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Feeling Catty? Monitoring Feline Demeanor During Hospitalization

Clinician's Brief (Capsule)


December 2014

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Healthy client-owned cats (n = 35) admitted for short-term hospitalization postneutering were evaluated using a novel cat demeanor scoring system. Previous studies have evaluated feline responses to various stressors or have assessed adaptation to a long-term caged environment, but none have evaluated response to clinical hospitalization. Pain scoring may be dependent on individual cat temperament and stressors; these may interfere with clinician perception of pain. This study aimed to create a behavioral scoring system that considers individual temperament and monitors alterations in daily behavior; this may lead to increased
sensitivity in pain detection.

Cats were housed in a standardized cat ward for 3 to 5 days and evaluated daily via demeanor scores. Cats were classified into 1 of 5 behavioral groupings: friendly and confident, friendly and shy, withdrawn and protective, withdrawn and aggressive, or overtly aggressive. Cats were exposed to human interaction from a far distance, from a close distance where activity was not directed toward the cat, and from a close distance where activity was directed toward the cat. Total demeanor score decreased over time, demeanor category improved, and there was an upward trend in appetite and litter tray use, thus implying a fast adaptation period (2 days). The intraclass correlation and kappa statistic suggested good repeatability and agreement among investigators. Further data collection and research is needed to detect behavior changes in cats that are diseased, injured, or in pain.

Global Commentary

Hospitalization is stressful for cats, but identifying stress signs is often difficult. When placed in a stressful environment, some cats may vocalize or react aggressively, whereas others simply stop eating and do not move. Despite this difficulty, it is important to assess patient reaction to the hospital environment to improve welfare and facilitate recovery. Interestingly, we have tools to assess pain in cats and their adaptation to shelters, and studies are looking at the benefits of using pheromones in hospitalized cats. Nevertheless, there is a lack of information on how to assess the short-term adaptation of hospitalized cats.

This study’s authors developed a quick and simple assessment system to be done once daily and included such parameters as feed intake, use of the litter tray, and patient response to interaction with and handling by humans. The response of cats to hospitalization was assessed by looking at whether a given animal moved from one category to another. According to the results, cats seemed to adapt to hospitalization after two days. The methodology developed here could be useful as a basis to decide which cats need special attention. Replicating the study with a larger sample size, including cats with different temperaments, and performing a multicenter study would certainly be of interest.—Marta Amat Grau, DVM, PhD, Dip ECAWBM


Assessment of behavioural changes in domestic cats during short-term hospitalisation. Zeiler GE, Fosgate GT, van Vollenhoven E, Rioja E. J FELINE MED SURG 16:499-503, 2014.

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