I am a part-time thesis student in Animal Behaviour and Welfare working in Dr. Anna Kate Shoveller's lab. My project involves studying cat elimination behaviour by using an attractant built into a plant-based litter to reduce house-soiling. House-soiling refers to cats that urinate or defecate out of the designated litter box location and reported to be one of main reasons for surrendering cats to animal shelters. As these cats often find themselves on the top of the euthanasia list due to difficulties in rehoming, this can be detrimental to their welfare.
I completed my BSc from the University of Guelph in Wild Life Biology and chose to work with animal shelters for several years. I came back to U of G in a different capacity, this time working with Animal Care Services (https://www.uoguelph.ca/research/services-divisions/animal-care-services). I work with a team responsible for the care and welfare of the animals used for research and teaching. We have a diverse species to work with regarding animal behaviour and welfare and are front-runners in the research of improving animals’ lives in many disciplines.
In order to determine if cats would use the attractant litter more, we provided 16 cats in two groups with 8 litter boxes. After transitioning the cats from clay litter to plant-based litter, we switched four of their litter boxes the same plant-based litter with an attractant built in. Using an inventory of behaviours (ethogram) based on a paper by McGowan et al (2017) (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S016815911730151X), we watched video recordings of the cats interacting with the litter boxes. Our results showed a slight difference between male and female cats in litter box use, and all cats used the attractant litter more. This work was recently accepted in the journal Animals and may help owners reduce the chances of cats starting to house-soil in their home (https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/9/9/683).
Cats are undoubtedly a complex companion pet and there are still many future areas to be researched. Our next manuscript will be providing scientific data to back up transitioning a cat from one type of litter to another type to reduce the chances of a cat house-soiling in the home. Our work on cat behaviour has been discussed in a Cats and Squirrels blog (http://catsandsquirrels.com/) and will appear in a future edition of OVC Pet Trust’s magazine “Best Friends” (https://ovc.uoguelph.ca/pettrust/best-friends).