Module 5: The Case of the Snotty Cats

Environmental Stress and URI

The shelter veterinarian for the DuGood Municipal Shelter was correct to look for “something else” influencing the incidence of feline URI in the shelter. The “something else” is the stress that the cats were experiencing because of poor housing conditions. Noisy rooms, inability to express normal behavior in the small cages, no hiding places, and lack of comfortable living quarters are commonplace for cats in many animal shelters (and many veterinary clinics).

The association of feline URI with environmental stress in shelters, including cage size and lack of hiding areas, has been documented in several studies. The recommendations for cat housing in the ASV Guidelines are grounded in these results.


Evidence Supporting the Link between Environmental Stress and URI

Associations among weight loss, stress, and upper respiratory tract infection in shelter cats.

Tanaka A, Wagner DC, Kass PH, Hurley KF. UC-Davis College of Veterinary Medicine

J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2012 Mar 1;240(5):570-6.

This study evaluated changes in body weight, behavioral stress score, food intake score, and development of URI among cats during the first week in a shelter. More than 80% of the cats lost weight, with 25% losing at least 10% of their body weight in one week. More than 50% of the cats developed URI. Cats admitted to an animal shelter were likely to lose weight and develop URI in the first week, and cats with high stress scores were most likely to develop URI.

Cage size, movement in and out of housing during daily care, and other environmental and population health risk factors for feline upper respiratory disease in nine North American animal shelters.

Wagner DC,  Kass PH and Hurley KF. UC-Davis College of Veterinary Medicine

PLoS One. January 2, 2018

URI is not an inevitable consequence of sheltering homeless cats. Housing and care of cats, particularly during their first week of stay in the shelter environment, significantly affects the rate of upper respiratory infection. This study demonstrated that cage floor space >8ft squared and <2 housing moves during the first week in the shelter were significantly associated with lower risk for URI in adult cats. The type of housing associated with reduced URI risk may reflect lower stress levels for cats, and therefore may serve as an indicator that the shelter environment is more successfully meeting the cats’ needs for comfort and well-being.

Will a hiding box provide stress reduction for shelter cats?

C.M.Vinke, M.Godijn, W.J.R.van der Leijb. University of Utrecht

Applied Animal Behaviour Science 2014; 60(Nov):86-93.

This study determined the effect of a hiding box on the stress levels of newly arrived cats in a Dutch animal shelter.  Cats provided with a hiding box had lower cortisol levels and appeared more relaxed compared to cats without a hiding box. The hiding box was an important enrichment tool for coping effectively with stressors in a new shelter environment the first two weeks after arrival.


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