2021 journal article
Evaluation of a stimulus attenuation strategy to reduce stress in hospitalized cats
JOURNAL OF VETERINARY BEHAVIOR-CLINICAL APPLICATIONS AND RESEARCH, 41, 33–38.
Abstract Hospitalized cats are constantly exposed to unfamiliar and potentially anxiety-producing visual and auditory stimuli. Critical care areas may require heterospecific housing of dogs and cats. For boarding, many veterinary hospitals do not have feline-only wards. In all these conditions, cats are often housed in areas with high volumes of foot traffic and high levels of ambient noise. Attempts to reduce visual stimuli have been carried out. In veterinary hospitals, towels are often hung over the front of the cage. In the shelter environment, when a cardboard box “hide” was provided within the cage, a decrease in behavioral signs of stress has been documented. Unfortunately, these masking devices are not always a practical option in a medical setting because patients are not visible to the technical staff who need to monitor them on a frequent or continual basis. In addition, hiding structures may result in tangling of intravenous lines and monitoring devices. Boxes need to be discarded or sent home after each use; towels need to be disinfected. The aim of this study was to investigate the effect on cat behavior of a cage-front stimulus attenuation strategy that could be easily adapted to any cage. Thirty privately owned cats were individually placed in one of two conjoined cages (left and right), connected via a communicating tunnel inside an isolated study room. Each cage had a cage door. The left or right “start side” was randomly assigned. A previously recorded video of the sights and sounds of a veterinary inpatient ward was projected onto a screen directly in front of the cages for 70 minutes. During this time, starting at the same time each day for 6 consecutive days, each cat was video recorded the entire 70 minutes. On each day, cats could choose between 2 of the following cage front conditions in accordance with a predetermined protocol: unshielded cage front and cage front covered with either a clear plexiglass sheet, or an opaque plexiglass sheet. Time spent on each side was calculated from video recordings of the cats. Two cat-stress scores, established by Kessler and Turner's noninvasive Cat-Stress-Scoring system, were calculated based on each cat's behavior during the first and last 15 minutes of each observation period. The results revealed that, regardless of cage fronts being compared, cats with higher stress scores in the first 15 minutes of the observation spent significantly more time behind the cage front option that allowed for the greatest buffering of external stimuli. In addition, regardless of cage front, cats had a slight preference for the right-sided cage and for the cage they were placed in. Age, sex, and time of the day had no significant influence on cage front preference. These results indicate that cats that experienced elevated levels of stress in a veterinary hospital may benefit from the use of a simple stimulus abatement strategy to attenuate visual and auditory stimuli. Use of a plexiglass sheet at cage front still allows for visualization of the patient by the technical staff.