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Effectiveness of providing a box, or partially covering the cage front, on reducing cat stress

02 July 2018
11 mins read
Volume 9 · Issue 6



To reduce stress of hospitalised cats, literature advises providing cats with the opportunity to hide using either a box, or partially covering the cage front. While studies have found benefits of the box method, there is currently no evidence for efficacy of the partial cover.


To investigate whether providing hospitalised cats with either a box or a partial towel cover to the front of the cage reduced stress levels, and whether each of these methods was sufficient in prodiving hiding opportunity.


To investigate this, 42 healthy pet cats that were admitted to a veterinary practice for routine neutering were provided with either a hide box, a partial towel cover to the front of the cage or neither treatment. Behavioural observations were taken for 60 minutes recording: 1) Kessler and Turner's Cat Stress Score (CSS), 2) Location within the cage, 3) Hide seeking behaviour, and 4) Use of treatment.


The results showed a significant difference in CSS between cats with a box and the control cats (p=0.007), but not between cats with towel cover and the control cats (p=0.069). There was no significant difference in CSS between box cats and towel cats (p=0.406), but those with a box hid in it 68% of the time, significantly more than the towel cats used the towel (n=30%) (p=0.027). There was a significant difference in hide seeking behaviour between all treatments (p=0.016). A positive correlation was found between CSS and hide seeking behaviour within all groups (rs=0.673), and this was stronger when analysed in control cats only (rs=0.829).


Findings suggest that a box provides opportunity to hide and appears to reduce behavioural signs of stress. Though a partial cover may also help, there is not significant evidence for its efficacy in providing hiding opportunity or reducing stress.

It has been suggested that most pet cats are likely to be hospitalised or caged at some point during their life (McCune, 2011). Caging a cat leaves them with very little control over their environment, something that is of great importance to cats (Cannon and Rodan, 2016). For most cats, being confined in an unfamiliar environment will elicit negative emotions such as frustration, fear, and anxiety (Bradshaw et al, 2012). This was demonstrated in a study that compared urinary cortisol of 31 cats at home and during hospitalisation, which found a significant increase in cortisol in those samples taken post hospital admission (p<0.001) (Cauvin et al, 2003). This is due to the physiological stress response, which also has an influence on other parameters such as rectal temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate (Soares et al, 2012). In cats, elevated blood pressure as a result of stress from the veterinary environment has been particularly well documented and this is often referred to as the ‘white coat-effect’ (Belew et al, 1999). This can present difficulties in interpretation of such parameters in patients and requires consideration of stress as an influence (Soares et al, 2012). Additionally, stress has been linked to certain diseases, and has been found to slow healing and recovery rate of patients (Levensaler, 2014). Stress appears to be a concern for cat owners too: in a survey of 1111 cat owners, 73.1% believed that their cat became more stressed at veterinary visits following a surgical procedure (Mariti et al, 2016). Additionally, stress is reported to be one of the most common reasons for owners not taking their cat to the veterinary practice at all (Volk et al, 2014). It is therefore in the interest of veterinary professionals to minimise cat stress during hospitalisation.

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