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Skånberg, Lena, 2014. Changes in the behaviour of sheltered cats when coping with a new environment: focus on individuality and effects on sickness behaviour. First cycle, G2E. Skara: SLU, Dept. of Animal Environment and Health

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Abstract

Environmental change, such as an arrival to a cat shelter, is something that has been seen to affect the domestic cat by increasing stress levels and sickness behaviours e.g. food deprivation and diarrhoea, and thereby jeopardise its welfare. Measuring stress and welfare is of importance when evaluating a cat’s habituation and wellbeing in different situations. The invasive methods, such as measuring plasma cortisol as an indicator of stress, often cause discomfort to a cat. In this study, the method of observing behaviour when examining stress in cats is investigated. The first aim of this study was to see if cats’ behaviour changes between two periods where one is supposed to be more stressful. The second aim was to see if measuring sickness behaviours might work as an indicator of psychological stress. In this study 11 sheltered cats were observed in a cat shelter in Sweden. Behaviour elements and sickness behaviours were observed during cats’ first three days after their arrival to a new home environment. These behaviours were compared with behaviours observed during days when they had been in the new environment for longer than three days. The results showed that the relative frequency of observed behaviour elements such as body postures and activity, differs between the two periods suggesting that observing behaviour might be a valid method when investigating stress and welfare, although, the validity of the Cat-Stress-Score test used in research today could be questioned. The average amount of sickness behaviours decreased after the first three days after environmental change suggesting adaptation and that measuring sickness behaviour might be a valid method when investigating stress in sheltered cats. In this study sheltered cats were observed to hide 85 % more during the first three days after environmental change. A higher frequency of hiding behaviour was during this time period associated with a lower score of sickness behaviour. All cats except one were observed on a higher position, such as on top of a shelf or in a climbing-tree. The cats were observed to spend an average of 60 % of the time to be on higher positions during both periods. This might show that this is both a preferred coping strategy as well as a highly preferred position during everyday life for cats. Individual differences of strategies when coping with a new environment were shown. As a conclusion, this study shows that observing behaviour and measuring sickness behaviours such as diarrhoea, disruption of cage and food deprivation is useful when investigating cats’ welfare. Individuality should be considered when judging their welfare based on their behaviour and methods for doing so should be investigated further. Hiding places along with a complex enrichment and elevated surfaces should be provided to cats, especially during stressful situations such as environmental changes, in order to increase their welfare.

Main title:Changes in the behaviour of sheltered cats when coping with a new environment: focus on individuality and effects on sickness behaviour
Authors:Skånberg, Lena
Supervisor:Hirsch, Elin
Examiner:Andersson, Maria
Series:Studentarbete / Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet, Institutionen för husdjurens miljö och hälsa
Volume/Sequential designation:566
Year of Publication:2014
Level and depth descriptor:First cycle, G2E
Student's programme affiliation:VK002 Ethology and Animal Welfare - Bachelor's Programme 180 HEC
Department:(VH) > Dept. of Animal Environment and Health
Keywords:cats, welfare, stress, behaviour, environmental change
URN:NBN:urn:nbn:se:slu:epsilon-s-3555
Permanent URL:
http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:slu:epsilon-s-3555
Subjects:Animal genetics and breeding
Language:English
Deposited On:13 Aug 2014 11:42
Metadata Last Modified:13 Aug 2014 11:42

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