A visitor to the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition may be forgiven for thinking the smart new shelving in the cat housing is a handy storage solution for toys or equipment. On closer inspection, however, furry faces and long whiskers emerge from the recesses. This furniture is actually a new form of enrichment for WALTHAM’s feline residents.
“Enrichment” provides environmental stimuli necessary for an animal’s optimal well-being. This can take the form of novel toys, sensory stimulation or a change in the environmental set up. WALTHAM’s cat units are already carefully designed to provide an array of options for cats to rest, play and interact. However, improvements are continually being tried and investigated. A recent project looked at the effect of adding stand-alone, shelving units to the cats’ social rooms. The study has been published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science and revealed that new shelving altered where cats spent their time how they related to each another.
Video footage of 29 cats was collected before, during and after the cats had access to new shelving. This was used to evaluate changes in behaviour and how the cats used their space. The cats already had access to other shelving, but showed a preference for the new furniture, spending most of their time on the shelving units. This may have been because the new shelves provided opportunities to hide, which is known to be an important behaviour for cats. The presence of the shelves was also associated with a reduction in anti-social behaviour between the cats, and this effect was reversed when the shelving units were removed.
“The social structure of cat groups can be complex” said Emma Desforges, Pet Behaviour and Welfare Research Scientist at WALTHAM. “Providing a variety of enrichment opportunities for the cats is important, as it enables them to interact in ways which suit their personality and preferences. Understanding the effect of enrichment allows us to define the best environment for cats and dogs in Mars pet centres worldwide.”
As a result of this study, additional shelving is being installed in other cat social rooms at WALTHAM. The results could also directly benefit cats housed in similar environments, such as catteries and rescue shelters.