The influence of olfactory stimulation on the behaviour of cats housed in a rescue shelter

Ellis, Sarah L. H. and Wells, Deborah L. (2010) The influence of olfactory stimulation on the behaviour of cats housed in a rescue shelter. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 123 (1-2). pp. 56-62. ISSN 0168-1591

Full content URL:

Ellis & Wells 2010 - olfactory stim.pdf

Request a copy
[img] PDF
Ellis & Wells 2010 - olfactory stim.pdf - Whole Document
Restricted to Repository staff only

Item Type:Article
Item Status:Live Archive


A wide variety of feline species have been shown to gain welfare benefits from the
introduction of olfactory stimuli to the captive environment. The effect of this stimulation
on the domestic cat, however, has been largely overlooked. This study thus explored the
influence of olfactory stimulation on cats housed in a rescue shelter to determine whether
it holds any value as a method of enrichment for this species. One hundred and fifty cats
were randomly assigned to one of five conditions of olfactory stimulation (control [an
odourless cloth]; biologically relevant odour [a cloth impregnated with the scent of
rabbit]; biologically non-relevant odours, [a cloth impregnated with lavender, a renowned
relaxant, or the scent of catnip, a well known stimulant]). Cats were exposed to the
relevant olfactory stimuli for 3 h a day for five consecutive days. Each cat’s behaviour was
recorded every 5 min on days one, three and five of olfactory exposure, using
instantaneous scan sampling. Overall, cats showed relatively little interest in the cloths,
spending just over 6% of the total observation time interacting with these stimuli.
However, animals exposed to the catnip-impregnated cloths exhibited significantly more
interest in the stimulus than animals exposed to the other cloths, spending an average of
11.14% of the observation time interacting with the objects. Across all experimental
conditions, interest in the cloths was significantly lower in the second and third hours of
stimulus presentation compared to the first, suggesting habituation. Certain components
of the cats’ behavioural repertoire were influenced by olfactory stimulation. Catnip and
prey scent encouraged a significantly higher frequency of behaviours indicative of reduced
activity (e.g. more time sleeping, less time standing and actively exploring the
environment) in comparison to the control condition. Catnip also encouraged play-like
behaviour characterised as the ‘catnip response’. Overall, the results suggest that certain
odours, notably catnip, may hold potential as environmental enrichment for captive
domestic cats.

Keywords:Behaviour, Cats, Enrichment, Rescue shelters, Scent, Olfactory stimulation, Welfare
Subjects:C Biological Sciences > C120 Behavioural Biology
D Veterinary Sciences, Agriculture and related subjects > D328 Animal Welfare
Divisions:College of Science > School of Life Sciences
ID Code:2746
Deposited On:30 Jun 2010 14:21

Repository Staff Only: item control page