Sunday, February 21st, 2016 @ 3pm     

Dr. DeTar focuses on the under-represented feline population in shelters, and how stress not only increases their rates of disease, but also reduces their adoptability.


Feline Health, Behavior and Stress in the Shelter from Animal Community Talks on Vimeo.


What we learned

For decades, animal shelters have operated not only on a canine model for housing, but also with a somewhat fatalist attitude regarding the seemingly insurmountable volume of animals in need of homes.  It's no surprise that this model leads to a dismal survival rate for homeless pets in many communities.


Dr. DeTar focused on the under-represented feline population in shelters, and how stress not only increases their rates of disease, but also reduces their adoptability.  Animals who experience a constant high level of stress can slip into a mal-adaptive state, which further reduces their ability to deal with stress and change.  Even if they are adopted, they may find it difficult or even impossible to acclimate to the new home. Cats commonly become aggressive and antisocial, not to mention more susceptible to serious illnesses, such as upper respiratory infection and ringworm.

She detailed the biochemical and physical changes which take place during the three stages of stress - the immediate reaction, then the two or three minutes following the initial reaction, and then the chronic stage, which may last days or weeks.

Her presentation focused on the third stage, stress lasting for days or weeks, which is very commonly seen in shelter animals.  In cats, much of this stress can be attributed to the housing model, which has for so long focused on the isolation of individuals in small cages. This model presents several important problems:

  • Cats are social creatures who find comfort in the company of other cats. 
  • They do not like to feel exposed, and kennel cage doors leave little protection from visual stressors.
  • Too little space leaves cats feeling cramped and unsanitary. 
  • They often cannot escape from constant noise, especially barking.

Fortunately, there is hope for the future of shelter cats.  She walked the audience through the transformation of shelter mentality in Waco, Texas, where, just a few years ago, nearly three quarters of all cats admitted were euthanized.

By introducing a more accommodations for hiding, socializing, and separation from the dog housing area, this community not only drastically improved the quality of care for these cats, but also their adoptability.

In addition to improving conditions within the shelter, public policy also shifted significantly.  Feral cats, and "neighborhood" cats who thrive outdoors were no longer forced indoors and into homes which could not meet their needs.  The shelter partnered with additional veterinary clinics in the area to help spay and neuter strays and ferals, and release them back to their neighborhoods to carry on in the lifestyle which best suits them as individuals

Needless to say, our audience left feeling more positive about the future of shelters in our communities, and with some great ideas for improving the care of sheltered cats.


Attendees qualified for 2 CE credits, approved by the Veterinary Medical Examining Board, Portland, Oregon.


ACT extends a sincere thanks to Dr. Lena DeTar for her time and expertise.