Scientists have long argued that play is an indicator and promotor of animal health and welfare. By applying in-depth empirical methods to analyze data gathered from around the world, a team of researchers led by the University of Adelaide in Australia has found that playing with your cat can also nurture closer human-cat bonds.
To investigate play-related factors associated with welfare in cats, the scientists devised an online survey in consultation with veterinarians, animal behaviorists, and cat owners, aiming to measure factors such as cat quality of life, cat-owner relationship quality, behavioral changes, and problem behavior prevalence.
“Our survey results, based on responses from 591 cat guardians from 55 countries, indicated greater cat playfulness and more types of games played were significantly associated with better cat quality of life,” said study lead author Julia Henning, a PhD student in Feline Behavior at Adelaide.
“Also, longer amounts of daily play, greater number of games, both cat and guardian initiating play, and heightened guardian playfulness were also associated with better quality cat-guardian relationships.”
Moreover, exclusive indoor housing for the cats was significantly linked with both increased cat quality of life and better cat-owner relationship in comparison to cats with outdoor access. “Behavioral changes that indicated stress, frustration, or unease were reported when play was absent. Therefore, we can conclude play may be a very important factor in assessing and maintaining cat welfare,” Henning explained.
However, as senior author Susan Hazel (an expert in Animal Behavior and Welfare at the same university) admitted, self-reporting surveys such as this often have significant limitations. “Cat lovers’ answers may be prone to respondent and recall bias and limited in their ability to assess behavior. Participants who dedicated their time and effort on a voluntary basis are more invested in their cat’s care than the average cat guardian. Therefore, responses may not be an accurate representation of the general population.”
Further research is needed to clarify how much and what kind of play is most efficient for improving cat welfare.
The study is published in the journal Animal Welfare.
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