World-first study seeks better life for rescue cats and carers

A world-first study into the benefits of cat fostering will seek to improve the lives of rescue cats, their human carers, and some of New Zealand’s most vulnerable native species.

New Zealand has one of the world’s highest rates of cat ownership, and our estimated feral cat population of 2.5 million is a threat to indigenous fauna, including some iconic native bird species.

Each year between 25,000-30,000 cats and kittens – many of which are abandoned – come into the care of the SPCA in New Zealand. The total number of abandoned cats is likely to be much higher.

Healthy Pets New Zealand Chair Dr Cath Watson says fostering is an important management tool at a time when unwanted cat numbers bring significant environmental and animal welfare challenges.

“Volunteer cat fostering programmes can play a key role in reducing the impact of stray cats on the biodiversity of New Zealand by providing a safe environment to socialise cats prior to rehoming.”

Led by researchers from Victoria and Massey universities, the study will seek to inform the development of best-practice cat fostering and improved understanding of the human-animal bond.

“Little is known about animal fostering and most research on animal-human relationships examines other species, such as dogs, even though cats are the most popular animal companion in many industrialised countries including ours,” says Victoria University Associate Professor Anne Haase.

Study volunteers who foster kittens will help researchers understand challenges facing experienced and new fosterers. The study will also provide valuable insights to inform best-practice cat fostering.

In a world-first, Professor Ann Weatherall is leading a video study to analyse the behaviours of both cats and fosterers during regular interactions like feedings and the administering of medications.

“Our longer-term aim is to provide a comprehensive suite of video and written materials to help advance the practice of cat fostering for the benefit of people, cats, and the environment,” she says.

The study is the first to be funded by the new HPNZ Human-Animal Bond research grant, which is supported by HPNZ Animal-Human Bond partner and premium pet nutrition brand, Royal Canin.

“As a company our goal is to help make a better world for both pets and their people. That’s why we’re proud to be the first HPNZ Human Animal Bond Partner and help support this research.

“Almost half of New Zealand households are home to at least one cat but until now there has been no research undertaken to gain insight into the special bond between Kiwi cats and their humans.

“By laying a foundation of understanding about the bond between cats and their fosterers this study is an important first step towards developing new practices that will benefit animals, people and the environment in this country,” says Royal Canin Scientific Services Veterinarian, Dr Corey Regnerus.