The use of electronic boundary fences with clear pre-warning cues does not impair the welfare or long-term quality of life for cats, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom.
Free-roaming cats can be exposed to a variety of risks, such as getting hit by a car, poisoning and injury. While some cat owners choose to keep their pet solely indoors, others turn to electronic boundary fence systems to mitigate such risks. These devices deliver an electric “correction” via a collar if a cat ignores a warning cue and attempts to cross the boundary.
However, concerns have been expressed over the welfare impact of such systems, according to the researchers of the study. Therefore, their aim was to determine if long-term exposure to an electronic containment system was associated with reduced cat welfare.
The researchers compared 46 owned domestic cats: 23 cats that had been contained by an electronic fence system for more than 12 months and 23 cats with no containment system that were able to roam more widely.
Cats included in the study each underwent four behavioral tests.
“Long-term environmental challenges such as repeated exposure to noxious stimuli and restriction of roaming can affect an animal’s perception of and responses to environmental change, so behavioral tests were chosen that focused on detecting a change in the cat’s reaction to different types of novelty (unfamiliar person, novel object, unexpected sound) and measures of affective state (cognitive bias test),” the researchers wrote in the study’s paper, which appears in a recent issue of PLoS One.
The study revealed that the felines in both groups showed no significant differences in general affective state after 12 months. The findings also indicated that the cats that had been contained by electronic systems demonstrated less irritable behavior and less irrational fear overall than cats that had been given more freedom to roam.
“Indeed cats subject to electronic confinement appear to be less neophobic than unrestrained cats,” the researchers wrote. “This might relate to the containment increasing predictability in the environment and deserves further investigation.”
The study was funded partly from a charitable donation provided to the University of Lincoln by Feline Friends.