Sensory enrichment for cats (Felis silvestris catus) housed in an animal rescue shelter
Thousands of cats are housed in rescue shelters worldwide. Unfortunately, the
welfare of these animals is often compromised. Environmental enrichment is'
frequently used in an attempt to improve the physical and psychological well-being of
sheltered cats. To date, the use of sensory enrichment for such animals has been
overlooked. This thesis thus aimed to explore the potential value of sensory
stimulation as a method of enrichment for cats residing in one of the leading feline
rescue charities in the United Kingdom, Cats Protection. Four experiments were
conducted; the first assessed the general behaviour exhibited by cats in the rescue
shelter in order to establish baseline levels of activity, while the subsequent three
experiments explored the effects of sensory enrichment (visual, olfactory and
auditory) on the behaviour and welfare ofsuch animals.
For all experiments, cats were studied for three hours a day for three days. Each
animal's behaviour was recorded every five minutes over the three hours oftesting per
day using time-sampling. Results from the experiments indicated that the cats were
experiencing some degree of chronic stress likely to be associated with boredom.
Some of the sensory stimulations had a positive effect upon the behaviour and welfare
of the animals studied. Visual stimulation, particularly that combining elements of
prey items and linear movement, was considered the most effective type of environmental enrichment. Olfactory stimulation in the form of catnip also offered
welfare advantages, promoting play and behavioural diversity. Auditory stimulation
had inconclusive results on the behaviour of the sheltered cats, and at this stage is not
recommended as a form of environmental enrichment for such animals. Overall, it is
concluded that certain types of sensory stimulation harbour enrichment potential for
sheltered cats. Further long-term studies in this area are highly advocated, however,
before generalised conclusions can be drawn.