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Agonistic behavior and environmental enrichment of cats communally housed in a shelter

Leticia M. S. Dantas-Divers DVM, PhD1,2, Sharon L. Crowell-Davis DVM, PhD, DACVB3, Kelly Alford DVM4, Gelson Genaro DVM, PhD5, Jose Mario D'Almeida DVM, PhD6, and Rita L. Paixao DVM, PhD7
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  • 1 Programa de Pós-Graduação em Medicina Veterinária (Clinica e Reprodução Animal), College of Veterinary Medicine, Universidade Federal Fluminense, Niteroi, RJ 24320-340, Brazil.
  • | 2 Department of Anatomy and Radiology, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602.
  • | 3 Department of Anatomy and Radiology, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602.
  • | 4 Department of Anatomy and Radiology, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602.
  • | 5 Programa de Pós Graduação em Psicobiologia, Faculdade de Filosofia Ciências e Letras de Ribeirão Preto, Universidade de São Paulo, Ribeirao Preto, SP 14040-030, Brazil.
  • | 6 Departamento de Biologia Geral, Instituto de Biologia, Universidade Federal Fluminense, Niteroi, RJ 24020-140, Brazil.
  • | 7 Departamento de Fisiologia e Farmacologia, Institutio Biomedico, Universidade Federal Fluminense, Niteroi, RJ 24210-110, Brazil.

Abstract

Objective—To evaluate the presence of a dominance rank in a group of cats and the relation between agonistic behavior and the use of resources, including environmental enrichment, in these cats.

Design—Observational analytic study.

Animals—27 neutered cats in a shelter in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Procedures—The cats were video recorded for 4 consecutive days to obtain baseline data. Subsequently, a puzzle feeder was added as an enrichment device every other day over 8 days, for a total of 4 days with enrichment. Cats were also video recorded on these days. All pretreatment and posttreatment agonistic behaviors and interactions with the puzzle feeder were recorded by reviewing the videotapes.

Results—143 agonistic encounters were recorded, of which 44 were related to resources and 99 were not. There were insufficient agonistic interactions to determine a dominance rank. Presence or absence of the puzzle feeder did not affect the rate of aggression. There was no significant effect of weight, sex, or coat color on the rate of aggression, and aggressive behavior did not correlate with time spent with the puzzle feeder. Twenty-three of the 27 cats interacted with the puzzle feeder.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—In a stable group of communally housed cats, environmental enrichment did not cause increased aggression as a result of competition for the source of enrichment. Because environmental enrichment increases the opportunity to perform exploratory behaviors, it may improve the welfare of groups of cats maintained long-term in shelters, sanctuaries, or multicat households.

Contributor Notes

Supported by Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior.

Address correspondance to Dr. Dantas-Divers (lsdantas@uga.edu).