The perception of cat stress by Italian owners

Mariti, C and Guerrini, F and Vallini, V and Bowen, J and Fatjò, J and Diverio, S and Sighieri, C and Gazzano, A (2017) The perception of cat stress by Italian owners. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 20. pp. 74-81.

[img]
Preview
Text
10782.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (1MB) | Preview

Abstract

The welfare assessment of owned pet cats has been neglected in research. The aim of this study was to assess owners' perception and recognition of impaired welfare in their own cats. One hundred ninety-four cat owners were interviewed face-to-face by a veterinary behaviorist, completing a 42-item questionnaire. Most owners (71.1%/N = 138) correctly included both physical and psychological features within their definition of stress, but 9.8% (19) thought that stress had no consequences for the cat. When asked to rate the overall stress level of their own cats in a nonnumerical scale based on frequency, 56.7% (N = 110) chose low, 38.1% (N = 74) chose medium, and 5.2% (N = 10) chose high. Owners whose cats played little or not at all were more likely to rate the level of stress of their cats as high (90.0%) than to rate it as low or medium (33.2%/64; χ2 = 13.290; P < 0.001). Similarly, owners whose cats showed overgrooming were more likely to rate the level of stress of their cats as high (30.0%/58 vs. 7.6%/15; χ2 = 4.948; P = 0.015). The display of aggression or house soiling was not associated with the owner's rating of stress level. The number of signs recognized by respondents as potential indicators of stress in cats and the rating of the level of stress in their own cats were weakly correlated (ρ = 0.217; P = 0.002). This may be due to possible biases in the interviews as well as to an overall good welfare in the cat sample associated to a moderately good understanding of feline signs of stress in owners. A principal components analysis applied to the listed signs of stress identified 4 components which were termed: body posture, social avoidance, house soiling, and self-directed behavior. However, some of the signs that behaviorists regard as crucial in their anamnesis, such as scratching the furniture, freezing, mydriasis, and recurrent cystitis, were the least recognized signs of stress by cat owners. Only very prominent, common, or potentially disturbing behaviors such as excessive vocalization, posture with the ears back, and urinating out of the litter tray were regarded as potential signs of stress by more than two-thirds of owners. These findings suggest that owners tend to overlook certain signs and that owners' perception of stress partially depends on their false preconceptions about cat normal ethology (e.g., playfulness, social relationships, aggression, etc.). This ill-informed perception is likely to prevent owners from correctly indentifying, and intervening in, situations of poor welfare.