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Behavior Department: A Gentle Kind of Cat Care

Reducing anxiety, frustration, and URI in shelter cats

Until somewhat recently, most shelters worked to prevent upper respiratory infection (URI ) by focusing on reducing crowding, effective disinfection, adequate ventilation, and vaccination. However, it’s now recognized that stress is almost always the most important factor affecting URI’s development, severity, and outcome. Hence, efforts to reduce emotional stress should begin as soon as a cat enters the shelter.

  • Happy cats (like this one with volunteer Heather Koos in the colony room at the Tri-County Animal Shelter in southern Maryland) have a stronger resistance to the URI-causing pathogens found in all shelters. Kathy Milani/The HSUS

Nadine Gourkow has been looking at emotional stress in cats for years. Her master’s degree in animal science compared the effect of various types of housing on stress, time to adoption, and rate of sickness in cats at the British Columbia SPCA in Vancouver, Canada. Based on her research and further studies at the SPCA, she developed the CatSense system and a program to train staff to implement it at the SPCA’s 36 shelters. The system included the Hide, Perch & Go box and The Emotional Life of Cats video.

In 2007, Gourkow began her doctoral research at the SPCA to examine the relationship between emotions, immune competence, and feline URI. Her findings, she hopes, will help develop science-based shelter practices that further increase emotional well-being in cats and reduce URI.

 Read the full article.

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