Maddie's® Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell

Shelter Dogs  

Maddie's® Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell

Cat Housing

Facilities available for housing cats in animal shelters are often designed primarily with cleaning and disinfection in mind, rather than the comfort of the cat. In addition, most of these cages were designed to be used for only a few days, in shelters or veterinary hospitals, and are not sufficiently large for housing a healthy adult cat awaiting adoption.

Space requirement

The Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters, published by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians in December 2010, contain specific information about appropriate feline housing. Briefly, an adult cat should have enough space to stand up (with tail erect), turn around comfortably, and lie down on its side with legs extended. The space should also allow for adequate separation of litter box, food, and sleeping areas. The litter box must be large enough to accommodate the entire cat. This space requirement can be met with vertical space as well as horizontal, including shelves, platforms, and cat trees, as long as the flat areas are large enough and the cat is able to comfortably move up and down.

Guidelines for Standards of Care:

Instructions for building elevated cat beds:

Two-compartment housing

Two-compartment housing is an excellent way to provide physical separation of the litter box from the rest of the living space, as well as allowing cleaning of the cage without removing the cat. Many manufacturers of feline housing now offer two-compartment designs, in varying materials and price ranges. If you do not have the financial luxury of replacing existing cat housing, plans and instructions exist for cutting holes between pairs of traditional cages to create two-compartment units. This has been done in shelters with fiberglass and stainless steel cages. This does reduce the total number of available cages, so capacity must be carefully evaluated before making these changes.

Providing hiding spots to reduce stress

Regardless of the type of housing provided, cats benefit greatly from the ability to hide when stressed. In shelters, this can be accomplished in a variety of ways, with a range of costs and benefits.

Cage cover or towel – a sheet or towel covering all or part of the open sides of a cage can help decrease a cat’s anxiety. This is not a visually appealing or permanent solution, but can be used in temporary housing such as intake or surgery cages. Covers should be washed between cats, even if they are placed over the outside of the cage and do not appear soiled. Towels can also be draped from elevated cat beds or shelves to create a hiding area within the cage.

Hiding box – this can be as simple as a cardboard box, a specially designed Hide-Perch-and-Go box, a sturdier plastic box or cage insert, a plastic carrier, or a commercially available “cat den.”

Cardboard boxes are inexpensive, and serve the purpose of both hiding spot and elevated perch. They cannot be cleaned, and must only be used for one cat before being discarded or recycled. Hide-Perch-and-Go boxes are designed for shelter cats, and can be converted into a carrier when the cat is adopted. Some cats will also hide in paper bags, if the cage is too small for a box. Appropriately sized boxes can often be obtained for free from local businesses, including warehouse and grocery stores.

Plastic carriers or cat dens can be used in the same way, as hiding boxes and perches. These can then be closed, securing the cat inside during cage cleaning or for transport. They can also be cleaned, disinfected, and reused.

A good option for providing a hiding-box as well as facilitating removal of cats from cages for cleaning and disinfection is the use of a commercially available "cat den." Handling of feral or fractious cats can be minimized, reducing stress on the cat and keeping staff safe.

The den can be placed in a traditional cage and allows the cat a comfortable, safe place to nestle and hide. Most cats will naturally go into the box (especially if they are shy or stressed), and bolder cats can be encouraged to readily enter it by placing a small portion of canned food inside. The Plexiglas door can be closed and the den with the cat comfortably inside can be lifted out of the cage and set on a counter top or other raised surface while the cage is cleaned/disinfected. It is important to set the cat in the den on a raised surface and not the floor because cats are instinctively more secure when they are elevated off the floor and can observe their environment from a safe vantage point. (This is an example of a little thing that can make a big difference.) The ability for the cat to see out of the den reduces stress and also the cat is very familiar with the den since it is kept in the cage at all times except during cleaning. For fractious cats, a stick (which is included with the den) can be used to gently close the door remotely through the cage bars before removing the den from the cage.

Cat dens are available from ACES (Animal Care Equipment and Services) and range in cost between $66-74 each.