Improving outcomes for shelter cats

Dr  Caroline Audrey Kerr (view profile)

Historically, cats entering shelters have endured high rates of euthanasia. Consequently, it has become imperative that outcomes for these shelter cats be improved. RSPCA Qld has made significantly efforts that have resulted in cat adoptions increasing from 34% (2011) to 74% (2016), whilst reducing euthanasia to 15% (in 2016) from 58% (in 2011).

On admission into RSPCA Qld shelters, stray and surrendered cats are assessed for their medical and behavioural requirements. Differentiating true medical and behavioural problems from those induced by the stress of entering a shelter is a significant challenge.

However, by giving a cat more time to settle at intake (from 24 hours in 2011 to up to 72 hours in 2016) or progressing to settle (from a total of 8 in 2011 to 22 days in 2016), has contributed to a reduced number of cats euthanased for behavioural reasons (from 2771 to 393 cats in 2011 and 2016 respectively). After 72 hours, if the cats have settled and there is potential for rehoming, they undergo veterinary treatment and, where applicable, enter behavioural modification programs.

This process includes optimised housing to meet a cat’s sensory needs (e.g. auditory, appeasing pheromones and privacy) and space requirements (e.g. cage positioning). Socialisation and medical protocols that include placing cats into temporary foster care have proven to be valuable, as the majority (87%) of fostered cats are rehomed.

Kittens under 3 months of age are also given specialised help with socialisation and improved facilities to meet the medical requirements of very young kittens resulting in a dramatic decrease in kitten euthanasia. Once cats are available for adoption, they are either successfully rehomed onsite at shelters or via innovative off-site retail locations (e.g. via Petbarn stores).

Despite RSPCA Qld’s dramatic improvement to shelter cat outcomes, there are ongoing challenges which include: understanding how to improve outcomes for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus positive cats, reducing the severity of cat influenza in shelters and further enhancements to cat behavioural programs.