Out of the 3.2 million cats that enter shelters in the United States every year, only about 1.6 million are adopted. And shelters are starting to do something about it. From giving toys to play with and feeding them quality all-natural cat food to using special scents to keep them calm, shelters are changing their approach to caring for their furry residents to reduce stress and to make the cats more adoptable. Animal shelters are incorporating several interesting methods of looking after their cats’ mental health with enrichment activities designed to increase the number of adoptable cats.
Olfactory Enrichment Defined
According to a research study
at the Ashland Cat Shelter, the goal of “enrichment” is to let cats live their best lives by encouraging species-typical behavior while increasing the cats' ability to cope with challenging situations. Olfactory enrichment, as they call it, approaches this goal using cats' sense of smell, with the understanding that certain scents are soothing to cats.
Effective Stress Relieving Scents
Have you ever witnessed a cat's reaction to catnip? Considered almost magical by many cat owners, roughly 60 percent of cats have a strong positive reaction to this mint relative. And it's not the only scent that cats respond to. BMC Veterinary Research, headed by Sebastiaan Bol completed a study to gauge cats' response to four different scents:
- Tatarian Honeysuckle
- Silver Vine
Results showed that nearly all domestic cats love one or more of these scents. Because these scents are safe and non-addictive, shelter workers and owners alike can feel good about providing them to their furry charges. And cats experiencing the stress relief offered by this "euphoria" may indeed prove to be more adoptable than fearful or stressed out kitties.
Other Soothing Techniques
Using scents to help calm and increase the number of adoptable cats isn't the only adoption strategy out there. Many shelters are using olfactory enrichment along with other techniques such as:
Providing More Toys
Did you know that people spend more time watching cats that have toys in their cage at shelters? The ASPCA's Adoption Center in New York City did some research and found out that whether or not the cat is playing with the toy, they get more face time with potential adopters. Plus, giving kitties an outlet for having fun helps relieve stress. In addition to standard toys, some low-cost options used in shelters include:
- Balls of paper
- Chains of pipe cleaners
- Paper bags
- Puzzle toys
Animal shelter volunteering is about more than just providing a roof and necessities. More volunteers are working to improve the odds of animals being adopted with a variety of strategies. Clicker training is one of the simplest, and it teaches cats to be responsive to commands. This, in turn, makes them more appealing to people looking to adopt. This positive training technique marks desirable behaviors with a click and rewards it with a treat. Because the clicking sound is completely different from everything else in the cat's environment, it becomes an effective form of communication between people and pets.