (36.67%, 11 / 30) and, in lower frequency, defecation in inappropriate places (23.33%, 7 / 30). The occurrence of SRP was associated with the number of females living in the residence (P = 0.01), with not having access to toys (P = 0.04), and no other animal residing in the house (P = 0.04). Separation-related problems in domestic cats are difficult to identify due to the limited amount of knowledge regarding the issue. The questionnaire developed in this study supported identification of the main behaviors likely related to SRP in cats and could be used as a starting point for future research.
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RESEARCH ARTICLE
Identification of separation-related problems
in domestic cats: A questionnaire survey
Daiana de Souza Machado
1,2
, Paula Mazza Barbosa Oliveira
2
, Juliana
Clemente Machado
3
, Maria Camila Ceballos
4
, Aline Cristina Sant’AnnaID
2,5
*
1Programa de Po
´s-Graduac¸ão em Comportamento e Biologia Animal, Universidade Federal de Juiz de
Fora, Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais, Brazil, 2Nu
´cleo de Estudos em Etologia e Bem-estar Animal, Universidade
Federal de Juiz de Fora, Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais, Brazil, 3Centro Universita
´rio do Sudeste Mineiro
(UNICSUM), Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais, Brazil, 4Swine Teaching and Research Center, Department of
Clinical Studies, New Bolton Center, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, PA, United
States of America, 5Departamento de Zoologia, Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora, Juiz de Fora, Minas
Gerais, Brazil
*aline.santanna@ufjf.edu.br
Abstract
Identifying and preventing the occurrence of separation-related problems (SRP) in compan-
ion animals are relevant to animal welfare and the quality of human-pet interactions. The
SRP are defined as a set of behaviors and physiological signs displayed by the animal when
separated from its attachment person. In cats, SRP has been insufficiently studied. Thus,
the objective of this study was to develop a questionnaire for cat owners which identifies
behaviors that may indicate SRP, as well as relates the occurrence of SRP to the manage-
ment practices applied in the sampled cats. The associations of SRP with cats’ characteris-
tics, as well as owner, environmental, and management traits were investigated. The
questionnaire was developed based on the scientific literature about separation anxiety syn-
drome in dogs and a few papers in cats, and it was completed by 130 owners of 223 cats.
Analysis of owners’ answers was done through categorization and acquisition of relative fre-
quencies of each response category, followed by Fisher’s exact test, chi-square tests in con-
tingency table and Multiple Correspondence Analysis. Among the sampled animals,
13.45% (30 / 223) met at least one of the behavioral criteria we used to define SRP. Destruc-
tive behavior was the most frequently reported behavior (66.67%, 20 / 30), followed by
excessive vocalization (63.33%, 19 / 30), urination in inappropriate places (60.00%, 18 /
30), depression-apathy (53.33%, 16 / 30), aggressiveness (36.67%, 11 / 30) and agitation-
anxiety (36.67%, 11 / 30) and, in lower frequency, defecation in inappropriate places
(23.33%, 7 / 30). The occurrence of SRP was associated with the number of females living
in the residence (P = 0.01), with not having access to toys (P = 0.04), and no other animal
residing in the house (P = 0.04). Separation-related problems in domestic cats are difficult to
identify due to the limited amount of knowledge regarding the issue. The questionnaire
developed in this study supported identification of the main behaviors likely related to SRP
in cats and could be used as a starting point for future research.
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PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0230999 April 15, 2020 1 / 19
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OPEN ACCESS
Citation: de Souza Machado D, Oliveira PMB,
Machado JC, Ceballos MC, Sant’Anna AC (2020)
Identification of separation-related problems in
domestic cats: A questionnaire survey. PLoS ONE
15(4): e0230999. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.
pone.0230999
Editor: Carolyn J. Walsh, Memorial University of
Newfoundland, CANADA
Received: September 3, 2019
Accepted: March 13, 2020
Published: April 15, 2020
Copyright: ©2020 Machado et al. This is an open
access article distributed under the terms of the
Creative Commons Attribution License, which
permits unrestricted use, distribution, and
reproduction in any medium, provided the original
author and source are credited.
Data Availability Statement: All relevant data is
available within the paper and its Supporting
Information files.
Funding: The study was financed in part by the
Coordenac¸ão de Aperfeic¸oamento de Pessoal de
´vel Superior– Brasil (CAPES) – Finance Code
001. The funders had no role in study design, data
collection and analysis, decision to publish, or
preparation of the manuscript.
Competing interests: The authors have declared
that no competing interests exist.
Introduction
Behavioral problems in companion animals are among the main causes of abandonment in
many countries, such as the United States of America, Japan and the United Kingdom [14].
For cats, the abandonment usually occurs when the animal exhibits behaviors perceived by
owners as problematic, such as aggressiveness towards people and other animals in the house,
inappropriate elimination and destructive behavior directed at the house [1,2,57]. Other
behaviors considered problematic but natural to cats include scratching, climbing to high
places, nocturnal activities, attention seeking, plant chewing, attempts to escape from the
home and vocalizations [8,9].
As the cat gains greater popularity as a companion animal [10,11], there is increasing need
for knowledge about the human-cat relationship and how it affects cats’ behavior and welfare
[12,13]. There is a belief that cats can easily cope with the owners’ absence for long periods of
time and few studies have been conducted to support that assumption [14]. Recent studies
have reported that cats can be considered as social, being able to generate bonds with their
owners, and therefore it is likely they also show behaviors and physiological reactions due to
the owners’ absence [1519]. For instance, an experiment conducted to verify the attachment
of cats towards their owners, using a modified version of the Ainsworth test, found that cats
showed a higher frequency of exploratory and playful behaviors when accompanied by their
owners, in comparison to when they were alone or accompanied by an unknown person [20,
21]. Similarly, those cats showed a lower frequency of alert and inactivity behaviors when their
owners were present [20]. Another study verified an increase of affiliative behaviors in cats
after reuniting with their owners [14]. All those studies revealed that cats express more security
and stability in the presence of the owners, while in the owners’ absence they were more anx-
ious and stressed. Therefore, it becomes relevant to study whether those animals can develop
separation-related problems (SRP).
In the scientific literature, there is divergence regarding the nomenclature used for express-
ing the behavioral problems related to separation in companion animals with at least three ter-
minologies commonly used: separation-related problems [22,23]; separation distress [24] and
separation anxiety syndrome [15,25]. In spite of using different terms to describe this condi-
tion, some of the behaviors most commonly used to characterize SRP are usually the same:
destructive behavior, excessive vocalization and inappropriate elimination when the animal is
alone [22,26]. In this study we will use the term SRP, since it is the most general and includes
behavioral disturbances that occur in the presence or absence of physiological signs of stress
[23,24,27].
Separation-related problems have been vastly studied in domestic dogs [23,24,27]; how-
ever, for cats few studies have reported the occurrence of SRP [15,25,28]. To the best of our
knowledge, there are only two empirical studies [15,28] and one review article [25] addressing
this condition in cats. Studies that verify the care practices used by owners and the impacts of
management on the welfare of cats are also scarce [6,12,2931].
In the area of companion animal welfare, data provided from owners and/or caretakers are
frequently used to estimate the prevalence rates of behavioral problems, behavioral signs of
stress (like shaking, crying and excessive barks), use of aversive training methods and other
conditions related to poor welfare [4,3234]. The majority of dog-focused SRP studies are
based on questionnaire data [22,3537] since monitoring animals in domestic environments
may not be viable.
Due to the importance of questionnaire studies, which enable the identification of relevant
biological, social and cultural factors, this study aimed to develop a questionnaire for cat own-
ers which identifies the most typical behaviors characteristic of SRP, as well as relates the
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occurrence of SRP to the management practices applied in the sampled cats. We hypothesized
that i) the questionnaire will be able to identify behavioral signs reported by cat owners consis-
tent with SRP; ii) animals that do not engage in intraspecific interactions and/or live in a
restricted area and/or live in environments without enrichment will be more likely to be
reported by owners as having behaviors consistent with SRP.
Methods
General view
This study was approved by the Juiz de Fora University Ethics Committee in Research with
Human Beings, located in Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais, Brazil, protocol # 2.084.228. The
research participants signed a consent form before answering the questionnaire.
Participants and recruitment
The interviewed population were owners of adult cats (above 6 months of age) residing in the
city of Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais State, Brazil. A total of 223 questionnaires were completed
by 130 owners whose cats lived either in houses, apartments or commercial establishments.
The snowball sampling method was used, in which the participants suggested new people to
take part in the study. Recruitment of the initial sample of participants was achieved through
use of social media, Facebook, WhatsAppand Instagram. Following recruitment, the
researchers arranged meetings with the participants and completed the questionnaire during a
semi-structured interview.
Questionnaire
A questionnaire was developed based on published literature about separation anxiety syn-
drome in dogs [22,23,25,26,35,36,3840] and cats [15,25]. The initial part of the question-
naire was related to basic information about the animal as reported by the cat owners: name,
breed, age, gender, reproductive status (neutered or not) and how long the owner had the cat.
The second part was related to the cat’s behavior when the owner was absent and/or visually
separated from the cat. Therefore, questions related to the most typical behavioral signs of SRP
were incorporated, including four behavioral categories (urination at inappropriate locations,
defecation at inappropriate locations, destructive behavior and excessive vocalization) based
on Schwartz [15]. Also, we defined three additional categories expressing mental states of the
animals (depression, aggressiveness, agitation-anxiety) when the cat was alone or separated
from the owner. The inclusion of these mental states was based on the assumptions that emo-
tional health is a neglected subject especially in domestic cats [41] and that people can infer
cats’ affective states by interpreting aspects of their facial expressions [41,42]. The answers
were ‘yes’ (Y) or ‘no’ (N) for each behavioral sign used.
Since previous studies have suggested that characteristics of the owner in addition to traits
of the environment and management practices could affect the development of SRP in dogs
and cats, the questionnaire included the following additional components: owner gender;
owner age (in years); number of residents in the house (1, 2, 3, 4 to 7); number of female resi-
dents (none, 1, 2, 3 to 5); number of male residents (none, 1, 2, 3 to 5); type of residence
(house or apartment); access to the whole house (Y, N); outdoor access (Y, N); frequency of
outdoor access (always, often, occasionally, never); visual outdoor access (Y, N); access to ele-
vated areas as in shelves, tables or others (Y, N); access to cat toys (Y, N); play with cat toys or
other objects (Y, N, only when stimulated, does not have access to toys); frequency in which
the cat was left alone in the house (5 to 7 times per week, 1 to 4 times per week, occasionally
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[i.e. less than once a week], never); duration for which the cat was left alone in the house (<2
hours / day, 2 to 6 hours / day, >6 hours / day, never left alone or do not know the answer);
presence of other animals in the house (Y, N), change of behavior in the presence of an unfa-
miliar person (Y, N).
Data analysis
A descriptive analysis of the questionnaire data was made through data categorization and cal-
culating the frequency of each answer. After examining the frequencies of behaviors and emo-
tional states indicative of SRP, cats were characterized as having possible SRP if they met the
following criteria: I) cats for which the owners reported two or more behavioral categories
used as indicators of SRP (urination at inappropriate locations, defecation at inappropriate
locations, destructive behavior and excessive vocalization); II) cats with a positive answer for
one behavioral category and one or more emotional states assessed; III) cats for which the
owners reported the occurrence of three mental states indicative of SRP (depression, aggres-
siveness, agitation-anxiety). Cats assigned to one or more criteria defined by the authors were
considered as the SRP group. Then, chi-square tests in contingency tables or Fisher’s exact
tests for 2 x 2 tables were applied in order to verify associations between the demographic char-
acteristics of cat population, owners’ characteristics and environmental or management traits
with the occurrence of SRP. Data were processed using the software SAS (SAS Institute Inc.,
Cary, NC, version 9.2) with P <0.05 for significance and P <0.10 discussed as a tendency.
Dependences among variables were verified through Multiple Correspondence Analysis
(MCA), which was used to reveal underlying patterns of associations between SRP and the
answers regarding the owner characteristics, environmental and management traits. The
MCA is an exploratory multivariate technique applied to strictly categorical variables useful
for analyzing questionnaire data [43]. This multivariate technique allows exploration of the
relationships between several categorical variables simultaneously, which can be expressed as
“clouds” of points in a bidimensional space [43,44]. MCA reveals the associations between
each level of multiple categorical variables, allowing for determination of how the variables are
related. This is the main advantage of MCA as compared to the chi-square test, which reveals
significant associations between two variables only, and does not reveal the direction of associ-
ation (i.e. how the variable categories are associated).
The MCA uses the chi-square in order to standardize frequencies and build the base for
associations among the levels of the studied variables (named as correspondences) in a contin-
gency table [45,46]. It assigns scores on rows (corresponding to the subjects) and columns
(corresponding to the answers’ categories) in a data matrix, creating charts [46]. All types of
categorical variables are acceptable (nominal or ordinal, binary or with multiple levels) without
distributional assumptions [43,44]. Variance is expressed as the inertia, that is the dispersion
of the data in relation to independence. The first dimension (Dim. 1) has the greatest propor-
tion of the total inertia in the data set, followed by dimension 2 (Dim. 2), and so on. The distri-
butions of the variables in both dimensions (Dim 1 vs. Dim 2) generates a biplot graph, where
each variable category is represented by a point in the scatterplot. Closeness of points is inter-
preted as the association between rows and columns variables, revealing groups of correspon-
dences [43,44]. Thus, the MCA results were interpreted by the relative positions of the points
and their distribution along the Dim. 1 and Dim. 2 axes. As categories become more related to
SRP, the closer they were represented in space, falling in the same side or quadrant of the
graphs. These analyses were performed using Statistica 7
1
(7.0 version).
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Results
Behavioral problems and occurrence of SRP
Among all sampled cats, 13.45% (30 / 223) met at least one of the three criteria we used to
define SRP and they were owned by 25 different respondents (5 respondents had two cats
meeting SRP criteria). Most of the SRP cats 90.00% (27 / 30) met criterion I (i.e. the owner
reported two or more behaviors used as indicators of SRP); 70.00% (21 / 30) met criterion II
(positive answer for one behavior and one or more emotional states); and 16.67% (5 / 30) met
criteria III (the owners reported the three mental states indicative of SRP). Moreover, 50% (15
/ 30) of cats met both criteria I and II; and 13.33% (4 / 30) of cats met all three criteria.
Regarding the behavioral / emotional signs in the total population studied (n = 223),
depression during the owner’s absence was the most frequently reported sign, followed by
excessive vocalization, agitation-anxiety and inappropriate elimination of urine (Table 1). The
places where inappropriate elimination occurred were: owner’s bedroom floor and bed, below
furniture in the living room, next to floor drains, carpets, sofas, plant vases, owner’s clothes
and the kitchen sink. In the SRP group, the frequency of all behavioral signs indicative of SRP
was higher than in the general population of cats (Table 1). Destructive behavior was the most
reported sign in those cats, followed by urination in inappropriate places, excessive vocaliza-
tion, agitation, depression-apathy, aggressiveness and, in lower frequency, defecation in inap-
propriate places.
Demographic characteristics of cat population and the occurrence of SRP
The age of the cats varied between 6 months to 16 years, with a mean of 3.9 ±3.5 years. The
cats’ characteristics (sex, age, neutering status and breed) were not related to SRP occurrence
(P >0.05, Table 2), except for time with the owner (χ
2
= 9.23, P = 0.03).
Association between owners’ characteristics and the occurrence of SRP
The number of residents varied from 1 to 7, with two or three people in most of the residences.
Regarding the characteristics related to the residents, SRP occurrence was significantly associ-
ated with the number of females in the residence (χ
2
= 12.37; P = 0.01). Most of the sampled
residences had a single female (Table 3). Houses with two females had a higher occurrence of
SRP than the rest of the sampled population (50.00% vs. 26.94% respectively). The owners who
participated in the survey ranged in age from 18 to 75 years. The age and others owner charac-
teristics (sex, number of residents and number of male residents) were not associated with the
occurrence of SRP according to Fishers’ and chi-square tests (P >0.05) (Table 3).
The MCA generated two dimensions, the first (Dim. 1) accounted for 18.93% of the inertia
(eigenvalue: 0.35) and the second (Dim. 2) for 14.77% (eigenvalue: 0.27), yielding a cumulative
variance of 33.70%. In Dim. 1 the variable with highest positive contribution to inertia was
‘one resident’ and the variables with highest negative contributions were ‘two male residents’,
and ‘4 to 7 residents’ (Fig 1). In Dim. 2, ‘one resident’ and ‘no male resident’ had positive con-
tributions and ‘age 60’ had the highest negative contribution (Fig 1). Based on the visual
analysis of the MCA perceptual map, it was possible to identify that the ‘non-SRP’ category
was positioned near the origin (center of the graph). Thus, it did not reveal interpretable pat-
terns of association with the owner traits that deviate from independence. In turn, the ‘SRP’
category was located in quadrant IV of the graph, and revealed an interpretable group of corre-
spondence (associations) of SRP with ‘no female resident’, ‘two female residents’ and ‘age 18 to
35 years’ owner characteristics (Fig 1). Based on the closeness among the points of this group,
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cats whose owners reported behaviors consistent with SRP were associated with households
including no female residents, owners aged 18 to 35 years, and two female residents.
Association between environmental or management traits and the
occurrence of SRP
Among the environmental traits assessed, playing with toys showed a significant association
with occurrence of SRP (χ
2
= 8.30; P = 0.04), in which SRP occurred more in cats that had no
access to toys compared to the total population sampled (Table 4). The SRP occurrence was
also associated with the presence of other animals in the house (Fisher’s exact test, P = 0.04).
Residences with no other animals had a higher percentage of cats with SRP signs than the non-
SRP group (30.00% vs. 14.51% respectively) (Table 4).
Table 1. Absolute and relative frequencies (%, within parentheses) of behavioral / emotional signs of separation related problems (SRP) in the cat population sam-
pled (total), in cats regarded as SRP, and in cats without indicators of SRP (Non-SRP).
Behavioral / emotional signs of SPR Total SRP Non-SRP
(n = 223) (n = 30) (n = 193)
Destructive behavior 33 (14.80) 20 (66.67) 13 (6.74)
Excessive vocalization 52 (23.32) 19 (63.33) 33 (17.10)
Elimination problems (urine) 23 (10.31) 18 (60.00) 5 (2.59)
Depression-apathy 58 (26.01) 16 (53.33) 42 (21.76)
Aggressiveness 22 (9.87) 11 (36.67) 11 (5.70)
Agitation-anxiety 39 (17.49) 11 (36.67) 28 (14.51)
Elimination problems (feces) 9 (4.04) 7 (23.33) 2 (1.04)
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0230999.t001
Table 2. Absolute and relative frequencies (%, within parentheses) of the cat characteristics in the cat population sampled (total), in cats regarded as showing SRP,
and in cats without indicators of SRP (Non-SRP). The results of chi-square test (or Fishers’ exact test in 2 x 2 tables) are shown to test the association between occur-
rences of SRP and the cats’ traits.
Cat characteristic Total SRP Non-SRP χ
2
P-value
(n = 223) (n = 30) (n = 193)
Sex
Male 89 (39.91) 14 (46.67) 75 (38.86) - 0.43
Female 134 (60.09) 16 (53.33) 118 (61.14)
Age (years)
0.5 to 0.9 24 (10.76) 0 24 (12.44) 4.86 0.18
1.0 to 3.9 112 (50.22) 15 (50.00) 97 (50.26)
4.0 to 7.9 60 (26.91) 10 (33.33) 50 (25.91)
8.0 27 (12.11) 5 (16.67) 22 (11.40)
Time with the owner (years)
0.5 to 0.9 51 (22.87) 1 (3.33) 50 (25.91) 9.23 0.03
1.0 to 3.9 98 (43.95) 15 (50.00) 83 (43.01)
4.0 to 7.9 50 (22.42) 11 (36.67) 39 (20.21)
8.0 24 (10.76) 3 (10.00) 21 (10.88)
Had been sterilized
Yes 200 (89.69) 29 (96.67) 171 (88.60) - 0.22
No 23 (10.31) 1 (3.33) 22 (11.40)
Breed
Purebred 27 (12.11) 3 (10.00) 24 (90.00) - 0.78
Mixed breed 196 (87.89) 27 (12.44) 169 (87.56)
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Two dimensions were retained in the MCA, Dim. 1 accounted for 12.18% of the inertia
(eigenvalue: 0.20) and Dim. 2 accounted for 9.86% (eigenvalue: 0.16), yielding a cumulative
variance of 22.04%. In Dim. 1 the variable with highest positive contribution to inertia was
‘never left alone in the house (frequency)’ and ‘not left alone or do not know (duration)’, with
the highest negative contribution for ‘no outdoor access’ (Fig 2). In Dim. 2, ‘no access to cat
toys’ and ‘no access to toys’ had the highest positive contributions and ‘left alone in the
house <2 hours / day’ had the highest negative contribution (Fig 2). Based on the visual analy-
sis of the MCA perceptual map, it was possible to identify that the ‘non-SRP’ category was
positioned near the center of the graph and, thus, did not reveal associations that deviate from
independence. The SRP category was positioned in the IV quadrant and showed three inter-
pretable correspondence groups. Based on the closeness among the points in the IV quadrant,
the first interpretable group of correspondences was composed by ‘SRP’, ‘left alone in the
house >6 hours / day’, ‘no access to the whole house’ and ‘left alone in the house 5 to 7 times
per week’. In Dim 1 a second group of correspondences was ‘SRP’, ‘no other animals in the
house’ and ‘no outdoor access’. In Dim 2. a third interpretable correspondence group was
‘SRP’, ‘no access to cat toys’ and ‘no access to toys’ (Fig 2).
Discussion
Most studies about cat behavior have been done under experimental conditions (laboratories),
in shelters, or in feral cat colonies; thus, there is a gap in the knowledge regarding the behavior
of domiciled cats and the interactions with their owners [4750]. This study provides informa-
tion about behavioral signs consistent with SRP in a sampled population of domestic cats, as
Table 3. Absolute and relative frequencies (%, within parentheses) of the owner characteristics in the cat population sampled (total), in cats regarded as showing
SRP, and in cats without indicators of SRP (non-SRP). The results of chi-square test (or Fishers’ exact test in 2 x 2 table) are shown to test the association between occur-
rences of SRP and the owner characteristics.
Owner Characteristics Total SRP Non-SRP χ
2
P-value
(n = 223) (n = 30) (n = 193)
Sex
Male 39 (17.49) 5 (16.67) 34 (17.62) - 1.00
Female 184 (82.51) 25 (83.33) 159 (82.38)
Age (years)
18 to 35 150 (67.26) 24 (80.00) 126 (65.28) 3.07 0.21
36 to 59 65 (29.15) 6 (20.00) 59 (30.57)
60 8 (3.59) 0 8 (4.15)
Number of residents in the house
1 29 (13.00) 4 (13.33) 25 (12.95) 0.979 0.61
2 or 3 125 (56.05) 19 (63.33) 106 (54.92)
4 to 7 69 (30.94) 7 (23.33) 62 (32.12)
Number of male residents
None 49 (21.97) 10 (33.33) 39 (21.21) 4.30 0.17
1 127 (56.95) 12 (40.00) 115 (59.59)
2 47 (21.08) 8 (26.67) 39 (21.21)
Number of female residents
None 8 (3.59) 3 (10.00) 5 (2.59) 12.37 0.01
1 108 (48.43) 8 (26.67) 100 (51.81)
2 67 (30.04) 15 (50.00) 52 (26.94)
3 to 5 36 (17.94) 4 (13.33) 36 (18.65)
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well as about the management practices used by their owners. The questionnaire identified that
about 13% of cats may have signs consistent with SRP according to their owners’ reports, and
therefore, it could be a promising tool for future research into investigating SRP in cats. We also
found elements related to the owner as well as environmental and management characteristics
that may predispose cats to be reported by owners as having signs consistent with SRP.
Cats might be regarded as social partners for their owners and vice-versa [51]. For instance,
a previous study found temporal patterns of interaction between owners and their cats. Those
patterns vary depending on factors that influence the human-cat bond and relationship, such as
the owners and cats personalities and owners sex [51]. For example, the more extroverted the
owner’s personality, the higher the frequency of interactions with their cats. Moreover, in dyads
with a female owner, the number of interactions per minute was higher when compared to
dyads with a male owner [51]. In general, both domiciled and shelter cats can benefit from
human contact and they seek it through affiliative behaviors [19,47,51,52]. Therefore, it is
essential to investigate the possibility of SRP occurrence in domestic cats, given that some stud-
ies suggest that cats develop attachment and secure bonding with their owners [20,51,53]. For
instance, a study found indicators of attachment relationships between humans with their kit-
tens and adult cats, including proximity seeking, separation distress and reunion behavior, as
well as individual differences were consistent with attachment style categorizations [53].
In the present study, 30 of 223 evaluated cats (13.45%) were classified as possibly SRP-
affected based on the behavioral signs reported by their owners to occur during their absence.
A previous empirical study found a prevalence of 19% (n = 136) of cats affected by SRP in a
group of 716 animals [15], considering as SRP cats showing one or multiple behavioral signs
displayed exclusively in the absence of the attachment figure: inappropriate urination (96
Fig 1. Perceptual map of the multiple correspondence analyses for separation related problems (SRP) and the
owner characteristics. Grey circle represents the correspondences among the variable categories SRP, ‘no female
residents’ (Female_0), ‘two female residents’ (Female_2) and ‘age 18 to 35 years’ (Age_18–35).
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0230999.g001
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Table 4. Absolute and relative frequencies (%, within parentheses) of the environmental and management traits for the cat population sampled (total), in cats
regarded as SRP, and without signs of SRP (Non-SRP). The results of chi-square test (or Fishers’ exact test in 2 x 2 table) are shown to test the association between occur-
rences of SRP and environmental or management traits.
Environment or management Total With SRP Non-SRP χ
2
P-value
(n = 223) (n = 30) (n = 193)
Type of residence
House 126 (57.01) 14 (46.67) 112 (58.64) - 0.24
Apartment 95 (42.99) 16 (53.33) 79 (41.36)
Access to the whole house
Yes 175 (78.48) 21 (70.00) 154 (79.79) - 0.24
No (cat is restricted in a single room) 48 (21.52) 9 (30.00) 39 (20.21)
Outdoor access
Yes 177 (79.37) 21 (70.00) 156 (80.83) - 0.22
No (kept exclusively indoors) 46 (20.63) 9 (30.00) 37 (19.17)
Frequency of outdoor access
Always 39 (17.49) 4 (13.33) 35 (18.13) 1.88 0.597
Oftenly 7 (3.14) 2 (6.67) 5 (2.59)
Occasionally 27 (12.11) 3 (10.00) 24 (12.44)
Never 150 (67.26) 21 (70.00) 129 (66.84)
Visual outdoor access
Yes 187 (83.86) 23 (76.67) 164 (84.97) - 0.28
No 36 (16.14) 7 (23.33) 29 (15.03)
Access to elevated areas
Yes (in shelves, tables or others) 185 (82.96) 26 (86.67) 159 (82.38) - 0.62
No 38 (17.04) 4 (13.33) 34 (17.62)
Access to cat toys
Yes 185 (82.96) 22 (73.33) 163 (84.46) - 0.19
No 38 (17.04) 8 (26.67) 30 (15.54)
Play with toys (cat toys or objects)
Yes 113 (50.67) 13 (43.33) 100 (51.81) 8.30 0.04
No 28 (12.56) 1 (3.33) 27 (13.99)
Only when stimulated 54 (24.22) 8 (26.67) 46 (23.83)
No access to toys 28 (12.56) 8 (26.67) 20 (10.36)
Left alone in the house (frequency)
5 to 7 times per week 109 (48.88) 18 (60.00) 91 (47.15) 6.51 0.09
1 to 4 times per week 40 (17.94) 8 (26.67) 32 (16.58)
Occasionally (less than once a week) 50 (22.42) 3 (10.00) 47 (24.35)
Never 24 (10.76) 1 (3.33) 23 (11.92)
Left alone in the house (duration)
<2 hours / day 25 (11.21) 2 (6.67) 23 (11.92) 5.58 0.13
2 to 6 hours / day 83 (37.22) 16 (53.33) 67 (34.72)
>6 hours / day 86 (38.57) 11 (36.67) 75 (38.86)
Not left alone or do not know 29 (13.00) 1 (3.33) 28 (14.51)
Other animals in the house
Yes 186 (83.41) 21 (70.00) 165 (85.49) - 0.04
No 37 (16.59) 9 (30.00) 28 (14.51)
Change with unfamiliar person
Yes 121 (54.26) 16 (53.33) 105 (54.40) - 1.00
No 102 (45.74) 14 (46.67) 88 (45.60)
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cats), inappropriate defecation (48), excessive vocalization (16), destructiveness (12), and psy-
chogenic grooming (8 cats). Together, these results reveal the likelihood of SRP occurrence in
cats along with a gap of information regarding SRP in the species, suggesting this is a neglected
issue in the area of behavioral problems in cats. The Fe-BARQ online questionnaire, developed
to measure owner-reported behavior in domestic cats, is an extensive list with 149 behavioral
questions/items encompassing multiple behavioral factors, most of which capture behavioral
problems [4]. Separation-related behaviors are evaluated by six items, including behaviors of
‘restlessness–agitation’, ‘hide and/or slink away’, ‘lie down or stay still’, ‘active investigation’,
‘alert/hyper-vigilance’ and ‘vocalization’ just prior to or during cat separation from the owner
[4]. For assessment of SRP, the Fe-BARQ did not include the most typical signs of destructive
Fig 2. Perceptual map of the multiple correspondence analyses for separation related problems (SRP) and the owner characteristics. Grey circle
represents the correspondences among the variable categories ‘SRP’, ‘left alone in the house >6 hours / day’ (Alone>6h), ‘no access to the whole house’
(Whole_h_N) and ‘left alone in the house 5 to 7 times per week’ (Alone5-7t). Red circle represents the correspondences among ‘SRP’, ‘no other animals in the
house’ (Other_animals_N) and ‘no outdoor access’ (Outdoor_N). Blue circle represents the correspondences among ‘SRP’, ‘no access to cat toys’ (Acc_toy_N)
and ‘no access to toys’ (Toy_N).
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behavior and inappropriate elimination of urine and feces both exclusively occurring in the
absence of the owner, as did the present study. Vocalization when the cat was left alone was
included in both questionnaires. While the Fe-BARQ was based on factor analysis from a large
sample of respondents (n = 2608), the incidence of each behavioral item indicative of SRP was
not reported, nor was the prevalence of possible SRP in the sample [4]. Given the lack of infor-
mation on cats, the literature on SRP in dogs can be useful for general comparisons. The cat
SRP prevalence in the present study was within the range reported in previous studies assess-
ing SRP in dogs: 13% in Dinwoodie et al. [54]; 17.2% in Tiira et al. [40]; 20% in Martı
´nez et al.
[55]; 22.58% in Storengen et al. [38]; 18.4% to 33.1% in Konok et al. [56]; 30% in Blackwell
et al. [57]. In most of these studies, the identification of SRP was based on the reports of dog
owners (interviews and questionnaires).
It is worth noting that the SRP cats of the present study were reported by their owners as
having behavioral or emotional signs consistent with SRP (defined here as SRP group) and did
not necessarily have SRP, as the questionnaire still needs further validation based on behav-
ioral observations or experimentation. In addition, none of the owners reported that their cats
had any previous diagnosis of SRP by a veterinarian or clinical ethologist. The behaviors and
mental states reported in the present study may also indicate other disorders such as general-
ized anxiety, boredom, or physiological problems. In fact, in a study about separation anxiety
in dogs [23], several behaviors observed (inadequate elimination, excessive vocalization and
self-mutilation behaviors) were nonspecific and also seen in the control group (dogs without
separation anxiety). However, in animals without separation anxiety these behaviors occurred
in both the presence and in the absence of the owner [23]. Despite not being able to rule out
that the interviewed owners answered the questionnaire based on more general behaviors,
during the interviews owners were informed that the signs had to be displayed during owners’
absences. One potential problem with this is the possibility of owners not having a valid per-
ception of the behavior and mental states of their cats when they were not present to observe
them. However, we should infer that the owners answered based on evidence such as the
behavior or body language of the cat when they were absent, which could be based on reports
by others residents, neighbors or any kind of sign the cat left in the environment (feces, urine
or broken objects). This methodological limitation is difficult to overcome in a questionnaire
survey, since the unequivocal view of the cat body language during owners’ absence could only
be obtained by regular video monitoring of the cats when left alone, which has a low feasibility.
A study conducted with dogs addressed the shortcomings of the methodologies based on own-
ers reports to assess separation behaviors [58], whereby a separation-related behavioral score
based on owners reports was correlated with dogs behaviors based on video footage of the
dogs during the first 25 minutes after they were left alone in the house [58]. Thus, it is reason-
able to infer that the respondents of our study had different ways to gather evidence about
their cats’ behaviors during the owners’ absence.
To consider a cat as possibly having SRP, the owner had to report at least two behaviors
characteristic of this condition: destructive behavior, inappropriate elimination of urine, inap-
propriate elimination of feces, excessive vocalization, necessarily occurring during the absence
of the owner. In the group of animals characterized as SRP group, destructive behavior was the
most prevalent sign, demonstrated by 66.67% of the cats, as opposed to a 6.74% prevalence in
the group of animals with no behavioral signs of SRP (non-SRP). This is one of the most fre-
quently reported behaviors as a symptom of SRP for both cats [15] and dogs [23,25]. In a
study evaluating 200 dogs with SRP and its possible risk factors, destructive behavior was dem-
onstrated by 71.7% of the total sample [23]. Nevertheless, in the present study it is not possible
to rule out that the high frequency of destructive behavior reported by the cat owners occurred
due to a mistaken perception about scratching behavior. Some of the interviewed owners may
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not have differentiated natural scratching behavior from abnormal destructive behavior (i.e.,
when it is shown to a frequent and exaggerated extent). Behavioral problems might be per-
ceived as any behavior shown by the animal that is unacceptable for the owner, but some of
them may be natural, such as scratching [9,59].
Excessive vocalization is a common sign in dogs with separation anxiety [23]. As previously
mentioned, for adult cats vocalization is an indicator of stress [60] and also of SRP [4,15] and,
as such, it was included in the questionnaire. We obtained a prevalence of 63.33% for this
behavior in the sample, making this the second most reported sign for owners of cats from
SRP group. Excessive vocalization can be considered an easily perceived behavior, since it may
cause disturbance to other residents and the neighborhood. Despite being easily perceived, it is
a non-specific behavioral symptom and potentially indicative of other problems, e.g. cognitive
dysfunction syndrome [61].
Regarding inappropriate urination, 60% of the cats defined here as belonging to the SRP
group showed this behavior. This is one of the most characteristic signs of SRP, showing high
prevalence in previous studies [15,62]. In the single study we found about separation anxiety
in cats, Schwartz [15] found a prevalence of 70.6% for inappropriate urination in a sample of
136 cats with separation anxiety. It has been suggested that inappropriate urination in the
absence of the owner could be the only behavioral sign of SRP for cats [15], even when not
combined with other evident behaviors and physiological symptoms [62]. It may be usual for
urine to be eliminated in places where there is presence of the owner’s smell, such as bed,
clothes, pillows and shoes [62]. However, it is not possible to guarantee that cat owners are
able to distinguish inappropriate urination as a sign of SRP from normal territorial marking
with urine. Territory marking by urine (or spray) is a normal feline behavior which tends to
happen on vertical surfaces, independent of the presence of the owner in the home. To avoid
this misunderstanding, in the present study during the questionnaire it was reinforced that
inappropriate elimination was only considered when it occurred in the owners’ absence.
There was a higher frequency of elimination of urine in inappropriate places than inappro-
priate defecation (60.0% vs. 23.3%, respectively) in cats characterized as possibly having SRP.
In a previous study, the frequency of inappropriate defecation was higher, occurring in 35.3%
of 136 cats with SRP [15]. Such differences in frequencies of inappropriate defecation may
have occurred because the study by Schwartz [15] was based on medical records, so we could
infer that inadequate defecation could be a symptom that motivated the owners to seek medi-
cal assistance and/or could also be related to some underlying disease. Defecation is also a
non-specific indicator of SRP that can occur in conjunction with other behavioral problems or
pathological causes [63].
In addition to the behavioral categories previously described as SRP indicators, we included
three questions related to owner-perceived cat emotional states, including depression-apathy,
agitation-anxiety and aggressiveness. Among those signs the most prevalent was depression-
apathy, which occurred in approximately half of the cats belonging to the SRP group. The
higher frequency of depression-apathy could indicate that this was a more adequate subjective
sign of SRP compared to the other states included in the questionnaire. However, it is also
plausible that cat owners had a misperception of their cats’ body language, since they are ani-
mals with nocturnal habits and long periods of sleep and inactivity during the day [59,64],
which coincides with the period that owners leave home for work. For example, there is evi-
dence that dog owners are able to perceive more evident signs of stress, such as trembling,
whining, aggressiveness, excessive barking, and panting, but are rarely able to perceive signs of
stress characterized as ‘subtle behaviors’ such as looking elsewhere, turning head, yawning,
and nose licking [65]. Additionally, in a study aimed at identification of cats’ facial expressions
by humans, it was found that some people can correctly infer the affective states of cats from
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subtle aspects of their facial expressions [42]. Thus, the lower prevalence of the other two
behavioral signs included in the present study could be related to those being less perceptible
or more tolerable to cat owners, and thus unnoticed by them. More research is needed to
determine to what extent owners are able to perceive emotional states and subtle signs of stress
and anxiety from their cats.
In the scientific literature characteristics like gender, age, and neutering status have been
reported as risk factors for SRP in dogs [27]. As well, Separation Anxiety Syndrome was more
commonly reported in senior female cats than in males, with a prevalence of 27% in females
aged 7 years or more [15]. Additionally, destructive behavior was reported as more frequent in
neutered male cats whereas inappropriate defecation was more prevalent in neutered females
[15]. However, in this study we found no relationship between cat sex and neuter status with
any symptoms consistent with SRP reported by the owners. Most of the cats assessed in the
present study were sterilized (89.69%), with only 23 intact individuals included.
Some previous studies also suggested that breed can be related to SRP in dogs [23,26,38].
The process of artificial selection for some breeds could explain, in part, the higher susceptibil-
ity of SRP in certain breeds [66]. A recent study showed that dog breeds selected for coopera-
tive work with humans were more prone to suffer from separation-related stress behaviors
than the breeds selected for independent work abilities [66]. For cats, it was previously sug-
gested that Siamese and Burmese breeds are more prone to developing SRP [15,62]. There is
empirical evidence that Siamese, Burmese and Tonkinese coat patterns are also related to the
occurrence of SRP and separation anxiety [28]. The shortage of studies assessing breed effects
on the risk of SRP in companion animals may be due to methodological restraints for develop-
ing reliable assessments of this question, given the requirement for a large number of animals
of different breeds to estimate the SRP prevalence in various dog [40] and cat breeds. For
instance, in the present study only 12.11% of the cats were purebred. However, we did not
evaluate whether cats reported as purebreds by their owners were indeed purebred based on
pedigree information, what could lead to even lower percentages.
As for the owners’ traits, a positive association was observed between the report of signs of
SRP and the presence of ‘no female resident’ according to MCA and ‘two female residents’ in
the house. In cats included in the SRP group, 10.00% of them lived in residences with ‘no
female’, while in non-SRP the frequency was much lower at 2.59%. In addition, for the SRP
group, 50.00% of cats lived with two females, while in the non-SRP group 26.94% did so. Thus,
the relationships found between SRP and number of female residents in the present study
were not straightforward and are difficult to explain. Previous findings in dogs had already
reported a relationship between SRP and the number of female residents: as the number of
females in the house increased, so did the likelihood of the dog developing SRP [35]. Addition-
ally, dogs owned by a single woman were more prone to SRP than those raised by a single man
[38]. The reason for this difference is not clear; however, there is some evidence from previous
studies suggesting that female owners show more attachment to their pets than male owners,
and cats prefer to interact with adult female residents than with children and male adults [33,
51,67]. As an alternative explanation, it is also plausible that women showed higher perception
of their pets’ behavior and body language, and thus owner sex is not necessarily a factor that
makes the animal more prone to SRP, but potentially makes the owner more perceptive of SRP
signs [33,67]. Still, regarding the owners’ traits assessed in the present study, the MCA corre-
spondence grouping related to SRP also included the variable ‘owners’ age 18 to 35’. We might
infer that this age can be confounded with other traits such as number of female residents and
time that cats are left alone for younger owners.
Regarding the environmental and management traits, the more cats’ popularity as a pet
grows, the greater the need for better management practices and responsible ownership [68].
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Responsible cat ownership includes practices that protect those animals from damage and
behavioral problems, increasing their welfare. In the present study, cats reported by owners as
having behaviors consistent with SRP were related to ‘do not have access to toys’, ‘do not have
access to the whole house’, ‘no other animal in the house’, ‘no outdoor access’ and being left
alone in the house ‘5 to 7 times per week’, ‘from 2 to 6 hours per day’ and ‘>6 hours per day’.
The confined environments typical of residences usually do not meet the exploratory needs of
cats, because they may not provide the stimuli the animal would find in the wild, which makes
the environment monotonous and predicable [69]. Thus, environmental enrichment benefits
confined cats, helping to reduce the stress caused by confinement, any abnormal behaviors,
encouraging exploratory behavior and other uses of the space [69]. In the total population of
cats, 12.56% of the animals had no access to toys while in the SRP group 26.67% of them had
no access to toys, making this a possible factor related to SRP. Therefore, the use of environ-
mental enrichment, such as cat toys, can be a good option to increase the welfare of confined
animals and help to prevent SRP [25,26,69,70].
It was also observed that the frequency and duration of daily periods the animal is separated
from its attachment person can be related to the report of signs of SRP by the owners, espe-
cially for cats that stay alone from 5 to 7 times a week and more than 2 hours per day, as
revealed by MCA. Additionally, the frequency that the cats are left alone tended to be related
with reported signs of SRP, according to the chi-square test. In the sample of cats without SRP,
there was a lower percentage (47.15%) of animals that stayed alone from 5 to 7 times a week
than in the SRP group (60.0%). In the SRP group, only 3.33% of the cats never stayed alone or
rarely stayed alone (10.0%), while those percentages were much higher in the total population
sampled (10.76% and 22.42% respectively), indicating that cats not left alone are less likely to
develop SRP. Cats are considered animals that can easily tolerate the absence of their owners
[14]. We speculate that owners who perceive their cats as ‘independent’ animals might leave
them alone for longer periods of time, contributing to the occurrence of SRP in cats that stay
alone for long periods. Further studies should investigate the relationships among owners’ per-
ceptions towards cat behavior and the management practices applied that predispose to SRP.
We also observed a tendency for owners reporting signs of SRP in the group of individuals
that do not live with other animals at home. A possible explanation for this association is that cats
living alone spend more time interacting with their owners than those living with other cats. It is
also possible that owners with a single cat ‘spoiled’ their animal more than those with multiple
cats [4,71]. However, these two possibilities lack scientific support and warrant more research.
The simple presence of other cats in the house may not be considered a factor that would prevent
the occurrence of SRP in cats [14]. While some authors suggest that multi-cat households can be
stressful [72], others indicate that there is no significant difference in stress scores between cats
from single-cat and those from multi-cat households [73]. In some cases, having another animal
in the environment may be beneficial for certain cats depending on their temperament, since
they could maintain positive interactions without agonistic confrontations [64].
In spite of promising results, this study has limitations that must be acknowledged. The
interviewed owners were asked about behavioral signs of SRP in their absence (i.e., in absence
of the presumed attachment figure), without recording whether the behaviors also occurred
when someone else was in the house or exclusively when the animal was alone. This informa-
tion could elucidate whether those behaviors were more related to general isolation than to the
absence of the owner per se. An additional point is that the three criteria used to characterize
SRP were arbitrarily defined by the authors. Using a combination of behaviors and mental
states to define SRP, we have found a slightly lower incidence than a previous study (13% vs.
19% in Schwartz [15]) in which a single behavioral sign of SRP displayed when cats were sepa-
rated from the owner were enough to cats being regarded as affected [15]. The prevalence of
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SRP in a sampled population can be dependent on the criteria used to diagnose SRP, generat-
ing a potential source of bias, subjectivity or imprecision that has to be taken into account in
future studies. To date, very few exploratory researches were conducted about SRP in cats. The
lack of science-based criteria to define SRP in cats reinforce that separation problems can be
regarded as a neglected feline behavioral problem that deserves more studies.
Conclusion
Separation-related problems in domestic cats are behavioral disorders that are difficult to iden-
tify due to the very limited amount of research conducted to date. The present questionnaire
enabled the identification of behaviors (destructive behavior, excessive vocalization, inappro-
priate elimination of urine) and mental state (depression-apathy) related to SRP in cats, as
reported by their owners. Even though the questionnaire cannot be used as a substitute for a
detailed investigation of each case, it can be used as a starting point for future research about
SRP in cats. It may provide a practical and efficient instrument to help ethologists and veteri-
narians make initial diagnoses of SRP with more confidence.
Through this study we suggest that some environmental factors can make domestic cats
more prone to develop separation-related problems, like the number of female humans in the
house, frequency and number of daily hours the cat is left alone, the lack of use of environmen-
tal enrichment (e.g. toys), and the absence of other animals in the house. Thus, investigations
of management practices to prevent the occurrence SRP should take these factors into
consideration.
Supporting information
S1 File. Questionnaire for cat owners.
(DOCX)
S1 Table. Dataset used in statistical analyses (n = 223).
(XLSX)
S2 Table. Results of the multiple correspondence analyses (MCA) for separation related
problems (with SRP) or without SRP (non-SRP) and owners characteristics (n = 223). Val-
ues of coordinates, inertia and Cosine2 in dimension 1 (Dim. 1) and dimension 2 (Dim. 2) are
shown.
(DOCX)
S3 Table. Results of the multiple correspondence analyses (MCA) for separation related
problems (with SRP) or without SRP (non-SRP) and environmental and management
characteristics (n = 223). Values of coordinates, inertia and Cosine2 in dimension 1 (Dim. 1)
and dimension 2 (Dim. 2) are shown.
(DOCX)
Acknowledgments
We are grateful to the cat owners for their participation in this study and to Ashleigh F. Brown
for her help with the English language. This study is part of the master’s thesis of the first
author prepared to the Graduate Program in Behavior and Animal Biology of the Universi-
dade Federal de Juiz de Fora (UFJF), Juiz de Fora, Brazil. The study was financed in part by the
Coordenac¸ão de Aperfeic¸oamento de Pessoal de Nı
´vel Superior–Brasil (CAPES)–Finance
Code 001.
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Author Contributions
Conceptualization: Daiana de Souza Machado, Juliana Clemente Machado, Aline Cristina
Sant’Anna.
Formal analysis: Maria Camila Ceballos, Aline Cristina Sant’Anna.
Investigation: Daiana de Souza Machado, Paula Mazza Barbosa Oliveira.
Methodology: Daiana de Souza Machado, Paula Mazza Barbosa Oliveira, Juliana Clemente
Machado, Maria Camila Ceballos, Aline Cristina Sant’Anna.
Project administration: Daiana de Souza Machado.
Resources: Aline Cristina Sant’Anna.
Supervision: Aline Cristina Sant’Anna.
Writing – original draft: Daiana de Souza Machado.
Writing – review & editing: Paula Mazza Barbosa Oliveira, Juliana Clemente Machado, Maria
Camila Ceballos, Aline Cristina Sant’Anna.
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PLOS ONE
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... In the second PC, variables with higher loadings were the place where the cat stayed when the owner left and the frequency with which the owner left the house, characterizing a component related to owner absence. Owners' frequency and duration of leaving the house can be characterized as a possible risk factor for separation-related problems [20]. For owners reporting indoor management, 44.2% of the participants left the house daily and their cats stayed alone. ...
... A possible explanation might be that owners could be more observant of cats' behaviors due to the proximity with them in indoor conditions. Previous studies have related indoor management with a higher risk of behavioral problems such as aggressiveness, agitation, excessive vocalization, inadequate elimination, apathy, destructiveness, and excessive fear [8,20,[49][50][51]. In general, captive environments tend to lack stimulation, being monotonous and predictable. ...
... Anxiety is characterized by intense and unpleasant sensations and feelings of anticipation of a danger stimulus not present [55,56]. When these behaviors occur during the owner's absence, they could indicate separation-related problems [20,57]. It is interesting to note that owners of indoor cats reported a higher frequency of them leaving the house on a daily basis and the cat staying alone during their absence, compared to outdoor cats. ...
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... Various solutions emerged to solve this problem. These can range from the cooperation between research groups (Griss et al., 2021), to questionnaire surveys (de Souza Machado et al., 2020); and more recently, to the involvement of large numbers of enthusiastic citizens. ...
... The exhibition of other behaviors perceived by the owner as inappropriate can also be associated with cats' temperament. For instance, the inappropriate elimination of urine or feces is a behavioral problem frequently reported by cat owners [112][113][114]. In a study about common risk factors for urinary house soiling (the inappropriate elimination of urine), cats characterized as having a non-relaxed temperament were three times more likely to display house soiling compared to cats with a relaxed temperament [113]. ...
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Although cats' popularity as pets rivals that of dogs, cats are little studied, and people's abilities to read this apparently 'inscrutable' species have attracted negligible research. To determine whether people can identify feline emotions from cats' faces, participants (n = 6,329) each viewed 20 video clips of cats in carefully operationalised positively (n = 10) or negatively valenced states (n = 10) (cross-factored with low and high activity levels). Obvious cues (eg open mouths or fully retracted ears) were eliminated. Participants' average scores were low (11.85/20 correct), but overall above chance; furthermore, 13% of participants were individually significantly successful at identifying the valence of cats' states (scoring ≥ 15/20 correct). Women were more successful at this task than men, and younger participants more successful than older, as were participants with professional feline (eg veterinary) experience. In contrast, personal contact with cats (eg pet-owning) had little effect. Cats in positive states were most likely to be correctly identified, particularly if active rather than inactive. People can thus infer cats' affective states from subtle aspects of their facial expressions (although most find this challenging); and some individuals are very good at doing so. Understanding where such abilities come from, and precisely how cats' expressions change with affective state, could potentially help pet owners, animal care staff and veterinarians optimise feline care and welfare.
Article
The domestication of dogs resulted in several fundamental behavioural changes as compared to their closest wild living relative, the wolf. While these characteristics are considered to be fairly robust across dogs, dog breeds themselves manifest apparently strong behavioural differences. Thus far the functional roots of breed-specific behaviours are still less understood and supported by empirical research. We hypothesized that historical selection for the level of working interaction intimacy with their handlers, may have resulted in the fundamental differences between the main working dog types and their behavioural reactions when separated from their owner. In our study, dogs from breeds that were originally selected for either cooperative or independent work tasks, were tested in a short outdoor separation test. We included dogs with and without owner-reported separation-related disorder (SRD) to both groups. We found that SRD-status and the breed type were in significant association with various stress related behaviours during separation from the owner. Dogs from cooperative working breeds with SRD barked more frequently, meanwhile barking was less prevalent in independent breeds and also in cooperative breeds without owner-reported SRD symptoms. General movement (showing the dogs’ intention to follow or find the disappearing, then absent owner) was uniformly strongest in cooperative dogs with SRD. Whining appeared most frequently in dogs with SRD, regardless to the breed type. These are the first results that support a functional evolutionary framework behind the association of particular dog breeds with the extent of their stressful reactions to separation from their owner.
Article
Worldwide, domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus) outnumber domestic dogs (Canis familiaris). Despite cats’ success in human environments, dog social cognition has received considerably more scientific attention over the last several decades 1, 2, 3. A key aspect of what has been said to make dogs unique is their proclivity for forming attachment bonds, including secure attachments to humans 1, 3, which could provide scaffolding for the development of human-like socio-cognitive abilities and contribute to success in human environments [3]. Cats, like dogs, can be found living in social groups or solitarily, depending on early developmental factors, resource distribution, and lifetime experiences such as human interaction 1, 2, 4. Despite fewer studies, research suggests we may be underestimating cats’ socio-cognitive abilities [2]. Here we report evidence, using behavioral criteria established in the human infant literature 5, 6, that cats display distinct attachment styles toward human caregivers. Evidence that cats share social traits once attributed to dogs and humans alone would suggest that broader non-canine-specific mechanisms may be needed to explain cross-species attachment and socio-cognitive abilities.
Article
Cats are one of the world’s most populous companion animals, yet little is known about how the home environment is adapted relative to their needs. Outdoor access is thought to be beneficial for both the physical and mental wellbeing of cats, yet as urbanisation increases, reducing owner access to outdoor spaces, an increasing number of cats are kept strictly indoors. The impact of an indoor lifestyle on feline behaviour and welfare is little explored and poorly understood. This study used a systematic review to assess scientifically validated knowledge concerning social and physical environments and their implications for indoor cats. A total of 61 papers were analysed. Only n = 21 papers directly addressed at-home indoor scenarios with the remainder consisting of shelter/cattery (n = 27) or laboratory (n = 16) (some papers explored multiple environments). Across studies there was little evidence of rigour or systematically controlled approaches. Methods frequently used were cat-stress-scores (CSS) and ethograms, neither of which were consistently standardised, substantially reducing the ability to compare findings among studies. Numerous studies explored similar variables (i.e. provision of hiding space (n = 9)) yielding little additional knowledge. Measures of welfare and behaviour were often assessed using single parameters in controlled environments. Although this may be useful and applicable to cat experiences within shelters, catteries and laboratories, the findings do not necessarily translate to dynamic and variable household environments. Major findings include the benefits of enrichment such as hiding boxes and vertical resting spaces, as often recommended by veterinarians and feline charities. However, other advice provided, such as the provision of feeding enrichment for psychological welfare, although not necessarily disputed, appears to be scientifically untested. Additionally, despite the social environment being likely to have a substantial effect on cat welfare, it is particularly under-studied in the home, especially in terms of its complexity (e.g. presence of young children or dogs). Overall, the review identified substantial gaps relative to cat experiences and welfare in multifactorial home environments. Understanding the impact of indoor lifestyles and promoting mechanisms to minimise any negative impacts whilst promoting positive ones, remains an important, yet underexplored, area of research.
Article
The behavioural assessment of individual animals in stressful situations should consider measures which are consistent across repeated testing, and therefore truly representative of an individual's behaviour. Here we report a study conducted on 40 neutered adult cats (Felis silvestris catus) of both sexes, originating from two animal shelters in Mexico and Hungary. We recorded the responses of the cats to repeated brief confinement trials that mimicked a common situation (confinement in a pet carrier). This test was repeated three times, leaving one week between trials, to assess short-term repeatability. Stable inter-individual differences in two behavioural measures, the number of separation calls and the duration of motor activity, were found, although the inter-individual differences in vocalisation were more pronounced than they were for motor activity. Additionally, the overall number of vocalisations emitted remained stable despite repeated testing, whereas motor activity tended to decrease week to week. There was a negative effect of age on vocalisation rate, and no effect of sex on either behaviour. No correlation between the two behavioural measures was found. We suggest that, in adult cats, vocalisation may be more reliable than motor activity as a behavioural measure of stress.
Article
Periodic canine population studies establish essential frames of reference for analyzing trends in demographics and the prevalence of problematic behaviors. An understanding of the correlations between individual behavior problems can shed light on the pathogenesis and comorbidity of various conditions. It is our hope that the results of this substantial study will help to confirm those of previous studies, provide new data about behavior problems, and, by association, help establish their etiology. In this study, we hosted a public, online questionnaire to capture up-to-date demographic and behavior problem metrics. Surveyed problematic behaviors include fear/anxiety, aggression, jumping, excessive barking, coprophagia, obsessive-compulsive/compulsive behaviors, house soiling, rolling in repulsive materials, overactivity/hyperactivity, destructive behavior, running away/escaping, and mounting/humping. The study sample consisted of 4114 dogs, spanning mixed and pure breeds, submitted by 2480 dog owners. Male and female dogs were equally represented, a majority of which were neutered. The prevalence of canine behavior problems was 85%. We found sex, neuter status, origin, and lineage to have a notable effect on the prevalence of behavior problems. We also found age, neutered status, origin, and lineage to have a notable effect on the number of behavior problems per dog. Owners were asked to provide details of any behavior problem they reported such as intensity, frequency, and situation in which the behavior problem occurred. We examined the problematic behaviors in terms of their overall prevalence, and characteristics, and computed correlations between the various behavior problems. The findings from our study provide insight into the magnitude of owner-reported canine behavior problems encountered by owners and hopefully will encourage veterinarians to further incorporate aspects of behavior problem management into their daily work.
Article
Practical relevance: Urine spraying (synonymous terms include urine marking or scent marking) is commonly described as urine deposited on vertical surfaces while the cat is in a standing position. With the increasing trend of keeping cats indoors in some countries and the potential resultant increase in frustration-related behaviors, urine spraying may occur in the home. Although also a normal feline behavior, it is usually not deemed acceptable when the cat targets household possessions. Urine spraying is a common behavioral complaint that practitioners receive from cat owners and has the potential to disrupt the human-cat bond. In fact, feline elimination issues are a frequent reason cited by owners when they relinquish their cats to shelters and rescue organizations. Clinical challenges: While the location of the deposited urine should be diagnostic, this is not always the case. Urine marking can occur on horizontal surfaces, thus complicating the diagnosis. Urine spraying by intact males and females is used to signal availability for mating but the behaviour can also be exhibited by neutered animals. Multiple factors including medical problems can trigger the onset and maintenance of urine spraying, and correct identification of these is necessary for treatment to be most successful. Evidence base: This review draws on information from multiple studies that have been published on the normal aspects of urine spraying in cats, the frequency as reported by owners, the relationship of urine spraying to intercat aggression and various treatment options including behavior modification, pheromone therapy and use of psychoactive medication.
Article
Two experiments were conducted to assess the influence of human attentional state, population, and human familiarity on domestic cat sociability. Sociability behaviors included duration of time in proximity and contact with the human and the frequency of meow vocalizations. Human attentional state influenced cat behavior, with cats spending significantly more time in proximity with the attentive human in both the pet (U(22) = 389, Z = -2.72, P = 0.007) and shelter groups (F(44) = 15.34, P = 0.0003). Cat population influenced sociability and shelter cats spent more time in proximity with the inattentive unfamiliar human as compared to pet cats (U(44) = 91, Z = 3.8, P = 0.0001) Additionally compared to pet cats, more individuals in the shelter cat group meowed at least once during the unfamiliar human inattentive phase (Fisher's exact test, P = 0.02). Human familiarity did not significantly influence pet cat sociability behaviors. Overall, a wide range of sociability scores was seen, indicating individual variation is an important consideration in cat social behavior. Future research in this area will predict conditions under which strong cat-human bonds form and establish a more comprehensive scientific understanding of cat behavior.
Article
Although domestic cats are among the most common companion animals, we still know very little about the details of the cat-human relationship. With a questionnaire, we asked 157 Hungarian cat owners about their pet's behavior, cognitive abilities and social interactions. We analyzed the responses with PCA resulting in 11 traits. The effect of cats’ and owners’ demographic variables on the main components was further analyzed with GLM. The results showed strong similarity to the surveys performed with companion dogs, but we also found features that were mainly cat-specific. We found that women considered their cats to be more communicative and empathetic, than men did (p = 0.000). The higher education owners also considered their cat as being more communicative and empathetic (p = 0.000). We also found that owners use pointing signals more often if the cat is their only pet (p = 0.000), and otherwise they do not give verbal commands often to the cat (P = 0.001). Young owners imitated cat vocalization more often (p = 0.006); while emotional matching of the cat was more commonly reported by elderly owners (p = 0.001). The more an owner initiated playing with his/her cat, the imitation of cat vocalizations was also more common in his/her case (p = 0.001). Owners think that their cat shows stronger emotional matching if otherwise they experience human-like communicative capacity from the cat (p = 0.000). Owners use more pointing signals in the case of those cats that show attention-eliciting signals in more than one modality (p = 0.000). Owners who react to the meows of unfamiliar cats, initiated interactions more often with their own cats (p = 0.000). Owners also think that cats vocalize in every possible context, and this result was not affected significantly by any of the independent factors. Our results show that owners considered their cat as a family member, and they attributed well developed socio-cognitive skills to them. Because cats have an important role as a companion animal, it would be worthy to study cat behavior with similar thoroughness as with dogs. Our questionnaire may provide a good starting point for the empirical research of cat-human communication. The deeper understanding of cats’ socio-cognitive abilities may also help to improve cat welfare.