New AWP research investigating stress in shelter cats

Entering an animal shelter can be stressful for cats, as cats are highly sensitive to environmental change. Stress experienced in the shelter can impact cat health and behaviour, and stress mitigation is critical to shelter cat welfare. Cats also have very sensitive hearing and possess one of the broadest known hearing ranges among all mammals, detecting very quiet noises at both low and high-frequency noises beyond what humans can hear. This is especially a concerning in shelters, where sound levels regularly exceed 100dB. 

A recent study conducted by the UBC Animal Welfare Program’s Bailey Eagan, Dr David Fraser and the BC SPCA’s Dr Emilia Gordon investigated the effect of animal shelter sound on cat behaviour and welfare. The study found that common sounds in animal shelters, including dogs barking, cleaning noises, and human voices, caused fear behaviour in shelter cats. Cats were more likely to display common fear-related behaviours, such as hiding, startling, and being alert when the shelter was loud compared to quiet. Additionally, cats began showing these fear behaviours as soon as these sounds began in the shelter. From these results, the authors conclude that minimizing sound in shelters can alter the behaviour, and likely the welfare, of cats.

Thankfully, there is lots of things that shelters and other animal care facilities can do to decrease noise, including many free or inexpensive solutions. Recently, at the ASPCAPro Research Forum, Bailey Eagan presented solutions for measuring and minimizing sound to improve cat welfare. This recording is available to watch from the ASPCA’s website (register at this link and enroll in the course).