Research Lessons on Feline Housing

Felines can be extremely sensitive to changes in their environment…especially if they aren’t in charge. Noise, overcrowding and stress can cause catastrophic health problems for cats.

The challenge facing veterinarians is providing the care you need to sick felines while managing their stress issues.

Most of the research on feline housing has centered on shelter cats because they end up with longer and more stressful stays (usually because of the proximity to canines in the shelter).

The findings have led to a series of recommendations that have revolutionized how shelter cats are managed. And it can be meaningful and actionable for veterinarians.

Double Compartment Housing

The essence of the recommendations is to create double compartment housing as a standard for felines. This allows the cat to have one area for the litter and another for the play/bedroom.

The double compartment housing also allows staff to decrease contact during cleaning because the cat can move to one area and then back to the cleaned area for the second area’s cleaning. This provides less risk of spreading pathogens as well as a chance for the cat to relax.

Many veterinary practices have Shor-Line Stainless Steel cages for feline housing. They provide the durability and easy sanitation for cleaning confidence. The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (July 10, 2018) published this article by the leading thought leaders moving towards more space in feline housing.

They debuted the concept of using portals cut into cages to allow for two Stainless Steel cages to become a “suite.” It has become a popular method for keeping cages in service while also innovating to provide better housing for felines.

More Space for Felines

The challenge most facilities found was that cutting their number of cages in half (by using portals) provided the anxiety of not having enough boarding/treatment space. Movement veterinarians found that the health benefits of making the change decreased stays because cats stayed healthier.

One study reported a decrease in upper respiratory infections from 71% of cats to 16% five years after the new management program that included more kennel space was implemented.

The Million Cat Challenge was launched in 2014 to accelerate the acceptance of drastically changing how shelters treat cats. It is a partnership of Maddie’s Fund, UC David Koret Shelter Medicine Program and Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida. One of the key tenants of the program is the Five Freedoms for shelter cats.

Five years after it started, it counts more than 3 million feline lives saved by implementing these new management practices.

What Does it Mean for Veterinary Practices?

For veterinary facilities, think about the square footage of housing space for felines. The floor space suggested is 9 square feet.  Using standard veterinary housing, that is about two 24”W veterinary cages (or a better choice is two 30”W cages). (Standard veterinary cages are 28¼”D)

If you connect two 24”W cages with Shor-Line portals, that will double the 4.7083 square feet of a single cage to 9.4166 square feet. (For 30”W cages, that is 5.8854 square feet for a single cage and 11.7708 if they are connected.) You also can purchase portals pre-cut in new cages.

Facilities that adopted the portals enjoy the flexibility of opening or closing them. You choose if you want the cat moving between the cages. The open portals provide the best stress reduction.

Two new options for Stainless Steel feline housing have come from this research. The Stainless Steel Cat Suite builds in a 30”W main living area and a 12”W litter with slides, latches and resting shelves of quiet but sturdy polyethylene.

The most recent cage bank is the Serenity Suite. It combines the new tri-door concept that allows a clear view for the feline with a Stainless Steel cage. A Kat Portal provides the connection between two cages.

How this can look at a Veterinary Practice

A good part of the research on the Kat Portals was provided through UC Davis, which also runs a Small Animal Clinic as part of its veterinary school in California. Last fall, it opened its new feline treatment and housing suites.

This video posted on the School of Veterinary Medicine’s page shows the makeup of the three-room feline section. Dr. Kate Hopper, director of the Small Animal Clinic, discusses the sound dampening and other improvements made in the facility to better help feline patients.

The facility builds in flexibility to handle crisis situations (such as the recent California wildfires) as well as the day-to-day veterinary services.

Moving Away from MRB

The other big trend in feline housing is a move away from moisture resistant board (MRB), a mainstay for feline housing for years.

New materials, such as the extruded PVC Feline Comfort Suites that Shor-Line offers, are waterproof. This provides the space and door view benefits that reduce stress while making the units easy to clean.

Rethinking feline housing has never been a better idea. There are options for every practice style. And the research provides a solid basis for configuring the feline space differently.

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