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Home invaders create cat stress says peer-reviewed study

'Home invaders' create cat stress says peer-reviewed study

By Rachel Holdsworth - 26 September 2013

If you regularly see three or more cats in your garden then there is a high probability that your pet is being intimidated every time it goes outside.

Some 25% of owners surveyed reported cats entering the house to steal food and 18.7% of cats had been attacked in their own home, according to research by Royal Veterinary College animal behaviourist, Jon Bowen, which has been peer-reviewed and presented at the International Veterinary Behaviour Meeting in Lisbon, Portugal.

Although there are about 10 million cats in the UK very little is known about their lives. The research – conducted as part of the Neighbourhood Cat Campaign with support from microchip-operated pet product company SureFlap and Your Cat Magazine – aimed to address this by asking cat owners about inter-cat relations and also non-cat owners for their observations. 

More than 700 cat owners and 300 non-cat owners responded to the survey. Most of the households had an unsecured "swing" cat flap or no cat flap at all, giving neighbourhood animals free access to the home.

Mr Bowen says: "It really is an urban jungle out there, but owners are largely unaware of the impact that these home invasions are having on their pets, which means they are not making attempts to stop the intruders."

The research revealed that 52% of cats with an unsecured cat flap had experienced a home invasion. Cats are highly territorial so invasion of their "home turf" frequently ends in fights. 

As part of a cat’s defence they carry bacteria in their mouths, which prevent battle wounds from healing so the consequences are serious. 

Mr Bowen says many cats are living on their nerves: "Cats injured in fights showed higher rates of hair loss, coughs and sneezes and indoor spraying which are all symptoms of stress."

A common indicator of inter-cat conflict was sightings of multiple cats in the garden and Mr Bowen suggests that owners should use this to inform cat care.

“Look for signs of stress in your pet, for example anxiously looking at the cat flap is a clear indicator. Owners should consider a secure flap and also not introduce further cats into the household where there is already a dense population in the neighbourhood.”

The research was instigated by SureFlap, after feedback from its customers revealed that home invasion was a major reason for purchasing a SureFlap microchip-operated pet door.

Judith Bank of SureFlap says: "We were interested to know if the problems our customers were reporting were widespread and discovered that very little was known about the secret lives of cats.  The research shows that the situation is more common than even we had thought.

“SureFlap uses the cat’s microchip as a unique door key and customers report their cats are happier and less stressed after the secure cat flap is installed.”

The peer reviewed results from the Neighbourhood Cat Research presented at the International Veterinary Behaviour Meeting from 26-29th September 2013 in Lisbon can be seen at www.sureflap.co.uk/ivbm13.

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