The Forgotten Kitten Project

July 31, 2019

Audience: Executive Leadership, Foster Caregivers, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

Organization: Cat Town
Investigator(s): Ann Dunn
Grant Amount: $18,000.00
Project Type: Phase 1
Project Status: Research Complete

Project Summary

This Cat Town study aimed to evaluate the behavior of unsocialized kittens participating in a socialization program at Cat Town. Due to illness during the study period, only 7 kittens were able to complete the program where they were habituated to people. The kittens all exhibited improved behavior, with 5 of the 7 showing overall affiliative behaviors.

Objective(s)

To demonstrate that kittens who were not socialized by the time they are four months old or older, still have the capacity to learn to trust humans, to become socialized to a point that they can be adopted as companion animals and to thrive in their new homes

Methods

The study followed 18 kittens aged four to six months, who appeared to be unsocialized to people when they were assessed at a municipal shelter. They were taken to a cage-free adoption center at Cat Town, known as the Cat Zone, where they were 1) integrated into an active environment, 2) in control of the interactions they had with people, 3) housed with confident cats to serve as role models, and 4) exposed to many different people, who approached the cats in a varied and inconsistent manner. The study kittens were videotaped four times, once per week, to capture changes in behavior. They stayed at the adoption center until they were adopted. Their behavior at time of adoption was captured and post adoption follow-up was conducted.

Results

  • Of the 18 kittens who entered the study, all were socialized and adopted to 11 homes; one of the kittens was returned but successfully adopted two weeks later.
  • Adopters varied in terms of experience and family type, including first-time adopters and families with children.
  • Of the 18 study kittens, 11 developed an illness which necessitated treatment and disqualified them from the study. Seven completed the full study.
  • The healthy kittens were considered ready for adoption in an average of 44 days, or a median of 38 day; their length-of-stay (LOS) was an average of 64 days, or a median of 55 days.
  • The healthy kittens all exhibited improved behavior, with 5 of the 7 showing overall affiliative behaviors
  • Age was not a significant variable for how long it took for the kittens to be ready for adoption

Conclusions

Many experts advise against trying to socialize kittens older than three months, and in many communities these older kittens are euthanized. However, this study demonstrated that providing older kittens with an appropriate environment and adequate time for socialization can improve kitten behavior and chances of a successful adoption into a home. The research would benefit from larger number of study participants which could have wider implications on the adoption and lifesaving rates of older unsocialized kittens.

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