Risks and benefits to cats of free roaming versus containment

Kasbaoui, Naima (2016) Risks and benefits to cats of free roaming versus containment. PhD thesis, University of Lincoln.

23694 Kasbaoui Naima_Animal Behaviour_January 2016.pdf
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Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Item Status:Live Archive


Free roaming domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus) are widespread around the world. Whether they are owned or not, their presence and management raises strong opinions between supporters of “cat independence”, advocates of “cat safety” and defenders of wildlife, leading to suggestions that cats should have their freedom to roam outdoors restricted. The aim of this thesis was to get a precise understanding of the concepts of free roaming and containment in cats, their meaning for the relationship between cats and the society that they are living in, both from the cats’ ‘point of view’ and the perceptions of their owners, and the impact on cat welfare. Using a variety of approaches including a survey, GPS tracking, behavioural tests and an owner-based questionnaire, we showed that although many people’s perceptions about free roaming cats depended on their residential location and their ownership status, the risk of road traffic accidents was rated highly as a concern by people regardless of their residential location or cat ownership status. This perception was matched by the behaviour of free roaming cats themselves, who, regardless of their home location were observed to frequently engage in risky behaviour like frequent road crossing. This represents a high risk to their wellbeing and, combined with the other risks posed to cats that go outside, makes a clear case for the need to restrict the cat’s roaming behaviour, in order to protect its welfare. Given the problems of an indoor only lifestyle, which may perhaps be greater than is widely recognised, there is a case for examining the impact on cat welfare of an effective containment system, that restricts the cat to the boundaries of its owner’s property (both minimising risk to the cat and disruption to the community). Options for containment are limited, and little is currently known about their impact. Therefore I examined the impact of an electronic containment system that is widely thought to be effective but that also causes concern regarding its effect on cat welfare. This was the first research on such a system in cats, and I sought to establish if the welfare concerns were justified and outweighed by the potential benefits. First, I gathered initial information with a case series, and then I carried out a more comprehensive study with a larger sample of cats. The initial case series failed to establish clear evidence of a consistent negative impact on welfare. In the larger follow-on study, for the population studied, I found no evidence consistent with a long term negative impact of the electronic containment system on cat behaviour and welfare. Indeed, cats contained by the system interacted more with people, were more curious about novel objects and were no more sensitive to sudden noise than control cats, although whether these effects were due to the system or selection bias in the volunteers remains unknown.
Although many research questions have been addressed, unanswered questions remain, and directions for future research have been identified and are discussed.

Keywords:Felis silvestris catus, Domestic cat
Subjects:D Veterinary Sciences, Agriculture and related subjects > D300 Animal Science
Divisions:College of Science > School of Life Sciences
ID Code:23694
Deposited On:11 Aug 2016 11:50

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