Animal shelters are stressful for any pet but especially for cats. While every effort is made to keep temporary resident cats as happy as possible while they wait for their forever home, cats in a shelter are frightened in a strange environment, experience new sounds and smells, and are surrounded by unfamiliar people. All of these conditions cause stress which results in them being more susceptible to illnesses, most commonly, upper respiratory infections. Sick cats don’t get adopted and they stay in the shelter longer until they are healed. It’s a never ending cycle.
We do everything we can to lessen stress factors for cats. Warm beds, nourishing food, and even open housing for some cats are not enough. The most common cat housing in shelters is cold stainless steel cages, a single box with about four feet of floor space to accommodate food, water, litter boxes, and any space for exercise or enrichment. Cats in cages in an animal shelter are simply a recipe for unhealthy living, compounding stress, and leads to illness and longer stays for cats in shelters.
Research conducted by the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program and the Association of Shelter Veterinarians has taught us that more space for cats in a shelter is better and that separate compartments for sleep and food and litter-boxing at least lessens stress in cats. Until we can build an entirely new campus concept for homeless animals in Central Florida to provide the most modern facilities for pets in our care, the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando recently began retrofitting its traditional cat cages to include portholes, converting single cage compartments to more-roomy double compartments. Adding small connector openings make a significant impact on a cat’s mental and physical health by offering them a little more room to stretch their legs and explore while also allowing the cat to separate their bedroom/dining area from their bathroom. The Association of Shelter Veterinarians recently stated that “poor cat housing is one of the greatest shortcomings observed in shelters and has a substantially negative impact on both health and well-being.” Studies show that by placing cats in a two compartment cage their stress level significantly decreases within 48 hours compared to more than a week in a single compartment. Lower stress levels directly impact physical health by lowering the rate of upper respiratory infections and feline herpesvirus infection.
Pet Alliance staff is currently hard at work with the ultimate goal of retrofitting all of our cat cages at both our Orlando and Sanford locations. If you would like to help, please donate now!