Investigator(s): Katherine Duffy
Supervisor(s): Jenny Stavisky, Kerry Williams
The 2019 Delphi Report
identified cat hoarding as a priority animal welfare issue. Hoarded animals frequently live in poor environments with evidence of inbreeding, poor socialisation, and high rates of infectious disease (Polak KC et al, 2014). Owners may struggle to adequately care for large colonies, and malnourishment and lack of veterinary care are often noted (Joffe M et al; 2014). These situations can become so serious in terms of both animal and human welfare, that the RSPCA may confiscate and prosecute. This approach is very costly in terms of finances, resources and time, and the risk of recidivism is high. There is concern that it does not lead to improved animal welfare in most cases, and that an alternative strategy may be of benefit.
In 2018, Hill et al documented a trial for a novel intervention with 10 households of hoarders, identified via complaints to the RSPCA inspectorate. The intervention involved administration of advice, first aid, microchipping and neutering of all available female cats in the household. The aim of this study was to provide a follow up three years on, to the ten pilot households and the 69 additionally recruited multi-cat hoseholds, enabling assessment of the long term impact of the original intervention.
As per the original study by Hill et al, all households underwent an initial visit and revisits to enable veterinary surgeons to carry-out the initial intervention. Approximately three years later, an RSPCA veterinary surgeon attempted to contact all 79 participants to conduct a telephone interview follow-up. A total of 13 useable data sets were obtained and analysed. This small sample number was a significant limitation of the study.
This study identified a 48.4% reduction in the number of cats living in the 13 households from 213 to 103. Data also indicated a significant improvement in owner adherence to an effective worming (p = 0.0036) and flea (p = 0.0414) treatment protocol when compared with initial visit data.
Findings of this study suggest that veterinary home-based welfare interventions can have a positive influence on multicat households over a three-year period. Benefits can include an owner-led reduction in household cat population size, improved adherence to effective flea and worm treatment protocols and a greater willingness to seek further veterinary assistance and advice. Owners also appear to exhibit better understanding of, and an improved ability to prioritise, their cats’ welfare needs above their own hoarding desires. It is suggested that the basis of this success is rooted within the development of a positive and collaborative relationship between owners and veterinary professionals. Any suggestion of positive welfare impact within such a hard-to-reach demographic is noteworthy, especially as multicat owners potentially represent a high number of cats both now and in the future.
Watch Katherine Duffy present at the 2022 Discussion Forum