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162 Best Animal Research Topics To Nail Your Paper In 2023

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The world is filled with living things. There are some animals that we know about, some that we will discover, and there are many that we might never know about. All our knowledge about animals is mostly dependant on researchers. Well, we are rooting for you to be the next great researcher. Be it zoology, veterinary, or live wild stock, your study needs a research topic. If you’re looking for the best animal research topics to nail this year, we’re here with your help.

Table of Contents

Best Animal Research Topics

We have 162 Animal Research Topics that will help you get the best grades this year.

Physiology of Animals Research Topics

physiology of animals research topics

  • Description of the knowledge required to work in animal physiology
  • Study of animal species with different specialties in the sciences of nature and life
  • Life sciences and socioeconomic impacts
  • Neurulation appendages birds
  • Exercises on gastrulation and neurulation
  • Gastrulation amphibians birds
  • Fertilization segmentation in the sea species
  • Gametogenesis: A Detailed Introduction
  • Study of Delimitation: bird appendages
  • Particularities of the developmental biology of certain species
  • Technical-commercial animal physiology
  • Terrestrial and marine ecosystems
  • Animal biology and forensic science: Is there a connection?
  • Animal Biology Biotechnology and molecules of interest regarding food and industry
  • The interest in biology in the diagnosis of animal and plant diseases
  • Toxicology and environmental health concerns in animal physiology
  • Animal and plant production
  • Fundamentals of animal physiology research and analysis
  • Behavior and evolution Genetics of behavior in animals
  • Adaptation and evolution of behavior
  • Comparative studies of general ecology, zoology, and animal physiology
  • Study of animals about the conditions prevailing in their immediate environment
  • Endocrine and neuroendocrine systems in animals
  • Studying the nervous systems in birds
  • Genitals and reproductive physiology of birds
  • Understanding of the anatomical and functional particularities of invertebrates
  • Biology and physiology of invertebrates
  • Reconstruction of phylogenetic trees
  • Morpho-anatomical arguments and the importance of fossils
  • Argued classification of animals
  • Study of the evolution of living organisms by making updates on recent advances in Animalia
  • Phylogeny and animal evolution
  • Principles of echolocation in the bats
  • Possible evolution of the increase in complexity of the primitive nervous system
  • The nervous system of the insect
  • Circulation in animal physiology
  • Animals without a differentiated circulatory system
  • Water and mineral balance in animals
  • Thermoregulation in animals
  • Musculoskeletal system in animals
  • Study of animal blood
  • Biological rhythms of animals
  • Skin and teguments of mammals
  • Animal nutrition and metabolism
  • Hormones and endocrine system of animals
  • Emerging organic pollutants
  • Mechanisms of toxicity in animals
  • Animal physiology in animals from temperate regions
  • Genetic correlations between animal species
  • Animal communities, forest ecology, and forest birds
  • Wildlife-habitat modeling

Looking for research topics in general? Read 402  General Research Paper Topics

Animal Research Topics For Student

animal research topics for student

  • Impact of the agricultural raw materials crisis on the marketing of livestock feed
  • Analysis of the competitiveness of poultry produced in the USA
  • Animal cruelty in USA and European countries
  • Seroprevalence of neosporosis in cattle herds
  • The peri-urban dairy sector
  • Effect of the liberalization of the veterinary profession on the vaccination coverage of livestock
  • Why do people kill animals? The psyche behind animal cruelty
  • Evaluation of the growth performance of three sheep breeds
  • Study on the protection of terrestrial ecosystems
  • Ecology of African dung beetles
  • Effects of road infrastructure on wildlife in developing countries
  • Analysis of the consequences of climate change related to pastoral livestock
  • Strategies for management in the animal feed sector
  • The feeding behavior of mosquitoes
  • Bee learning and memory
  • Immediate response to the animal cruelty
  • Study of mass migration of land birds over the ocean
  • A study of crocodile evolution
  • The cockroach escape system
  • The resistance of cockroaches against radiation: Myth or fact?
  • Temperature regulation in the honey bee swarm
  • Irresponsible dog breeding can often lead to an excess of stray dogs and animal cruelty
  • Reliable communication signals in birds

Also see:  How to Write an 8 Page Research Paper ?

Animal Research Topics For University

anima research topics for university

  • Color patterns of moths and moths
  • Mimicry in the sexual signals of fireflies
  • Ecophysiology of the garter snake
  • Memory, dreams regarding cat neurology
  • Spatiotemporal variation in the composition of animal communities
  • Detection of prey in the sand scorpion
  • Internal rhythms in bird migration
  • Genealogy: Giant Panda
  • Animal dissection: Severe type of animal cruelty and a huge blow to animal rights
  • Cuckoo coevolution and patterns
  • Use of plant extracts from Amazonian plants for the design of integrated pest management
  • Research on flying field bug
  • The usefulness of mosquitoes in biological control serves to isolate viruses
  • Habitat use by the Mediterranean Ant
  • Genetic structure of the  African golden wolf  based on its habitat
  • Birds body odor on their interaction with mosquitoes and parasites
  • The role of ecology in the evolution of coloration in owls
  • The invasion of the red swamp crayfish
  • Molecular taxonomy and biogeography of caprellids
  • Bats of Mexico and United States
  • What can animal rights NGOs do in case of animal cruelty during animal testing initiatives?

Or you can try 297 High School Research Paper Topics to Top The Class

Controversial Animal Research Topics

controversial animal research topics

  • Is it okay to adopt an animal for experimentation?
  • The authorization procedures on animals for scientific experiments
  • The objective of total elimination of animal testing
  • Are there concrete examples of successful scientific advances resulting from animal experimentation?
  • Animal rights for exotic animals: Protection of forests and wildlife
  • How can animal rights help the endangered animals
  • Animal experimentations are a type of animal cruelty: A detailed analysis
  • Animal testing: encouraging the use of alternative methods
  • Use of animals for the evaluation of chemical substances
  • Holding seminars on the protection of animals
  • Measures to take against animal cruelty
  • Scientific research on marine life
  • Scientific experiments on animals for medical research
  • Experimentation on great apes
  • Toxicological tests and other safety studies on chemical substances
  • Why isn’t research done directly on humans rather than animals?
  • Are animals necessary to approve new drugs and new medical technologies?
  • Are the results of animal experiments transferable to humans?
  • Humans are not animals, which is why animal research is not effective
  • What medical advances have been made possible by animal testing?
  • Animals never leave laboratories alive
  • Scientific interest does not motivate the use of animal research
  • Animal research is torture 
  • How can a layperson work against the animal testing?

Every crime is a controversy too, right? Here are some juicy  Criminal Justice Research Paper Topics  as well.

Animal Research Topics: Animal Rights

animal research topics animal rights

  • Growing awareness of the animal suffering generated by these experiments
  • What are the alternatives to animal testing?
  • Who takes care of animal welfare?
  • Major global organizations working for animal rights
  • Animal rights in developing countries
  • International animal rights standards to work against animal cruelty
  • Animal cruelty in developing countries
  • What can a layperson do when seeing animal cruelty
  • Role of society in the prevention of animal cruelty
  • Animal welfare and animal rights: measures taken against animal cruelty in developing countries
  • Animal cruelty in the name of science
  • How can we raise a better, empathetic and warm-hearted children to put a stop to animal cruelty
  • Ethical animal testing methods with safety
  • Are efforts being made to reduce the number of animals used?
  • The welfare of donkeys and their socioeconomic roles in the subcontinent
  • Animal cruelty and superstitious conceptions of dogs, cats, and donkeys in subcontinent
  • Efforts made by international organizations against the tragedy of animal cruelty
  • International organizations working for animal welfare
  • Animal abuse: What are the immediate measures to take when we see animal cruelty
  • Efforts to stop animal abuse in South Asian Countries
  • Animal abuse in the name of biomedical research

Talking about social causes, let’s have a look at social work topics too: 206  Social Work Research Topics

Interesting Animal Research Topics

interesting animal research topics

  • The urbanization process and its effect on the dispersal of birds:
  • Patterns of diversification in Neotropical amphibians
  • Interactions between non-native parrot species
  • Impact of landscape anthropization dynamics and wild birds’ health
  • Habitat-driven diversification in small mammals
  • Seasonal fluctuations and life cycles of amphipods
  • Animal cruelty in African countries
  • Evolution of the environmental niche of amphibians
  • Biological studies on Louisiana crawfish
  • Biological studies on Pink bollworm
  • Biological studies on snails
  • Biological studies on Bush Crickets
  • Biological studies on Mountain Gorillas
  • Biological studies on piranha
  • Consequences of mosquito feeding
  • Birds as bioindicators of environmental health
  • Biological studies on victoria crowned pigeon
  • Biological studies on black rhinoceros
  • Biological studies on European spider
  • Biological studies on dumbo octopus
  • Biological studies on markhor
  • Study of genetic and demographic variation in amphibian populations
  • Ecology and population dynamics of the blackberry turtle
  • Small-scale population differentiation in ecological and evolutionary mechanisms
  • Challenges in vulture conservation

Also interesting: 232  Chemistry Research Topics  To Make Your Neurochemicals Dance

Submarine Animals Research Topics

submarine animals research topics

  • The physiology behind the luminous fish
  • A study of Fish population dynamics
  • Study of insects on the surface of the water
  • Structure and function of schools of fish
  • Physiological ecology of whales and dolphins
  • Form and function in fish locomotion
  • Why do whales and dolphins jump?
  • Impact of Noise on Early Development and Hearing in Zebrafish
  • Animal cruelty against marine life on the hand of fishermen

Read More:  Accounting Research Topics

Animal Biology Research Topics

animal biology research topics

  • Systematic and zoogeographical study of the ocellated lizards
  • Morphological study of neuro histogenesis in the diencephalon of the chick embryo
  • Anatomical study of three species of Nudibranch
  • The adaptive strategy of two species of lagomorphs
  • The Black vulture: population, general biology, and interactions with other birds
  • Ocellated lizards: their phylogeny and taxonomy
  • Studies on the behavior of ocellated lizards in captivity
  • Comparative studies of the egg-laying and egg-hatching methods of ocellated lizards
  • Studies on the ecology and behavior of ocellated lizards
  • The taxonomic and phylogenetic implications of ocellated lizards
  • Research on the egg-laying and egg-hatching methods of ocellated lizards
  • Studies on the ecology and behavior of ocellated lizards in their natural environment
  • Comparative studies of the egg-laying and egg-hatching methods of ocellated lizards in different countries
  • Studies on the ecology and behavior of ocellated lizards in their natural environment in the light of evolutionary and ecological insights

Animal research topics are not hard to find for you anymore. As you have already read a load of them. You can use any of them and ace your research paper, and you don’t even need to ask permission. If you are looking for a research paper writing service , be it animal research, medical research, or any sort of research, you can contact us 24/7.

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Home — Essay Samples — Life — Family — Cat

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Essays on Cat

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Overview of The Norwegian Forest Cat

Characteristics of the exotic cat breed, overview of the maine coon breed, why dogs are better pets that cats, overview of the oriental cat breed, why oranges are dangerous for cats, symptoms and diagnosis of mange in felines, overview of the features of the ocicat, overview of the nebelung feline breed, features of the manx feline, role of cheshire cat in "alice's adventures in wonderland", argumentative paper: cats are better than dogs, fun facts of pet cats.

The cat (Felis catus) is a domestic species of small carnivorous mammal. It is the only domesticated species in the family Felidae and is often referred to as the domestic cat to distinguish it from the wild members of the family.

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good research topics about cats

March 30, 2016

What We Understand about Cats and What They Understand about Us

A big part of cats' lives are spent around their human owners, yet scientists are just starting to understand what they think of us

By Felicity Muth

This article was published in Scientific American’s former blog network and reflects the views of the author, not necessarily those of Scientific American

In my last post I introduced the topic of cat cognition and what we broadly know about how these animals think. In this post I'm going to talk more specifically about what we understand about cats' interactions with the animal they spend most time with: us. 

Sensitivity to human cues

Since cats have both been bred to be domestic and spend a lot of time with humans, we would expect them to pick up on human cues to some extent. However, anyone who has owned a cat knows that they are not always as responsive as you might want them to be.

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One way in which we frequently attempt to interact with the animals that live with us is by pointing at things. It is possible that this shows our limitations rather than our animal friends since this is a particularly human means of communication. However, in 2005 a study by Miklósi et al. demonstrated that cats could indeed follow human gestures to find food. The researchers also investigated whether, when unable to solve a task, whether the cats turned to the humans for help at all. They did not.

Another study looked to see whether cats turn to humans when unsure about a certain situation. This ‘social referencing’ is something that we do both as children and as adults, for example a clown might initially seem terrifying but if everyone else is having a good time we may quickly learn that this isn’t a situation to be feared (there are always exceptions to this of course). To see whether cats do this too, the researchers exposed cats to a potentially scary fan with streamers. The cat was brought into a room with their owner and the fan was put on. The owner was then told to act either neutral, scared of the fan, or happy and relaxed around the fan. The researchers found that most cats (79%) looked between the fan and their human owner, seeming to gage their response. The cats also responded to the emotional response of their owner, being more likely to move away from the fan when their owner was looking scared, as well as being more likely to interact with their owner. It’s difficult to know how to interpret this, but the authors suggest that the cats may have been seeking security from their owner.

Other research has also shown that cats are sensitive to human moods, being less likely to approach people who were feeling sad and more likely to approach people who described themselves as feeling extroverted or agitated. However, why this should be isn’t clear.

Human voice recognition

Two researchers, Saito and Shinozuka in 2013 demonstrated that cats can recognise their owner’s voice. To test this, the researchers played cats recordings of either their owner calling them or other people calling their name. The cats were the most responsive to their owner calling. This response was mostly seen in terms of the cat moving its ears or head, rather than walking towards the voice as a dog might.

Vocal communication

Kittens have around 9 different types of vocalisation, while adults have around 16 different types. Interestingly, domestic and feral cats also differ from each other in their vocalisations, implying that their relationships with humans influences how cats ‘talk’. Perhaps one of the most renowned vocalisations of cats is their purr. Cats don’t just purr when being stroked by humans, they also use it in interactions with each other and with their kittens. What’s more, cats alter their purr to change the meaning of the vocalization. For example, when asking for food from owners, cats’ purrs change, becoming more ‘urgent’ and ‘less pleasant’ (McComb et al. 2009). When asking for food, a high-frequency miaow is usually also embedded within the lower-pitch purr. However, whether this food solicitation call is specific to cats’ relationship to humans or whether they use it in other contexts, is currently unknown.

Attachment to owner

In 2007, Edwards et al. carried out the unusually-named ‘Ainsworth Strange Situation Test’ in order to test whether cats were more attached to their owners than to a random human. In this test, the cat was essentially placed in a room and experienced being alone, being with their human owner and being with an unknown human. The researchers found that cats spent more time allogrooming (head-butting) their owners than the stranger. They also only ever followed and played with their owner and never with the stranger. The cats were generally more exploratory and moved around more when their owner was in the room compared to the stranger. Both when alone and with the stranger, the cat generally spent more time being alert and sitting by the door. They vocalised the most when alone (compared to when with either human). Thus it seems that cats do have attachment to their owners that is stronger than with a random human, which is perhaps somewhat comforting to know.

Cats also seem to experience separation anxiety, which also indicates that they feel attachment to their owners. When separated from their human owners, cats are more likely to display stress behaviours such as urinating and defecating in inappropriate locations, excessive vocalisation, destructiveness and excessive grooming.

While the studies that exist on cat cognition have helped illuminate some of the abilities of our elusive housemates, there are still large parts of cat behaviour that remain understudied and mean we still don’t understand many aspects of cat behaviour. A greater understanding of cats’ behaviour and our influence on it will lead to better human-cat interactions, cat welfare and therefore the number of cats that are given to shelters and euthanized.

Main reference

Shreve, K. R. V., & Udell, M. A. (2015). What’s inside your cat’s head? A review of cat ( Felis silvestris catus ) cognition research past, present and future. Animal cognition, 18, 1195-1206.

Other references

Edwards, C., Heiblum, M., Tejeda, A., & Galindo, F. (2007). Experimental evaluation of attachment behaviors in owned cats. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 2, 119-125.

McComb K, Taylor AM, Wilson C, Charlton BD (2009) The cry embedded within the purr. Current Biology 19 , R507–R508.

Miklósi, Á., Pongrácz, P., Lakatos, G., Topál, J., & Csányi, V. (2005). A comparative study of the use of visual communicative signals in interactions between dogs ( Canis familiaris ) and humans and cats ( Felis catus ) and humans. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 119 , 179.

Saito, A., & Shinozuka, K. (2013). Vocal recognition of owners by domestic cats ( Felis catus ). Animal cognition , 16, 685-690.

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Biology and Diseases of Cats

Tanya burkholder.

a Veterinary Medicine Branch, ORS/DVR, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA

Carmen Ledesma Feliciano

b Comparative Medicine Resident, Laboratory Animal Medicine, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA

Sue VandeWoude

c Department of Micro-, Immuno- and Pathology, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA

Henry J. Baker

d Scott-Ritchey Research Center, College of Veterinary Medicine, Auburn University, AL

Domestic cats (Felis cattus) comprise a small (2%) percentage of the non-rodent animals used in biomedical research. In 2011, 21,700 cats of a total 1,134,693 non-rodent animals were used in research (APHIS, 2011). According to the National Research Council Committee on Scientific and Humane Issues in the Use of Random Source Dogs and Cats in Research (National Research Council, 2009), peak use of cats occurred in 1974. Since that time, the number of cats used in research has fallen by 71%, with more than 98% of those cats being purpose bred for research. Cats are a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) covered species with special housing requirements defined in the Animal Welfare Act and the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (NRC, 2011). At the request of congress, a committee of experts formed by the National Research Council examined the use of random source dogs and cats and concluded that obtaining dogs and cats from Class B dealers is not necessary for NIH funded research (National Research Council, 2009). While the number of cats used in biomedical research has declined, cats continue to contribute uniquely to biomedical science and are valuable research model for several disciplines, including aspects of neurology involved in locomotion and spinal trauma, retrovirus and zoonotic disease research, and for developing therapeutic strategies for inherited diseases.

I. Introduction

A. unique contributions of cats to biomedical research.

Domestic cats (Felis cattus) comprise a small (2%) percentage of the nonrodent animals used in biomedical research. In 2011, 21,700 cats of a total 1,134,693 non-rodent animals were used in research ( APHIS, 2011 ). According to the National Research Council Committee on Scientific and Humane Issues in the Use of Random Source Dogs and Cats in Research ( National Research Council, 2009 ), peak use of cats occurred in 1974. Since that time, the number of cats used in research has fallen by 71%, with more than 98% of those cats being purpose bred for research. Cats are a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) covered species with special housing requirements defined in the Animal Welfare Act and the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals ( NRC, 2011 ). At the request of congress, a committee of experts formed by the National Research Council examined the use of random source dogs and cats and concluded that obtaining dogs and cats from Class B dealers is not necessary for NIH funded research ( National Research Council, 2009 ). While the number of cats used in biomedical research has declined, cats continue to contribute uniquely to biomedical science and are valuable research model for several disciplines, including aspects of neurology involved in locomotion and spinal trauma, retrovirus and zoonotic disease research, and for developing therapeutic strategies for inherited diseases.

B. Infectious Disease Models

Domestic cats are susceptible to a wide variety of infectious diseases and thus are used for studies that relate to basic pathogenesis to therapeutic trials for testing interventions to aid studies of both human and domestic cat therapies. Several of these infections are zoonotic and, as domestic cats play a critical role in transmission to humans, are studied to understand pathogenesis and mechanisms of transmission to humans. Examples of infections that have been studied in laboratory settings are listed in Table 13.1 . While SPF colonies are typically tested for presence of some viral diseases and toxoplasmosis, not all infections are excluded in laboratory SPF colonies. This is particularly true for colonies that originate for the purposes of establishing models of inherited diseases, as founder animals are typically not SPF derived.

Infectious Diseases Studied in Cats

1. Feline Retroviruses: Models of Human AIDS and Potential Viral Vectors for Vaccine Delivery

Domestic cats are susceptible to three retroviruses: feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), genus Lentivirus ; feline leukemia virus (FeLV), genus Gammaretrovirus ; and feline foamy virus (FFV), genus Spumavirus . Each of these infections results in a typical retroviral infection – i.e., a DNA copy of the retroviral genome is incorporated into the host genome. However, each of these infections has a different clinical outcome in its host. FFV is generally considered asymptomatic, and thus has been considered to be a potential vehicle for gene therapy delivery ( Liu et al ., 2013 ). FeLV can cause either fulminant disease resulting in immunodeficiency and death, or may be controlled and all but eliminated. Effective vaccines are commercially available for FeLV; this, along with testing and isolation or euthanasia of FeLV positive individuals, has decreased the FeLV incidence in feral and companion cats. FeLV has been studied to understand retroviral-induced immunodeficiency, particularly hematopoietic tumors such as acute lymphoblastic leukemia and lymphoma. After infection with FeLV, a fraction of cats become persistently viremic and virus is excreted, particularly through saliva and nasal secretions. Serological tests are based on detection of the major viral core protein of FeLV (p27 gag) in serum or plasma by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Strengths of this model include substantial information on FeLV, pathogenesis of the disease, responses of the immune system, availability of FeLV strains of known virulence, and the ease of inducing infection and disease in cats ( Hartmann, 2012 , Willett and Hosie, 2013 ).

Immunodeficiency disease of cats caused by the lentivirus FIV is considered by many to be one of the most relevant naturally occurring models of human acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) ( Hartmann, 2012 , Magden et al., 2011 , Elder et al., 2010 ). The advantages of the feline disease model include the similarities with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV, the human lentivirus), similarities in pathogenesis and clinical signs, ease of experimental infection, and predictable disease progression. A weakness of the model relates to the limited variety of reagents available for identifying cells of the cat immune system. FIV has been molecularly cloned and resembles HIV in tissue and cell tropism but is antigenically distinct. Experimental transmission is achieved readily with infected blood or cultured cells. Cell-associated viremia occurs within 1–2 weeks and remains persistent, even after development of antibodies and T cell immunity. Characteristic changes in the immune system include lymphadenopathy, neutropenia, decreased lymphocyte proliferative response, and increased susceptibility to opportunistic infections ( Elder et al ., 2010 ). B-cell lymphomas and myeloproliferative disease are seen in some infected cats ( Magden et al ., 2011 ). Interestingly, a commercially available vaccine provides reasonable protection against challenge with heterologous viral strains ( Yamamoto et al ., 2010 ).

Helicobacter pylori is the etiologic agent responsible for a sequence of degenerative changes in the human gastric mucosa, starting with gastritis, progressing to peptic ulcers, and ending in gastric carcinoma. Helicobacter felis is a naturally occurring pathogen in cats that appears to be prevalent in some colonies, but its prevalence or significance as an agent of clinical diseases in the general cat population is not clear ( Lee et al., 1988 , Perkins et al., 1996 ). H. felis is one of the most interesting Helicobacter species infecting animals because of its wide host range, and its ability to induce many of the lesions found in human Helicobacter disease, particularly those associated with the chronic infection ( Enno et al., 1995 , Wang et al., 2000 ). In addition to H. felis infection, cats appear also to be naturally infected with H. pylori , raising the possibility that domestic cats could serve as a reservoir for this human pathogen ( Perkins et al ., 1996 ).

C. Spinal Cord Injury

Traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) affects more than 10,000 people in the United States ( Majczynski and Slawinska, 2007 ) and many veterinary patients annually due to accidents and intervertebral disk diseases among other causes ( Webb et al ., 2010 ). Cats have been the preferred species for investigating SCI since the early part of the 20th century ( Hultborn and Nielson, 2007 ) because, despite their small body size, the spinal cord of cats is similar in length (34 cm) and anatomy to the human spinal cord which is 40–45 cm ( Perese and Fracasso, 1959 ). In the SCI model, cats are taught to walk on a treadmill for a period of 3–4 weeks followed by surgery to implant electrodes in the brain and muscles of the rear legs and to create a lesion in the spinal cord, generally at the last thoracic segment (T13) ( Rossignol et al ., 2002 ). After a period of recovery, cats are able to regain a normal locomotor pattern using a combination of training, electrical stimulation, and pharmacologic agents which demonstrates that the spinal cord has intrinsic circuitry that generates locomotion ( Martinez and Rossignol, 2013 ). Cats were favored for this research because their size allowed electrophysiological studies to be conducted with ease. The research focus during the last few decades has shifted to transplantation of embryonic stem cells, evaluation of the neurotransmitters and the molecular genetics of the circuitry controlling locomotion in the spinal cord ( Hultborn and Nielson, 2007 ) For these types of studies, mice and rats are more commonly used. However, pre-clinical translational work for SCI will likely continue to be conducted in large animals, including cats ( Kwon et al ., 2010 ). A recent study in cats demonstrated successful grafting of peripheral nerves onto the spinal cord ( Hanna et al ., 2011 ) which offers a promising potential therapy for patients with SCI.

D. Sleep Research

Adult cats spend up to two-thirds of their time sleeping which, together with their small size and gentle dispositions, has made them popular models of sleep research. Neuzeret et al . described a new cat model of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in which cats are habituated to sleeping in a hammock in one of four positions: supine neck extended, supine neck flexed, prone neck extended, and prone neck flexed. The cats are also habituated to wearing a contiguous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which is the gold standard treatment for OSA in humans. In the cats, OSA occurs when the cats sleep in the supine position with their neck flexed. CPAP treatment results in fewer arousals, a reduced number of sleep shifts and an increase in REM sleep, both of which are analogous to the situation in humans ( Neuzeret et al ., 2011 ).

Parkinson’s disease can be induced in cats and many other species using 1-methyl-4-phenul-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) ( Aznavour et al ., 2012 ). However, unlike the disease in humans, cats are able to recover from the syndrome. During the acute phase cats experience interruptions in their sleep patterns ( Aznavour et al ., 2012 ). Humans with with Parkinson’s disease also experience prominent difficulties in maintaining sleep due to painful night-time abnormal movements, and subsequent daytime sleepiness, sometimes culminating in sleep attacks ( Arnulf, 2006 ). While not yet fully explored, the cat MPTP model has been proposed as a model of sleep disorders in Parkinson’s disease ( Arnulf et al ., 2005 ).

E. Feline Genomics and Inherited Feline Diseases as Models of Human Diseases

The domestic cat is one of only a few mammals (human, chimpanzee, mouse, rat, dog, and cow) for which extensive information has been generated on its genome. The cat was selected for genetic sequencing by the National Human Genome Research Institute due to the substantial number of naturally occurring inherited diseases that are homologous to human disease ( Pontius et al., 2007 , Mullikin et al., 2010 ). Table 13.2 lists some of the genetic disorders of cats which share similar clinical and pathologic characteristics to those of its human counterpart. Cat colonies with homologous diseases make excellent models for the evaluation of human directed preclinical gene therapy trials because of their large size (compared to rodents), outbred genetic diversity, and longevity, which allows for long-term evaluation of the stability of the treatment. Cats have been used extensively to study the central nervous system and the brain of the cat is well characterized and has similar anatomy to the human brain, making cats a good model for gene therapy trials for neurological disorders such as lysosomal storage disease ( Blagbrough and Zara, 2009 , Vite et al., 2005 ).

Inherited Diseases Common to Cats and Humans

Given the importance of the cat as a genetic model of human disease, several centers for feline inherited diseases have been established, including the Center for Comparative Medical Genetics (CCMG) and the Cat Phenotype and Health Information Registry (CAT PHIR). CCMG characterizes, utilizes and makes available cat models of human diseases and performs collaborative as well as fee-for-service studies. In addition, CCMG has cryopreserved resources as well as colonies of animals maintained for study of α-mannosidosis, mucolipidosis II, Neimanpick-C, glycogen storage IV, pyruvate kinase deficiency, porphyria, and hypothyroidism. Cat PHIUR defines feline genetic models and characterizes the specific mutations. Important models characterized by this resource include polycystic kidney disease and progressive retinal atrophy in Persian cats, and hypotrichinosis in Cornish Rex cats ( Gandolfi et al ., 2010 ).

The National Cancer Institute’s Laboratory of Genomic Diversity also maintains a frozen repository. The models preserved in this resource include: Spinal muscular atrophy (gene: LIX1 ); rdAc – retinal degeneration in Abyssinian cats (gene: CEP290 ); cone-rod dystrophy – gene: CRX ; white, deaf cat aganglionic colon; polycystic kidney disease (PKD1).

II. Sources of Cats

A. directories of sources.

The Laboratory Animal Science Buyers Guide , ( ), is a reliable and easy method for locating information on sources of purpose-bred cats. The Office of Research Infrastructure Programs, Division of Comparative Medicine provides information on cat genetic resources that are supported by that organization. The Lab Animal Buyers Guide provides information on both purpose-bred sources and random sources for cats.

B. Random Sources

Random-source cats derived from animal control agencies and dealers make up less than 2% of cats used in research most likely due to the risk these cats carry of unknown morbidity and mortality from infectious diseases (including zoonoses), unknown reproductive status, and variable tractability. The addition of random-source cats into facilities with stable research colonies of cats introduces unacceptable risks because, even after long periods of quarantine, inapparent or latent diseases such as feline immunodeficiency disease and feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) may be transmitted to healthy cats. Random-source cats continue to be valuable for training veterinary students and for the establishment of genetic models of human diseases that have been identified in a pet population. In the latter case, a prolonged (8- to 12-week) isolation and observation period is needed to identify diseases, eliminate parasites and vaccinate in order to minimize pathogen transmission. When feasible, assisted reproductive techniques such as artificial insemination can be used to establish genetically valuable colonies. The National Research Council report on use of random-source cats states that for the reasons stated above, Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees must give rigorous consideration to the scientific justification for the use of random-source rather than purpose-bred cats ( National Research Council, 2009 ). In fact, the report concludes that “random source dogs and cats used for research probably endure greater degrees of stress and distress compared to purpose-bred animals. This conclusion has implications both for the welfare of random source animals and for their reliability as research models.”

C. Commercial Purpose-Bred Colonies

Very few purpose-bred cat vendors are available; several universities maintain SPF breeding colonies (see below). Factors to be considered in selecting purpose-bred cats are how the colony was established (e.g., cesarean-derived), is the colony maintained under barrier conditions, is the disease status SPF, are non-vaccinated animals available, and importantly, are the animals well socialized with a good temperament? Referrals from previous customers will provide an indication of the health and behavioral characteristics of cats from a particular source. Vendors should be able to provide reports of health examinations, vaccine protocols, and serology results.

D. Institutional Breeding Colonies

Projects that require a regular source of substantial numbers of normal cats or that depend on special characteristics such as perpetuation of an inherited trait can best be satisfied by establishment of an institutional breeding colony. Careful analysis of cost and complexity should be undertaken to determine if this approach is justified. In this chapter, we provide basic information on housing and reproduction useful for establishing an institutional breeding program. When possible, breeders should be derived from minimal-disease stock, and a rigorous program of vaccination and health testing must be followed to ensure continued good health. Periodic assessment of reproductive success, ability to meet the needs of research projects, and colony health status is useful in making corrective adjustments and ensuring that the breeding colony effort is economical and serves its intended purpose.

III. Housing

A. caging design and operating procedures.

Although cats adapt well to high-density housing, such conditions can introduce a number of management issues, including abnormal behavior, infectious disease transmission, and reproductive failure. Careful planning of facility design, adoption of strict management protocols, thorough training and supervision of personnel, and oversight by a knowledgeable professional will facilitate successful laboratory cat management.

Primary enclosures should allow enough space and complexity for cats to rest comfortably and express species-specific behaviors. Enclosure requirements have been published in the USDA’s Animal Welfare Act ( AWA, 2008 ) and the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research (ILAR) Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals ( NRC, 2011 ). Facilities housing cats have the following requirements: primary enclosures having a height of at least 24 in and floor space of 3 ft 2 for cats weighing less than 8.8 lb (4 kg) or 4 ft 2 for cats weighing more. Queens (intact females) with nursing kittens require additional space ( AWA, 2008 ).

Cats are commonly housed in three basic arrangements: single cages, multiple runs within a room, and free ranging in a room. Domestic cats develop highly structured interactive social groups, and most cats do not thrive in isolation. Therefore, individual housing should be avoided unless particular experimental objectives dictate the use of single-cage housing or if caging is needed for short periods of time to permit collection of specimens, administer material individually, or accomplish treatments and/or observations. Cats that are vicious or aggressive towards other cats should also be singly housed. If caged, cats should be allowed out of their cages daily to exercise, unless activity is contraindicated due to medical concerns. Cats should be housed in compatible pairs or, preferably, in small groups of the same sex. Females in heat should not be placed in the same primary enclosure as toms (inact males), unless for breeding purposes ( AWA, 2008 ). Breeding colonies are typically organized in harem groupings; this may consist of approximately four to six queens per tom. Twenty to twenty-five animals is typically the maximal number of cats successfully housed in a single breeding room, as long as enough floor, perch, feeding, and litter space is provided ( Rochlitz, 2000 ) ( Fig. 13.1 ). Housing compatible pregnant queens together before they deliver may lead to shared nursing and neonatal care. After delivery, pairing becomes more problematic. Queens nursing litters and kittens that are under 4 months of age should not be housed with other adult cats to decrease interspecific aggression and to promote maternal care ( Fig. 13.2 ).

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Social housing for cats using a room as a primary enclosure.

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Nursing mothers and their kittens should be housed separately from the main cat colony to prevent.

Installation of multiple runs within a room is often the most economical use of floor space ( Fig. 13.3 ). Depending on the dimensions of the room, runs can be 3–4 ft wide, 4–6 ft long, and 6 ft high (12–24 ft 2 of floor area). The smaller runs are adequate for pregnant or lactating queens and their litters or two to three juveniles. Larger runs are best for breeding groups of toms and queens, postweaning family groups, and single-sex adult groups. Galvanized wire panels with 1–inch mesh fence wire and a top panel are inexpensive, durable materials for run construction. Primary enclosures must be free of sharp edges, protrusions, or open spaces that would cause injury to its feline occupants. When a free-ranging room arrangement is used, a chain-link fence ‘foyer’ is usually constructed at the door inside the room to allow personnel entry into the room without giving any opportunity for a cat to escape into the hallway.

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Social housing for cats using a run with shelving units to provide opportunities for the cats to climb.

Cats commonly make use of vertical space in their primary enclosures ( Rochlitz, 2000 ); as such, enclosures must contain elevated resting surfaces. USDA regulations require that enough perch space is available for all of the cats to rest comfortably on a perch surface simultaneously. If the resting areas are placed so low to the ground that a cat cannot comfortably rest underneath it, the resting surface will be considered floor space ( AWA, 2008 ). Perches also provide environmental enrichment and opportunities to escape from socially dominant members of the group ( Fig. 13.3 ).

Enclosed nesting boxes (e.g., 24 in 2 with a doorway cut into one side) are useful for pregnant and lactating queens and their litters. Open boxes of the same size with walls 12 in high are preferred for juveniles and adults. Boxes also serve to enhance the comfort of housed cats by providing places to hide and substrates for scratching, behaviors that are both fundamental needs of cats.

Regardless of the cage arrangement used, wall, floor, and ceiling surfaces must be easily sanitized to achieve pathogen control measures. Litter pans and utensils for food and water may be durable plastic or stainless steel and should be able to withstand 180°F wash water. Litter can be any clean, dust-free, absorbent material, including extruded corncob pellets. One box per two cats is recommended ( Rochlitz, 2000 ), and is dependent upon the total number of cats in the enclosure. Soiled litter must be removed and replaced daily to minimize cat-to-cat transmission of enteric pathogens, and to control odors. While most captive colony cats will not likely be excreting Toxoplasma gondii oocysts, daily litter box cleaning would also serve to diminish personnel risk of exposure to infective oocyst, as they require 1–5 days to sporulate and become infective ( Esch and Petersen, 2013 ). Room illumination must be controlled to provide duration, intensity, and spectrum of light that is optimal for specific needs of an experiment. In general, daylight-spectrum fluorescent tubes and daylight–dark cycles of 12:12 or 14:10 h are useful and are required for successful breeding. The Guide also suggests housing cats within a temperature range of 64–84°F and 30–70% environmental humidity ( NRC, 2011 ).

B. Animal Care Staff

Animal care staff must be knowledgable about and enjoy working with cats. Staff must be willing to interact daily with animals to ensure socialization and tractability, which becomes even more important when cats are singly housed. The staff members become aware of the personalities of individual animals and assist with detection of estrous cycling, potential health problems, or incompatibility of runmates caused by social dominance. Animal care staff should also adopt gentle and predictable practices with cats; any rough handling or erratic management practices could produce undesirable and aggressive behaviors ( Rodan et al ., 2011 ). If followed consistently, gentle handling practices could lead to cats becoming accustomed to procedures such as venipuncture that would otherwise require sedation. The staff must be trained to follow prescribed sanitation procedures, complete and record husbandry activities on a daily basis, follow proper room flow, and adhere to personal protective equipment protocols (e.g., facility scrubs, shoes or shoecovers, and face-masks).

C. Feline Social Behavior

As natural predators, cats possess keen senses and heightened fight-or-flight responses, making them particularly susceptible to environmental stress ( Greco, 1991 ). In a laboratory setting, cats become readily entrained to daily activity patterns and respond strongly to their surroundings as well as to their human caretakers. Unpredictable caretaking and handling are potent stressors in cats ( Carlstead et al ., 1993 ). Behaviors typically observed in cats suffering from stress include: decreased activity, such as grooming and social interactions, withdrawal behavior, increased time spent awake with vigilant behavior, and altered appetite ( Overall et al ., 2004 ). Overcrowding and insufficient resting and hiding places also increase stress ( Carlstead et al ., 1993 ). The ability to control aversive stimuli through hiding profoundly decreases cortisol concentrations in cats when measured over time or in response to adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) ( Carlstead et al ., 1993 ). As in many species, persistence of stress may compromise both immune and reproductive function as well as alter normal behavior ( Griffin, 1989 ). In our experience, provision of proper social housing, exercise, environmental enrichment, and a predictable routine dramatically reduces the incidence of behavioral problems, including urine spraying, fighting, hiding, and silent heat.

With the exception of being solitary hunters, free-roaming cats are social creatures ( Crowell-Davis et al ., 1997 ). Communication between cats takes place through a variety of visual, auditory, olfactory, and tactile cues. Expressions of the face and posturing of the body are visual cues; a cat with ears facing another cat and a relaxed tail would indicate a more curious approach, whereas ears flattened against the head and a crouched body position indicate a defensive attitude. Auditory cues can range from casual meowing and chirps that indicate curiosity versus hissing and shrieking, which point to a more defensive or scared attitude. Tactile cues such as body and nose rubbing are more indicative of positive interactions. Olfactory cues are those that result from urine spraying or by rubbing scent glands onto other cats, humans, or surfaces ( Overall et al ., 2004 ).

The majority of feline activities are performed within stable social groups in which cooperative defense, cooperative care of young, and a variety of affiliative behaviors are practiced. Affiliative behaviors are those that facilitate proximity or contact. Cats within groups commonly practice mutual grooming and allorubbing, in which cats rub their heads and faces against one another. This may serve as a greeting or as an exchange of odor for recognition, familiarization, marking, or development of a communal scent. Although both males and females exhibit affiliative behavior, these behaviors are more common in females. Play behavior and food sharing are common in kittens and adolescent cats.

The formation of social hierarchy occurs within groups of cats. Establishment of ranking order is a social adaptation that minimizes agonistic behavior between individuals within a group. Signals of dominance and submission may be subtle or obvious and include vocalization (growling, hissing), visual cues (facial expression, posturing of the body, ears, and tail), and scent marking (urine, feces, various glands of the skin). Cats that are high ranking in a colony may try to control resources such as food, water, resting surfaces, or preferred litter boxes; providing multiple of these helps to reduce antagonistic behavior between dominant and submissive cats.

Maternal behavior is the primary social pattern of the female cat. Queens exhibit strong maternal instincts. Adult queens form social groups along with their kittens and juvenile offspring ( Crowell-Davis et al ., 1997 ). They nest communally and care for each other’s kittens. Cooperative nursing is common. Kittens raised in communal nests develop faster and leave the nest sooner than kittens raised by solitary mothers. Between 3 and 8 weeks of age, kittens undergo a critical socialization period that can affect their behavior later in life towards other cats and humans. It is especially important that kittens in breeding colonies are handled during this period to ensure tractability ( Overall et al ., 2004 ).

Adult toms reside within one group or roam between a few established groups. Although they are social animals also, tomcats commonly exhibit aggressive behavior toward one another during the establishment of dominance in relationships and during competition for territory, breeding, food, and other resources ( Crowell-Davis et al ., 1997 ). Urine spraying and fighting are the most common undesirable male behaviors. In contrast to their interaction with other males, tomcats commonly display affiliative or ‘friendly’ behavior with females regardless of their reproductive status. For these reasons, tomcats should be housed with spayed females when not breeding. If not used for breeding, toms should be castrated. Neutering before puberty is best for prevention of undesirable male behaviors such as urine spraying and fighting. If the sexually mature tomcat is neutered, these behaviors will usually subside within a few weeks, facilitating intersex group housing. Neutered males display less agonistic behaviors towards other cats ( Finkler et al ., 2011 ).

Once social order is established in group housed animals, particularly those in a free-ranging room group, introduction or removal of individuals requires a period of adjustment that is usually stressful, induces fighting, and may disrupt breeding until a new social hierarchy and territorial limits are established ( Rochlitz, 2000 , Overall et al., 2004 , Ellis et al., 2013 ). Introducing a new animal is ideally gradual and supervised, such as by placing the newcomer in a transport cage in the larger multicat enclosure for a period of time (possibly up to 2 weeks) before allowing the cat to roam freely in the group ( Rochlitz, 2000 ). Even in multiple-run housing in a single room, rearrangement of run groups or even relocation of an entire group within the room may induce imbalance of the social order and anxiety. Therefore, every effort should be made to minimize reorganization of groups once they are established, and if restructuring is necessary, ample time should be allowed for restabilization of social order before experimental interventions are attempted to avoid social and stress-induced variables that may affect physiological and immunological parameters.

D. Housing to Exclude Pathogens

As with other laboratory species, infectious disease control for cats is based on exclusion. This requires that members of the colony are free from specific pathogens when the group is established, that any incoming animals are accepted into the colony only after rigorous health standards of the group are met, that proper preventive medicine protocols are followed rigorously, that barrier procedures (such as room order) and sanitization protocols are followed, and that staff is properly trained on feline biology, barrier procedures, and sanitization protocols.

To adequately reduce disease transmission, a facility should have various areas that segregate cats into life stage, health status, quarantine status, and research use. Traffic patterns should start with rooms housing pathogen-free and healthy animals, then quarantine animals whose health status has not been verified, and finally diseased animals in isolation ( Hurley, 2005 , Mostl et al., 2013 ). Animals in isolation rooms should ideally also be subdivided based on whether they have respiratory, dermatologic, or gastrointestinal disease ( Hurley, 2005 ). Cats that have had exposure to infectious diseses (i.e., non-SPF cats) should ideally remain in quarantine for at least 6 weeks, which is the time it takes cats to seroconvert against FIV or become antigen-positive to FeLV ( Mostl et al ., 2013 ). Cats from SPF sources should ideally be quarantined for at least a week after receipt to monitor for signs of shipment-related diseases, and serologic evaluation is recommended prior to mixing cats from different sources ( Mostl et al ., 2013 ). The youngest and most immunocompromised animals should be handled before older animals that could transmit disease. In addition, queens with litters should be housed separately and handled prior to handling the rest of the colony to prevent disease spread from adults to kittens that are not yet immunocompetent ( Mostl et al ., 2013 ). Finally, the entry order of the rooms depends on the research being conducted at the animal facility, e.g., animal rooms housing infectious disease studies need to be entered after rooms housing cats used in non-infectious research. If rooms must be entered out of order, it is imperative that proper barrier protocol is followed, such as showering between rooms or changing scrubs/shoes.

Equipment used in separate rooms should be room-specific. This includes scrubs and shoes worn by animal care staff (street-wear should be avoided to decrease outside pathogens accessing the colony), cleaning utensils and disinfectants, and cat-related items such as food bowls, litterboxes, and enrichment items. Enough litter boxes should be provided to decrease waste material accumulation and disease spread ( Mostl et al ., 2013 ). All of these items should be sanitizable or disposable to prevent fomite transmission of disease.

Attention to air quality in individual rooms is very important. Poor ventilation can lead to disease spread through aerosolization of infectious particles or irritation of a cat’s respiratory mucosa by cleaning agents ( Hurley, 2005 , Mostl et al., 2013 ). Air exchanges of 10–12 per hour help reduce air contaminants, as do cleaning litter boxes regularly, diluting cleaning agents correctly, and using filtration in the air-supply system ( Hurley, 2005 ).

Facility design that encourages a high level of sanitation and operational policies that ensure cleanliness are essential to minimize infectious disease transmission. Daily operations should include vacuuming and mopping floors, disposal of soiled litter, replacing soiled cardboard nesting boxes, and washing utensils for water and food as needed. Weekly procedures should include washing litter boxes and food/water utensils in 180°F water, scrubbing soiled areas, and replacing nesting boxes. Individual cages should be accorded the same level of sanitation and processed through a mechanical cage washer weekly, because soiling in these closely confined cages is unavoidable, and daily hand washing is usually inadequate to maintain sanitation. Food and water should be separated from litter as much as possible.

Selection of disinfectants is very important because different pathogens are susceptible to different disinfectants; attention must also be paid to proper dilution and surface contact time to ensure efficacy. For example, disinfectants used against nonenveloped viruses like feline panleukopenia virus and feline calicivirus (FCV) have aldehydes, hypochlorite, or peracetic acid as active ingredients, among others ( Mostl et al ., 2013 ). On the other hand, dermatophytes are eliminated with hypochlorite at much higher concentrations and repeated applications than nonenveloped viruses ( Hurley, 2005 ). Disinfection where coccidial infection has taken place would require steam cleaning and disinfectants specifically tested against coccidia ( Mostl et al ., 2013 ). As is true for all species, staff must ensure that chemical disinfectant residues are thoroughly rinsed from all surfaces to prevent cats from ingesting chemicals and suffering toxicity.

E. Environmental Enrichment

Environmental enrichment is essential for behavioral health of closely confined cats and should allow them to express natural behaviors. Cats are hunters, and typically eat up to 20 small prey in a day ( Ellis, 2009 ); providing toys and play that appeal to a cat’s predatory instincts is beneficial to its well-being. Examples of these include hiding food kibble or treats for them to ‘hunt’ and find, using feathered toys they can catch and ‘capture’, and soft toys that can be bitten and moved around like prey. Items should also be provided for scent marking ( Fig. 13.3 ). Whatever play items are provided, they should be easily sanitizable or disposable in the event they become soiled. Interspecies enrichment takes place with cats that are housed in groups. Cats that are group housed should be provided multiple environmental enrichment items so dominant cats do not manipulate all available resources. Hiding areas should also be provided for more timid cats to rest comfortably and avoid stressful encounters with dominant run-mates. Cats that are singly housed should be given extra attention by care staff to ensure socialization. The most effective environmental enrichment is a staff that enjoys interacting with cats and is willing to spend adequate time to ensure their socialization; this can include daily gentle interactions to playing with laser pointers and ‘wand’-type toys. Rest boards are required for comfort and contentment of cats because cats instinctively feel more secure when they can perch at a high point. These also provide an opportunity for lactating females to have rest periods away from their young. Boards should be constructed of dense plastic and anchored in such a way that crevices that accumulate hair and debris are avoided. Primahedrons can be attached to the ceiling to provide cats with the opportunity to climb and perch ( Fig. 13.4 ).

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Environmental enrichment for cats should include (a and b) opportunities for cats to perch on elevated surfaces; (b) forage and hide; (c) and hunt and play; (d) cats chasing a laser pointer.

IV. Breeding Colony Management

Because optimal conditions for exclusion of infectious diseases depend on use of purpose-bred cats, breeding colony management becomes exceedingly important for the use of cats in research. Fortunately, domestic cats are very prolific and high rates of production can be achieved in a laboratory environment with minimal complications. However, certain characteristics of feline reproduction are unique and must be recognized to achieve optimal breeding performance.

A. Reproductive Biology

On average, queens reach puberty or experience their first estrous cycle between 5 and 9 months of age, although the onset may range from 3.5 to 18 months of age. In addition to age, factors that affect the onset of puberty include breed, time of year or photoperiod, social environment, health, physical condition, and nutritional status. With proper health maintenance, nutrition, and control of light cycles, adolescent queens begin to cycle after attaining a body weight of 2 kg or more. Group housing, especially the introduction of a tomcat or estral queen, provides social stimuli that hasten the onset of estrus ( Michel, 1993 ).

Free-roaming queens are seasonally polyestrous. In the Northern Hemisphere, the season begins in January or February after the winter solstice, as the days get longer, and lasts until fall. Anestrus persists from October through December until the next breeding season begins in January or February. Cats are extremely sensitive to photoperiod. In an environmentally controlled laboratory setting, 10 or more hours of light in a 24-h period is required for reproductive cycling ( Shille and Sojka, 1995 ). Maintaining a 14-h light photoperiod and the use of natural daylight spectrum fluorescent bulbs ensures the maximum fertility period and estrous cycling (H. J. Baker, unpublished observations, 1999). Estrous cycling typically occurs within 7–10 weeks of instituting such a light cycle ( Dawson, 1941 , Scott and Lloyd-Jacob, 1959 ); however, this period can be shortened if preceded by a nonstimulatory light cycle of 8 or fewer hours of light ( Hurni, 1981 ), or if a tomcat or queen in estrus is introduced at the time of increasing the duration of light ( Michel, 1993 ).

Peak sexual activity occurs between 1.5 and 7 years of age, with an average of two to three litters per year, with three to four kittens per litter (range 1–15 kittens per litter). Queens can bear 50–150 kittens in a breeding life of approximately 10 years if allowed to mate naturally. Like tomcats, queens are polygamous and rarely form long-term bonds with a mate, although they often display preferences for particular mates. If allowed, a female may accept a number of males, and therefore litters may have multiple sires. Adolescent queens (queens less than 1 year of age) and queens greater than 8 years of age tend to cycle irregularly and to have smaller litters, more abortions, more stillbirths, and more kittens with birth defects. Following a normal lactation and weaning, queens return to estrus in 2–8 weeks (average 4 weeks) ( Feldman and Nelson, 1996 ). Many queens, however, return to fertile cycling while nursing their kittens ( Löfstedt, 1982 ). Although it is possible for a female to be continuously pregnant, nursing, or both, this high intensity of breeding is not recommended, because queens need a period of rest to regain body condition before the next period of pregnancy and lactation. Providing a period of short days (8 h of light or less) for 4–6 weeks each year ensures anestrus, and reproductive rest and may ultimately enhance reproductive performance.

Tomcats reach puberty between 8 and 13 months of age. They are sexually active year-round, are polygamous, and rarely form long-term bonds with queens. Most tomcats experience peak reproductive function between 2 and 8 years of age. Docile, tractable, easy-to-handle tomcats are ideally suited for breeding, given that studies relate these behavioral traits in kittens, at least in part, to paternity ( Reisner et al., 1994 , Turner et al., 1986 ). Blood type A toms should not be bred to type B queens, to prevent neonatal isoerythrolysis ( Casal et al ., 1996 ). Blood type B is rare in domestic shorthairs, but common in certain purebreds.

B. Infertility and Assisted Reproduction

Inbreeding is a common cause of reduced fecundity, birth defects, and infertility particularly in colonies with a small number of founders. Accurate breeding records are essential to evaluate breeding performance. The following information should be recorded for each queen: parents, birth date, date estrus is observed, breeding dates, identification of breeding tom, results of ultrasound examination (if performed), dates of delivery of each litter, litter size, numbers of male and female kittens, live births, number and cause of stillbirths or neonatal mortality (if known), number of kittens weaned, and date of recurrence of estrus. Periodic review of these records will reveal infertility problems, fecundity, lactation problems, and abnormal viability of kittens in utero and postnatally. Queens or toms with a history of recurring poor production should be eliminated from a breeding colony. Breeding records should indicate clearly whether inbreeding is likely to be the cause of reproductive failure, and outbreeding to unrelated cats from minimal-disease stock may solve this problem.

Colonies of domestic cats are used as models to develop techniques of assisted reproduction for the propagation and management of genetically valuable domestic cats and endangered nondomestic cats ( Swanson, 2012 ). Assisted reproductive techniques including cryopreservation of spermatozoa ( Villaverde et al., 2013 , Lambo et al., 2012 ) and laparoscopic oviductal embryo transfer have been employed to produce kittens from eight hereditary disease models including Chediac–Higashi syndrome, progressive retinal atrophy and lipoprotein lipase deficiency ( Swanson, 2012 ). In addition, investigators using these well-characterized techniques for manipulation of feline gametes and embryo transfer created transgenic cats expressing antiviral restriction factor ( Wongsrikeao et al ., 2011 ), making cats the first carnivore for which a transgenic model is available. As is true for other species, assisted reproductive techniques require specialized equipment and expertise, but are commercially available and can be used to insure against loss due to disease, introduce genetic diversity into a cat colony without the risk of introducing disease, and economically maintain valuable genetic lines that are not actively being investigated.

V. Nutrition and Feeding

Cats are obligate carnivores, physiologically and metabolically adapted for high-protein diets. While such high dietary protein intake is not required, the diet of free-ranging cats contains containing approximately 52% crude protein ( Plantinga et al ., 2011 ). Cats also have dietary requirements for specific nutrients such as taurine, arginine, arachidonic acid, vitamins A, D, and many B vitamins (such as thiamine and niacin), which in the wild were present in the tissues of their prey ( Zoran and Buffington, 2011 ). The digestive tract of cats has also evolved to accommodate consumption of highly digestible prey. Compared to dogs whose intestinal track is approximately six-times longer than their body length, the intestinal track of cats is only 4.2-times as long ( NRC, 2006 ), which results in food moving through the digestive tract at a faster rate. As a result of their unique physiology and dietary requirements, cats fed improperly formulated or processed diets experience adverse effects that can lead to long-term morbidity or mortality. Unfortunately, the laboratory animal community contains several examples of cats developing significant illness due to improperly formulated or processed diets. In one colony of SPF cats, 190 out of 540 at risk cats fed a gamma-irradiated (dose 36.3–47.3 KGy) commercial diet developed progressive hind-limb ataxia and proprioceptive defects diagnosed at necropsy as leukoencephalomyelopathy due to vitamin A deficiency ( Cassidy et al ., 2007 ). The level of gamma irradiation used to treat the diet was subsequently found to reduce the vitamin A content of the diet to 31% of the untreated value ( Caulfield et al ., 2008 ) In another colony, cats fed a purified diet deficient in taurine developed retinal degeneration within three months ( Hayes and Carey, 1975 ) and diets marginally deficient in taurine produced dilated cardiomyopathy only after the diet was consumed for more than three years ( Pion et al ., 1987 ).

A. Commercial Diets

For best results, cats should be fed a high-quality nutritionally complete diet appropriately formulated for their life stage. To avoid nutritionally incomplete rations, select a commercially prepared feline diet labeled with a ‘nutritional adequacy statement’ which indicates that the diet has successfully passed an Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) Cat Food Feeding Protocol. AAFCO protocol feeding trials assess the digestibility, bioavailability, and palatability of a diet, making them the best test of a product’s performance. The ideal cat food is highly palatable and formulated to provide optimum levels of readily bioavailable nutrients that are balanced to the caloric content of the diet, ensuring appropriate provision of all essential nutrients when caloric requirements are met. Commercial cat foods might provide a source of contamination for SPF colonies. In recent years, several commercial cat foods have been recalled due to Salmonella contamination ( FDA, 2014 ). To avoid introducing pathogens into the cat colony, or potentially causing illness due to an imbalanced diet resulting from autoclaving or irradiation, use a diet specifically formulated for laboratory cats.

High-quality commercial feline diets formulated for laboratory cats are available in both wet (canned) and dry formulations. Consideration should be given to using diets from manufacturers of research formulas that have undergone additional testing to ensure nutritional adequacy and safety when maintenance of specific pathogen-free status of a colony is required or if diets must be irradiated or sterilized for specific protocols. Laboratory-housed cats are often provided continuous access to dry food which can be left out overnight without spoiling. Continuous access to food allows cats to mimic the feeding pattern of free-ranging cats that consume multiple small meals over the course of 24 h ( MacDonald et al., 1984 , Ellis, 2009 ), but can lead to excess weight and obesity if body weight and condition are not closely monitored and assessed. Canned foods tend to be highly palatable, although they are more expensive, more labor-intensive to use, and may spoil if left for more than 8–12 h.

B. Energy Requirements

Age, life stage, activity level, reproductive status, and environment all affect energy requirements. The estimated energy need of adult lean cats at maintenance is 100 kcal/(kg body weight) 0.67 per day ( NRC, 2006 ), which can be used as an initial estimate for the amount of food that should be offered daily. An individual cat’s energy requirements for maintenance of optimal weight and body condition can vary widely, exceeding more than 50% under or over the estimated amount and is best determined by weighing all colony cats monthly and assessing their body ( Laflamme, 1997 ) and muscle condition ( Michel et al ., 2011 ) by palpation using established scoring criteria. Properly fed adult cats should be well muscled and the ribs should be readily palpable beneath a slight layer of fat. Viewing the cat from the side, the waist should be moderately tucked up behind the last rib, and the inguinal fat pad should be minimal ( Laflamme, 1997 ). Assessing muscle condition is important because cats tend to catabolize lean body tissue under conditions of acute stress either due to environmental factors or disease, and loss of muscle tissue may not be readily appreciated with traditional body condition scores that focus on body silhouette and fat stores ( Baldwin et al., 2010 , Michel et al., 2011 ).

A significant risk for group-housed, ad libitum -fed cats is the development of obesity. Obesity is the most common nutritional disease in pet cats in the Western hemisphere ( Laflamme, 2012 ), and is common in laboratory-raised cats, particularly those on long-term studies. Obesity leads to increased health risks including the development of diabetes mellitus, hepatic lipidosis, and urinary tract diseases ( Laflamme, 2012 ). White adipose tissue is now recognized to be an important endocrine organ that secretes a variety of substances that are active in energy metabolism and appetite control such as steroid hormones, growth factors and various cytokines such as leptin, adiponectin, resistin, and visfatin, which are collectively known as adipokines ( Zoran, 2010 ). Leptin is several-fold higher in obese cats compared to lean cats without leading to the appropriate physiological response of appetite suppression ( Hoenig, 2012 ). Obesity in cats also leads to upregulation of mRNA expression of the pro-inflammatory cytokines tumor necrosis factor-α and interferon-γ in adiposites ( Van de Velde et al ., 2013 ). While an initial, small study in cats did not demonstrate an adverse impact of obesity on white blood cell counts or lymphocyte function ( Jaso-Friedmann et al ., 2008 ) the potential impacts of inflammation during obesity on the immune system continue to be investigated. Obesity in cats is more easily prevented than treated. Cats becoming overconditioned with ad libitum access to food should be fed a fixed amount of food twice daily. This can be problematic in colonies maintained in group-housed situations over long periods of time, and may require specialized exercise or feeding plans.

Reproductively active cats and growing kittens need to be fed a high-quality feline diet designed for reproduction and growth. Queens gain weight throughout gestation in a linear fashion, with their energy requirements increasing by 25–30% by mid-gestation ( Buffington, 1991 ). After parturition, energy requirements continue to rise to three- to four-times those of maintenance, as queens nurse their kittens ( Lawler and Bebiak, 1986 ). Peak lactation occurs at 2–3 weeks postpartum. Maintaining adequate nutrition during this time is extremely important to ensure production of sufficient quantities of milk, particularly in queens with large litters. After weaning, milk production and mammary congestion can be decreased by fasting queens for 24 h before returning to maintenance feeding. As is true for most species, a continuous supply of fresh, clean drinking water must be available.

VI. Infectious Disease Exclusion and Control

Veterinary graduates are well versed in the breadth of infectious diseases affecting cats, including pathogenesis, diagnosis, and therapy. Additionally, abundant texts and journal references are available on practice management of these diseases. Therefore, this chapter will emphasize infectious disease issues that apply uniquely to colonies of cats and that are critically important to health management of cats used in research.

A. Preventive Medicine

Preventive health care involves recognizing and managing factors that affect disease transmission, including genetics, environmental stress, immunization, disease surveillance, nutrition, housing design, maintenance, and sanitation ( Mostl et al., 2013 , Hurley, 2005 , AAHA-AVMA, 2011 ). Selection for disease resistance and docile temperaments should be considered. For example, queens repeatedly producing kittens with congenital abnormalities, or dams that are not able to successfully raise the majority of their kittens to weaning should be removed from breeding stock. Small colonies will rapidly lose genetic heterozygosity, and formerly recessive traits may become more commonly expressed. It may be necessary to include periodic expansion from other colonies with similar disease background to avoid inbreeding depression. This is problematic in colonies maintained to preserve a genetic disorder.

Yearly physical examinations conducted by a veterinarian and regular diagnostics to monitor for common feline pathogens are recommended ( Overall et al ., 2004 ). Immunization protocols will vary for each feline colony based on risk–benefit assessments depending on the individual animal and research use. Cats used in infectious disease research may not be vaccinated, or may be vaccinated only with killed vaccines to avoid perturbations to the immune response. Cats used in vaccine studies will also not typically be routinely vaccinated with commercial vaccines, as these may interfere with candidate vaccine study outcomes. Cats maintained for preservation of genetic traits may undergo preventative health maintenance more akin to cats kept as pets. Scherk et al . (2013) lists specific immunization recommendations for cats maintained as companion animals. These recommendations can be modified for laboratory housed cats based on the research use of the animals. Early cessation of immunization protocols is the most common form of immunization failure ( Scherk et al ., 2013 ).

Young kittens (less than 6 months old) represent one of the main target populations for immunization due to their increased susceptibility to infection compared to older cats ( Scherk et al ., 2013 ). Maternal antibodies acquired through colostrum can also interfere with immunization as late as 16 weeks of age in kittens and will vary depending on the pathogen. The health status of the individual cat will also affect immune response to immunization as immunocompromised animals will likely not mount an appropriately robust response to afford protection ( Day, 2006 , Scherk et al., 2013 ). The closed/open status of a colony, animal density, research use of animals, and potential exposure (either through fomites carried into the facility or geographical presence of pathogens) should be considered when develoing immunization protocols ( Scherk et al ., 2013 ). The type of vaccine administered can vary depending on the reproductive status of the individual animal. Vaccinating pregnant queens is generally not recommended due to the possibility of infecting the fetus during pregnancy or lactation. For example, administering a modified-live feline panleukopenia virus vaccine to a pregnant queen could cause cerebellar hypoplasia in her kittens; in cases like these, inactivated vaccines should be used instead ( Scherk et al ., 2013 ).

Vaccine-related adverse reactions are a possibility whenever immunizations are administered. A retrospective study of over 400,000 cats in 329 hospitals performed by Moore et al . found the most common reactions to be nonspecific: pyrexia, lethargy, anorexia, and pain and swelling at the injection site. Multivalent panleukopenia vaccines were found to induce more lethargy post-vaccination ( Moore et al ., 2007 ).

Stress has a profound influence on disease transmission, and commonly reactivates latent viral respiratory infections, leading to increased virus shedding and even recurrence of clinical disease ( Mostl et al., 2013 , Thiry et al., 2009 ). Overcrowding is one of the most potent stressors recognized in cats; as it increases the number of pathogens, susceptible animals, and the number of asymptomatic carriers in a given group, while increasing the likelihood of disease transmission between group members through both direct contact and exposure to contaminated fomites ( Carlstead et al., 1993 , Mostl et al., 2013 , Hurley, 2005 ). While there is no specific number of animals that constitute overcrowding, it is recommended that groups be kept as small and stable as possible. For example, to reduce risk of coronavirus spread, keeping animals in groups of up to three cats can reduce risk of spread, while groups consisting of more than six animals were found to consistently have coronavirus infections ( Pedersen, 2009 , Addie et al., 2009 ). Kittens should remain only with their queens and littermates until weaning ( Mostl et al ., 2013 ). Other stressors that should be avoided include irregular feeding and husbandry schedules, unpredictable daily manipulations, and infrequent or indifferent human contacts ( Carlstead et al., 1993 , Mostl et al., 2013 , Hurley, 2005 , Overall et al., 2004 ).

Synthetic feline facial pheromones (FFP) have been recommended in the treatment of stress-related behaviors due to their apparent anxiolytic effect on cats. A meta-analysis conducted by Mills et al . found that the use of FFP decreased urine-spraying incidence in a group of cats just 4 weeks after initiating pheromone treatment ( Mills et al ., 2011 ). Analysis of FFP study data, however, found insufficient evidence in Mills’ and similar studies to conclude that FFP is beneficial in treating stress-related behaviors and reducing stress in unfamiliar environments ( Frank et al ., 2010 ). Despite this, FFP use, continues to be recommended by veterinarians based on subjective experience, and may have application in colony settings ( Beck, 2013 ).

B. Pathogen Control

Although domestic cats are susceptible to a large number of viral diseases, only a few are significant for colony-reared cats. FeLV and FIV diseases can be excluded from research colonies by preventive measures described in Section VI, A . With care, other viruses listed below can also be excluded from SPF colonies.

1. Upper Respiratory Infection

Upper respiratory tract infections (URI) are common in non-SPF cats and result in oculonasal discharge and sneezing ( Dinnage et al ., 2009 ). Respiratory disease spreads rapidly in a research colony, negatively impacting the cat’s welfare and is an adverse confounder for many research studies. As a result, URI should be excluded from SPF research colonies. Feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1) and FCV are the primary etiologic agents in 80% of all URI in cats ( Knowles and Gaskell, 1991 , Lawler and Evans, 1997 ). Other agents, including Chlamydia , Mycoplasma , reovirus, and Bordetella may cause infections that are primary, concurrent, or secondary to the viral diseases ( Dinnage et al., 2009 , Bannasch and Foley, 2005 ). The severity of clinical signs is dependent on population density, the duration of exposure, the challenge dose of the virus, and the cat’s age at time of infection, the quality and duration of its acquired maternal immunity, nutritional plane, stress level, and general health ( Hurley, 2005 , Mostl et al., 2013 , Dinnage et al., 2009 , Overall et al., 2004 ). Once enzootic in a population of cats, upper respiratory viruses manifest primarily as acute disease in young kittens as passive immunity is lost and, at that point, may be difficult to control.

Chlamydophila felis is normally associated with serous conjunctivitis but can also cause mild upper respiratory infections that self-resolve and are easily eliminated with use of antibiotics. A multivalent vaccine is available that can be used if there is a history of C. felis infection in the colony ( Scherk et al ., 2013 ). Mycoplasma felis , more commonly associated with primary conjunctivitis and anemia, has also been associated with upper respiratory infections and can be treated with antimycoplasmal drugs ( Burns et al., 2011 , Bannasch and Foley, 2005 ). Bordetella bronchiseptica has been implicated as a cause of acute bronchitis and pneumonia, ocular discharge, and even death ( Egberink et al ., 2009 ). While the significance of Bordetella in the pet population is not known, it can result in significant morbidity in feline colonies. Vaccination may be warranted in colonies with a history of Bordetella infection ( Scherk et al ., 2013 ).

Feline viral rhinotracheitis, caused by FHV-1 subfamily Alphaherpesvirinae , is characterized by acute rhinitis, conjunctivitis and corneal ulcers (dendritic ulcers particularly), as well as sneezing, conjunctival hyperemia, and coughing. The virus is shed in oculonasal discharge and transmission is through direct contact ( Gaskell et al ., 2007 ). Acute disease tends to resolve in 10–14 days while viral shedding begins 24 h after infection and can last up to 3 weeks ( Thiry et al ., 2009 ). FCV infections typically cause acute URI and acute stomatitis characterized by oral musocal and lingual ulceration. Chronic stomatitis (possibly immune-mediated) and a limping syndrome due to an idiopathic acute synovitis are also described ( Thiry et al ., 2009 ). Cats are infected with FCV through oronasal routes with a transient viremia in the following 3–4 days that can be detected in a variety of tissues. Healing takes place within 3–4 weeks following infection ( Thiry et al ., 2009 ). A recent virulent systemic disease associated with FCV has been reported in the United States and Europe. It is characterized by systemic inflammatory disease, disseminated intravascular coagulation, organ failure, and ultimately, death. Mortality rates of up to 67% have been reported ( Thiry et al ., 2009 ).

Following entry through oral mucosa or conjunctiva and resolution of clinical disease, FHV-1 spreads to the trigeminal nerve to establish latency ( Thiry et al ., 2009 ). Over 80% of cats that recover from FHV-1 become carriers and intermittently shed virus in oronasal and conjunctival secretions for life ( Knowles and Gaskell, 1991 , Lawler and Evans, 1997 ). Under natural conditions, approximately 45% of latently infected cats shed virus following stress. The most common stressors include glucocorticoid administration, followed by parturition and relocalization of cats ( Gaskell and Povey, 1977 ). Virus shedding usually begins within 1 week after a stressful episode and continues for approximately 2 weeks ( Gaskell et al ., 2007 ). Cats infected with FCV shed virus for 30 days. Even though many cats clear FCV, others can continually shed virus, potentially for the rest of their lives ( Radford et al ., 2009 ). Studies on colonies with endemic FCV have showed that long-term shedding is rare, and that most cats that continue to shed FCV through their lives tend to do so after re-infection with FCV variants of the same strain or new strains ( Radford et al ., 2009 ). FCV may also undergo mutations that cause changes to its capsid protein, possibly avoiding the host’s immune response ( Radford et al ., 2009 ).

Prevention and Control

Treatment for URI is largely supportive. Eyes and noses should be kept clean of discharge with the use of saline. Mucolytic agents can be administered if there is excessive mucoid nasal discharge. Nebulization with saline can also help hydrate respiratory mucosa ( Thiry et al ., 2009 ). Hydration status, electrolyte levels, and pH balance must be maintained through intravenous fluid administration. Nutrition maintenance is also important as cats often become anorexic due to feeling ill and suffer decreased interest in food due to congested nares. In cases where cats have not eaten, parenteral nutrition must be administered ( Thiry et al ., 2009 ). Strong-smelling and highly palatable moist canned foods stimulate the appetite, aid in maintenance of hydration and are gentler on sore throats than dry products. If secondary bacterial infection develops, administration of antibiotics may be necessary. It is important to use antibiotics that have penetrance of respiratory and oral mucosa ( Thiry et al ., 2009 ). Antiviral drugs, such as acyclovir and famcyclovir can have beneficial effects on cats suffering from FHV-1 ( Thiry et al., 2009 , Malik et al., 2009 ).

Both parenteral and intranasal vaccines are available for FHV-1 and FCV. Multivalent vaccines, coupled with FPV are commonly used and follow a similar vaccination protocol ( Scherk et al ., 2013 ). It must be noted that vaccination against FCV will not prevent shedding or clinical disease, and it does not protect against all FCV strains ( Radford et al ., 2009 ). FHV-1 is very labile in the environment, tending to persist in the environment for only 24 h, and can be eliminated with most disinfectants ( Thiry et al ., 2009 ). FCV persists in the environment for up to 2 weeks and can be transmitted by fomites. It can be eliminated from the environment with household bleach under proper dilution and contact time ( Radford et al ., 2009 ).

2. Feline Parvovirus

Etiology, clinical signs, epizootiology, pathology, diagnosis, prevention, and control.

Feline panleukopenia, caused by a parvovirus, is highly contagious and causes serious clinical disease but fortunately can be easily controlled by vaccination. Transmission is usually indirect through the fecal–oral route. Clinical signs include diarrhea, lymphopenia, neutropenia, thrombocytopenia, anemia, cerebellar hypoplasia in kittens, and abortion. While both adults and young are affected, kittens are the most vulnerable population and suffer mortality rates as high as 90% ( Truyen et al ., 2009 ). Treatment is largely supportive. This nonenveloped virus is very resistant to environmental conditions and many disinfectants, is highly contagious, and rapidly accumulates in the environment due to high shedding of virions from affected animals. Passive immunity from maternally acquired antibodies tends to last 6–8 weeks before levels of antibody begin to decline. At this point, an immunity gap can take place, where levels of antibody are too low to protect the kitten but high enough to interfere with vaccination ( Truyen et al ., 2009 ). Therefore, it is recommended that kittens at risk of exposure receive vaccines for panleukopenia as early as 6 weeks of age, repeated every 3–4 weeks until 16–20 weeks of age. Revaccination should occur 1 year later, and then every 3 years ( Scherk et al ., 2013 ).

3. Feline Infectious Peritonitis

FIP is a potentially important infection of colony cats because it may arise in otherwise healthy cats, cannot be distinguished serologically from other coronaviruses, and because it causes recurring appearance of disease that tends to be fatal. Two types of coronaviruses infect cats: feline enteric coronavirus (FECV) and FIP virus (FIPV), both members of the genus Alphacoronavirus . FECV is ubiquitous and avirulent while FIPV frequently coexists with FECV and is virulent. FECV and FIPV are antigenically and morphologically indistinguishable from each other ( Pedersen, 2009 ).


FECV is endemic in nearly all environments where a large number of cats share close quarters ( Addie et al ., 2009 ). It is spread by the fecal–oral route and associated with subclinical or self-limiting gastrointestinal signs, especially diarrhea ( Pedersen, 2009 ). Viral shedding from small and large intestine is typically seen 1 week after infection and can persist for 18 months or more. Immunity is not life-long, as recovered cats can become re-infected with typically the same strain. Immunity between FECV and FIPV is not cross-protective ( Pedersen, 2009 ).

Up to 12% of cats infected with feline coronavirus may succumb to FIP ( Addie et al ., 2009 ). A mutation in FECV is believed to lead to the virulent FIPV. Several previous studies have implicated a variety of mutations in FECV genes that correlate with development of virulence ( Pedersen, 2009 , Brown et al., 2009 ). Licitra et al . recently identified a mutation at a spike protein cleavage site in a high percentage of cats that developed FIP. This mutation was theorized to lead to altered fusion properties that would provide for macrophage cell tropism, systemic spread, and development of FIP and was observed in cats that were still asymptomatic for FIP as well ( Licitra et al ., 2013 ).

FECV mutations differ between littermates and even within different tissues in the same animal, which supports a mode of internal mutation and consequent disease instead of spread of virulent mutated forms between cats ( Licitra et al., 2013 , Pedersen, 2009 ). Kittens are most susceptible to this mutation during primary infection due to production of high levels of FECV and a decreased resistance to mutation early in life ( Pedersen, 2009 ). Coinfections with other viruses (such as FPV) and stress also increase incidence of FIP ( Addie et al ., 2009 ). Clinical disease is seen more commonly in young animals ranging from 5–6 weeks up to 16 months of age ( Addie et al., 2009 , Radford et al., 2009 ). Other risk factors for development of FIP include genetic susceptibility, coronavirus titer, proportion of FECV shedding, and prevalence of chronic shredders in the colony ( Pedersen, 2009 ).

Clinical Signs and Pathology

Two forms of clinical FIP exist: an effusive ‘wet’ form and a dry form. The effusive form is more common and has a shorter incubation period (2–14 days) than the dry form. The effusive form may be subclinical for weeks, with affected young animals appearing unthrifty, before clinical disease is manifested ( Pedersen, 2009 ). The onset of the effusive form includes fever, anorexia, malaise, and weight loss. Painless abdominal distention due to ascites is the most common clinical sign observed in affected animals; the effusion tends to be yellow-tinged and mucinous and amounts can reach up to a liter in severe cases. Other clinical signs include dyspnea from pleural involvement or thoracic effusion, ocular and neurologic signs, scrotal edema in intact males, and synovitis due to immune-complex formation and deposition ( Pedersen, 2009 ). The ‘dry’ form of FIP is less common and is characterized by granulomatous lesions in various organs as well as central nervous system involvement and ocular disease. Granulomatous lesions are commonly found in the kidneys, mesenteric lymph nodes, and liver, and tend to be painful on palpation; smaller granulomas can also be found in the lungs ( Pedersen, 2009 ).

Serological testing does not differentiate FECV from FIPV and therefore is not an effective diagnostic tool. A high percentage of cats are FECV positive and will yield a false-positive for FIPV when tested ( Addie et al ., 2009 ). Effusions should be aspirated and analyzed, as they provide a higher diagnostic value than blood analyses ( Addie et al ., 2009 ). Protein content of the effusion is typically very high (>35 g/l) and is consistent with exudative effusion. Cytologic evaluation will show an abundance of neutrophils and macrophages ( Addie, et al ., 2009 ). The recent finding from Licitra et al . implies that, due to the specific mutation at the S1/S2 site, diagnosis of FIP is a possibility prior to development of disease; this would also carry preventive and treatment implications as well ( Licitra et al ., 2013 ).

FIPV infection is usually fatal and has no current effective treatment. In addition, a reliable vaccine against FIPV has not been developed ( Pedersen, 2009 ). The virus may persist up to 2 months in the environment. Effective prevention depends on minimizing fecal–oral spread, such as diligently cleaning litterboxes ( Addie et al ., 2009 ).

C. Eliminating Parasites

Although cats are susceptible to a wide range of parasites, effective antiparasitic drugs are available, and the high level of sanitation that should be practiced in research colonies makes them easily eliminated. The most common parasites include fleas, ear mites, cestodes, ascarids, hookworms, and coccidia.

Fleas cause marked allergic dermatitis in many adults and serve as vectors for transmission of infectious diseases and tapeworms ( Dipylidium caninum ). Several very effective commercial products are available for flea control. Because both cats and kittens are extremely sensitive to toxic effects from insecticides, products should be selected carefully and used only on animals of the age for which they are intended. After eliminating fleas on adult cats, eradication can be achieved because sanitation eliminates opportunities for larval development.

Ear mites ( Otodectes cynotis ) are the most common cause of otitis externa in the cat. They live in the external ear canal, feeding on tissue fluids and producing irritation. Their presence results in the formation of a thick, dark-brown exudate consisting of cerumen and exfoliated debris. Infested cats shake their heads, scratch their ears, and often excoriate their pinnae. Untreated infestations may result in permanent damage to the ear. Diagnosis is made on close visual inspection of aural exudate where the mites are barely visible with the naked eye or by microscopic examination of exudate in mineral oil at ×10 magnification with a light microscope. If ear mites are diagnosed in a colony, all cats, whether infected or not, should be treated. Although not labeled for this use, ivermectin (200–300 μg/kg SQ q2 weeks × 2 treatments) is safe, practical, inexpensive, and extremely effective.

Endoparasites include ascarids or roundworms ( Toxocara cati and Toxascaris leonina ), hookworms ( Ancylostoma and Uncinaria ), and coccidia. Transmammary transmission is the most common route of transmission for both roundworms and hookworms, although cats may become infested by ingesting contaminated soil. Larvae ingested by adult cats migrate to body tissues and persist for years. During pregnancy, these larvae are reactivated and travel to the mammary glands, where they are shed into the milk and ingested by nursing neonates. Infested kittens may develop diarrhea as early as 2–3 weeks of age. Hookworms cause blood loss and anemia. Female worms produce eggs that pass in the feces and may persist in the soil for years. Control is readily achieved through proper sanitation and routine deworming of kittens. Pyrantel pamoate (8–10 mg/kg PO q3 weeks × 3 treatments) is highly effective against both roundworms and hookworms and is cost-effective and easy to administer. Adult cats acquire immunity and rarely experience reinfestation. In humans, hookworms and ascarids are associated with cutaneous larval migrans and visceral larval migrans, respectively.

Protozoal parasites (coccidia and, less commonly, giardia) may occur in conditions of poor sanitation, particularly in kittens. Parasitization of the small intestine may result in diarrhea. Although uncommon, giardiasis is potentially zoonotic. Eradication consists of treatment of all cats with giardiacidal drugs (metronidazole at 50 mg/kg PO daily for 5 days or fenbendazole at 50 mg/kg PO daily for 5 days) and proper sanitation. Cats are definitive hosts for Isospora felis and Isospora rivolta . Young kittens, and weak and immunocompromised animals are usually affected. Eggs are passed in the feces and can sporulate in as little as 12 h. Adult forms replicate in the small intestine and cause villous atrophy, dilated lacteals, and lymphoid proliferation of Peyer’s Patches ( Lappin, 2010b ). Clinical signs include watery diarrhea that may contain blood, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, and anorexia. Sulfadimethoxine (50–60 mg/kg daily for 5–20 days) and supportive treatment speed recovery. Eggs can easily be identified on fecal flotation and are resistant to many disinfectants. Prompt removal of feces and steam cleaning surfaces help decrease coccidial egg load in the environment ( Lappin, 2010b ).

D. Personnel Health Risks

Complete lists of infectious diseases of cats with zoonotic potential are available in the literature ( Gerhold and Jessup, 2013 , Guptill, 2010 , Bond, 2010 ). Although no potential human health risk should be underestimated, in fact there are only a few of these infections that should be of any concern for a minimal-disease, closed cat colony. Infections of primary concern include cat scratch disease, dermatophytosis, and toxoplasmosis. ‘Cat Scratch Disease’ is caused by infection by Bartonella henselae that may be carried inapparently by cats and are transmitted to humans by bite or scratch wounds or fleas. Personell handling cats should be aware of the potential for this infection and should thoroughly wash bite or scratch wounds and seek medical attention, particularly for a wound that does not respond to the usual treatment ( Guptill, 2010 ). Dermatophytosis usually results from Microsporum canis and can be diagnosed by culture of the organism. It can be a difficult disease to treat in large groups of cats, and if treatment is attempted, the risk of human exposure must be considered ( DeBoer and Moriello, 1995 ; Moriello and DeBoer, 1995 ; Bond, 2010 ). Toxoplasmosis is an obligate intracellular protozoan parasite that can be transmitted to cats and humans by ingestion of infected feces/soil or undercooked meat. Diagnosis is difficult, but the simple expedient of changing litter daily, using gloves when handling litter and litter pans, and washing hands will eliminate risk ( Gerhold and Jessup, 2013 ). Rabies vaccination of cats should be considered because of legal obligations and interstate shipping regulations; otherwise, while contact with feral or ‘barn cats’ poses a potential risk, there is little or no risk to cats maintained in a closed colony derived from disease-free stock ( Gerhold and Jessup, 2013 ).

Cat salivary and urine proteins are potent allergens, and many people experience severe allergic reactions when exposed to cats. Five cat allergens have been characterized ( Acedoyin, 2007 ). Cats are more commonly implicated in asthma and allergic disease than other pet species ( Dharmage et al ., 2012 ). Personnel with known allergy to cats should not work with them unless they take special precautions such as using face masks and gloves, and exposure to cats should be considered as an occupational health risk factor.


The authors thank Dr. Charmaine Foltz and Dr. William Burkholder for editorial assistance with the first draft of this manuscript. The preparation of this manuscript was partially funded by the Office of Research Services, National Institutes of Health (Burkholder).

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Surprising new research on cats will make you see yours in a new light

Cats have a reputation for being aloof and untamed, but recent studies suggest they may be more attuned to humans than we realise. We may even have solved the mystery of why cats love boxes

By Michael Marshall

7 March 2023 , updated 16 March 2023

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ON A regular basis, I wonder why we have a cat . This thought was most recently prompted by Peggy jumping onto a dresser and knocking off a ceramic bowl, which smashed. By the time you read this, she will have done something else to make me question my choice of pet.

Unlike dogs, which are dependent on us for everything, including their emotional well-being, cats seem to be sociopaths. Most cat owners (if owner is even the word) have entertained the suspicion that our feline companions would abandon us if we found ourselves unable to open their food containers. Sure, Peggy comes for cuddles every so often, but she might just be looking for warmth. In fact, despite cats having lived among people for thousands of years, it is questionable whether this has done anything to tame them.

However, it may be that cats are just misunderstood. Compared with dogs, they express themselves far more subtly, so that many of us don’t understand what their gestures and behaviours mean. Recent experiments suggest that cats are more socially intelligent and attuned to familiar humans than we realise. These studies even indicate that cats like us (I know, I can’t quite believe it either). What’s more, genetic investigations are getting a grip on just how domesticated cats really are. The findings may make you see your moggy in a whole new light.

Cats and dogs are the most popular pets in the world , yet the two behave very differently towards us. Dogs will rush to the front door in excitement when you come home, whereas cats appear aloof and…

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The Royal Society

Cat brains and replication studies

A new replication study in royal society open science revisits animal domestication research from the 1960s and 70s..

Cat skull in front of a black background - cover image nomination  by Raffaela Lesch

Royal Society Open Science has published its first non-psychology replication study:  Cranial volume and palate length of cats, Felis spp., under domestication, hybridisation and in wild populations . Here, first author Raffaela Lesch tells us about the work.

What is the research about?

The core aspect of our research was to replicate a cornerstone result in the field of domestication research. Reduced brain size is one of the most consistent, yet hard to explain, features seen in domestic animals, compared to their wild ancestors. We set out to replicate studies by Paul Schauenberg in 1969 and Helmut Hemmer in 1972 on brain size in cats. Our goal was to evaluate if these previously reported results, of smaller brains in domestic cats compared to wildcats, would still hold up on a data set assembled and curated using today’s scientific knowledge.

Why were you interested in the research question and why replicate an earlier study?

The field of domestication research is moving fairly fast at the moment. Many or most of the hypotheses with the potential to offer a unifying explanation of the “domestication syndrome” (e.g., floppy ears, white fur patches, smaller brains, shorter snouts) are at least partially based on old literature. Much of the literature that compares wild and domestic animals is difficult to access, or may have methodological issues. We have to put effort into replicating old findings to further the field of domestication research and to see whether hypotheses, like the neural crest/domestication syndrome hypothesis of Wilkins and colleagues, are built on a solid foundation.

What is significant about your findings?

We found that domestic cats experience a reduction in brain size compared to their ancestor species, the North African wildcat. Hybrids of domestic cats and European wildcats have brain volumes that cluster between those of their parent species. Overall, our results concerning brain size in cats confirm the findings of the previous studies. Additionally, we also looked into a potential reduction of snout length, which is another common characteristic described in the context of the “domestication syndrome”. However, our data did not indicate a reduction in snout length in domestic cats; domestication does not seem to have affected snout length in cats.

What are the next research steps?

The next steps would be to continue replicating these old studies, not only for cats, but across other domestic species. Including additional new measurements into the workflow of replicating old results might also provide additional valuable insights. 

Figure 1 from Cranial volume and palate length of cats, Felis spp., under domestication, hybridisation and in wild populations

Fig 1. Lateral and ventral views of a cat skull indicating the landmarks used for measurements of palate length and basal skull length. Basal skull length was measured from prosthion to basion and palate length was measured from prosthion to staphylion.

Why did you opt to use the Replication workflow rather than submit a regular research paper?

We decided to use the replication workflow because it provides the opportunity of having our work reviewed in two parts. In our opinion, splitting the process in two is important for moving scientific publishing forward. If reviewers agree that the reasoning in the introduction and methods are sound, the paper passes the first review step. This means that independent of results the paper will be published as long as the outlined methodology is followed and the conclusions drawn are supported by the data. This process avoids the common phenomenon of not publishing null results and can help reveal weaknesses in previous research that might not otherwise be revealed. This is especially important for early career researchers (like myself), who are under enormous pressure to publish and options like the Replication workflow help alleviate the stress of how to deal with null results, if they are found.

Why is it important to replicate existing studies?

In the context of domestication research, it is crucial to replicate these older studies since they are the foundation to many currently debated hypotheses. This also holds true in the bigger picture of science. To counteract factors leading to the replication crisis, especially in historical studies, we have to put effort into establishing that our basic findings are solid and replicable. Replications sometimes seem to have the reputation of being boring, simple, and not requiring a lot of skill. I wholeheartedly disagree. Replicating an old study, while embedding and viewing it through the lens of today’s knowledge, was a lot more intriguing and challenging than one might think at first. Staying true to an actual replication, while at the same time adapting the study to current scientific standards, was an interesting experience. 

Why did you choose to submit to Royal Society Open Science ?

The concept of Open Science is not only a valuable tool, but a core aspect in making science more accessible and transparent. Making code, data, and resource material publicly accessible to anyone who is interested will ultimately be beneficial to us all. Prioritising transparency and open access will allow anyone to go back and look at the underlying data, code, review process and any step between.

What worked well during the peer review process?

Editors Professor Chris Chambers and Andrew Dunn were very kind when I first approached them and asked if RSOS would be interested in a replication study of this type. Prior to this manuscript RSOS offered the replication study article type for selected topics/journals. Both Editors Chambers and Dunn were incredibly open minded and encouraging about expanding this type of article to more fields and topics. Since replication articles are submitted in two parts (first introduction and methods are reviewed, followed by results and discussion), the reviewers had to review the manuscript in two steps. Both reviewers were very kind to commit to review both parts and provided insightful comments in both review steps, which decisively contributed to improving our manuscript.

Interested in submitting a replication study? Visit our website for further information and to view all previous Replication studies .

Image credits:

1. Cat skull in front of a black background, by Raffaela Lesch.

2. Figure 1 from Cranial volume and palate length of cats, Felis spp., under domestication, hybridisation and in wild populations .

Andrew Dunn

Andrew Dunn

Senior Publishing Editor, The Royal Society

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Demystifying feline behavior

Carlo siracusa and james serpell of the school of veterinary medicine contextualize recent findings in cat behavior science, debunk some cat-related myths, and explain why our kitties are not just ‘low-maintenance dogs.’.

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They know their names . We can read their facial expressions , sort of. And some of them really like having us around . These are among the purported findings of recent scientific studies aimed at deciphering the behavior of some of our most mysterious yet ubiquitous companions: pet cats. 

Yet research into cat behavior is extremely limited, and, according to veterinary behavior expert Carlo Siracusa and animal ethics and welfare professor James Serpell of Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine, the mainstream media—and sometimes scientists themselves—have a habit of overinterpreting such studies. 

So, what do we know about cat behavior? To mark National Cat Health Month, and the upcoming publication of “ Decoding Your Cat ,” a book Siracusa co-edited to give cat owners access to digestible, yet science-based information, Penn Today spoke with Siracusa and Serpell about their own research on cat behavior and their thoughts on the field.

The conversation, driven by Siracusa’s and Serpell’s scientific and clinical expertise and peppered with anecdotes from their own experiences as cat owners, helps contextualize recent findings in cat behavioral science, underscores why cats are far from “low-maintenance dogs,” and offers guidance for cat owners.

James Serpell on a bench with hands crossed

One study of cat behavior showed that cats recognize their names, and another showed they can bond securely to their owners. Overall, however, there seem to be a lot more studies of dog behavior. Why is that?

Siracusa : Even though I consider myself a cat person, most of the work that I’ve done is on dogs because that’s where the funding is. In our behavior clinics we see many fewer cats than dogs, I’m talking like 95% dogs and 5% cats. I think this is related in part to the fact that there is much less expectation for cat behaviors. If you have a dog growl and bark at everyone who comes to your apartment, that’s a major problem, but if your cat hisses and then runs and hides, nobody cares.

Serpell: Studies show that people are on average less attached to their cats and spend less money on their cats. Cats are numerically more common than dogs in the United States, but there are fewer cat-owning households than dog-owning households, which means that people may be owning more than one cat and thus have less to spend on each one.

But recently the Morris Animal Foundation sent a survey to veterinarians around the country and asked what they consider to be areas of primary importance that they needed help with. Almost at the top of the list was cat behavior problems.

So, I think people are getting on board slowly with the idea that pet owners are becoming more attached to their cats and that they are becoming much more significant members of people’s social groups.

Is there something intrinsic to cats that explains this lack of attention to behavioral science compared to dogs?

Siracusa: Dogs evolved from a social species, whereas cats come from an ancestor that was solitary. I don’t think they’ve evolved a social behavior as complex as dogs’ social behavior. And maybe as a result it’s harder for people to understand cats’ social behavior since it’s mostly based on distance and nonprolonged contact. That’s why when you put cats in a small environment, like an urban apartment, especially with other cats, you may run into problems.

Serpell: But cats have lived with humans now for about 9,500 years. That’s a long time, and they’ve evolved to be more tolerant of living in close proximity with people and with other cats. 

There’s all this evidence now coming out about dogs having a gene mutation equivalent to Williams syndrome in humans, which causes hypersociality. I suspect that we might find some of that in domestic cats. These animals are much more sociable than their wild ancestors.

You have a wealth of data about cat behavior from Fe-BARQ [the Feline Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire, developed by Serpell]. What are some of the things that the data tell you about cats and their relationship with people?

Serpell: From our Fe-BARQ data we see that a surprising number of owners are reporting moderate to severe behavioral problems in a cat when separated from its owner. So much for the theory that cats don’t really care about their owners, that they’re only there for their food; these cats really do seem to be distressed from being away from their human buddies.

Siracusa: We see this in clinics. For example, cats may eliminate or vomit if they’re left alone for more hours than usual. So, I think they are definitely attached to people. But the way they’re showing they’re attached is very different from dogs. Dogs make a lot of prolonged physical contact, whereas cats may stay close to the person they like, but they don’t necessarily engage. Some cats may engage a little—one of my cats plays fetch with me—but only for a short time, and then she’s like, ‘Oh, I’ve had enough of this.’

Do you think that cats are more varied in their sociability than dogs?

Serpell: I do. Some cats, as soon as you sit down, they’ll be on your lap, and they’ll monopolize you, but others won’t at all. One of my cats loves people; when you arrive at the door, she rushes to the door, and she rubs against you. But she hates being picked up, and she does not want to sit on you ever. Whereas her brother is much more physically affectionate. He wants to be held; he wants to sit on people.

There are very few dogs I've met that are standoffish the way a cat is often. 

Cat behavior can be puzzling. Is the problem that people just aren’t good at interpreting their cat’s behavior?

Siracusa: People really do need help understanding their cats’ behavior, and they don’t know where to go or who to ask about these problems. In a recent survey, somewhere between 50 and 60% of cat owners said, ‘I have problems bringing my cat to the vet,’ or ‘My vet doesn’t understand the problems of my cat,’ or ‘I will only bring my cat to the vet when it’s strictly necessary.’ For many cat owners, just picking a cat up and putting it in the crate is a major drama.

Serpell: Of course, many dogs also don’t like to go to the vet, but dogs are more biddable; they’ll just go along with it. But cats, boy. I had to bring both of my cats in a week ago, and it was an ordeal.

Siracusa: I do think cats are very sensitive to changes in their environment. 

Serpell: Some of it may relate to the fact that cats are a prey species as well as being a predator. Being in an unfamiliar environment is potentially very unsafe for them, so it’s natural for them to go, ‘Oh, crikey, where am I, and what’s going to come at me next?’

What are some of the big myths or misperceptions about cat behavior?

Siracusa: Many people want a cat to be a surrogate for a dog, like a low-maintenance dog, and it’s not. 

Another misperception is that because cats are so fluffy and soft, people like to touch them a lot, but cats don’t necessarily like this. Some do—some that I’ve had were always on top of me—but others were like, ‘Ok, we’re friends, but you stay there, and I stay here.’ So, it’s a matter of respecting their desire for distance in those cases.

Also, people often fail to provide cats with enough stimulation. It’s important to give them opportunities to show their natural feeding behavior, for instance. So instead of simply putting their food in a bowl, give them a chance to stalk it, to toss it in the air and pounce, and reproduce the whole sequence of events that they would do when they hunt.

How do you try to correct clients’ misguided impressions about cats?

Siracusa: [Laughing] This is the reason our behavior appointments are very long. We try to set realistic expectations, and we provide them with alternative strategies. For example, if you want a nice interaction with your cat, use something cats like. Teach them to do a trick to get a treat. Use a stick-and-feather toy. 

Serpell: Some cats will play for hours. My cats, they exhaust me. They’ll run all around the house for hours with a piece of string. 

Siracusa: Sometimes I say, ‘If you need to hug something, get a stuffed toy.’ Don’t do that to your cat if she doesn’t like it.

The one recent study about cats showed the same or an even greater degree of attachment to their owners as dogs have. You seem skeptical about those findings.

Serpell: Carlo is more than I am.

Siracusa: I think the methodology is rigorous. But I’m skeptical because the study assumed that the vocalization of the cats indicated separation distress. I think it’s very likely to be distress from being in an unfamiliar environment, but I’m not convinced that it’s separation distress.

Serpell: Speaking on behalf of the article , I would say that there is a perception out there— another one of these myths, if you like—that cats aren’t really attached to their owners, that they’re only there to get fed. I think this study is a demonstration that cats respond similarly to this experimental paradigm as do dogs and for that matter as do human infants, and that's interesting, just in itself.

What about the study suggesting cats recognize their name?

Siracusa: I think this study is similar; the experiments seem rigorously done, but the results are prone to overgeneralization. For cats it’s not, ‘Oh, my name is Jack.’ It’s, ‘Usually when I hear this word something is about to happen.’

Serpell: It’s a demonstration that the cat has some kind of association with this sound. I think that’s right; my cats respond to their names. But it’s different from what we’ve seen in dogs, some of which have amazing vocabularies and can discriminate between more than a thousand different words. 

Have you seen the ‘cat whisperer’ quiz that’s going around, based on a recent publication about cat facial expressions?

Serpell: It sounds dubious. Cats lack the facial muscles that dogs have so they’re limited in the expressions they can make.

Siracusa: Because cats in general were solitary animals evolutionarily, staying at a distance from one another, the facial expressions wouldn’t have been so important in communicating. If I want to communicate with someone who is far away, I wouldn’t show it on my face but in my body, my posture.

Serpell: The sense of smell.

Siracusa: Smell, definitely. Pheromones are very important. Also, they leave visual signs. The scratching of a cat is a visual sign to leave a message for someone who didn’t find them but will find the scratch. 

It sounds like the book you have coming out soon might also help pet owners interpret their cats.

Siracusa: Yes, ‘Decoding Your Cat’ is coming out in June. It’s a project of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, and all the chapters are written by diplomates of the College and edited by myself and two of my colleagues. Our goal was to make sure as much as possible was science-based, and the information that hasn’t been studied was based on our clinical experience.

What is on the horizon in terms of cat behavior research?

Siracusa: Cat cognition studies will be the next big thing.

Serpell: Yes, there are some groups now that are starting to get interested in cat cognition, but it’s still way behind dogs. There are so many dog cognition groups now around the world it’s almost funny. 

How might studies of cat cognition be helpful?

Serpell: Well, it would be interesting to see whether the process of domestication has shifted the cat cognitively in the way that people say it’s shifted the dog. 

Siracusa: It may help with the animals’ welfare, too, because if we understand them better, we can make sure we create an environment for them that will make them happier in their homes.

James Serpell is the Marie A. Moore Professor of Ethics and Animal Welfare and director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

Carlo Siracusa is associate professor of clinical behavior medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

To contribute to Penn Vet’s cat behavior research: Fe-BARQ online survey .

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When were cats domesticated?

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Do cats feel emotion.

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Additional resources.

Domestic cats ( Felis catus ) are small carnivorous members of the family Felidae — the only member of that family that has deigned to join humans in domesticated bliss. 

Cats have lived among humans for thousands of years. They probably started hanging around human grain stores, attracted by mice and other vermin, and eventually spread around the world as sailors brought them aboard ships.

Today, cats still help humans control vermin and also provide companionship. In the past few centuries, humans have bred some cats to display certain traits, like hairlessness, establishing dozens of cat breeds. With their charming mix of aloofness and goofiness, cats amuse and fascinate humans in equal turns.

Cats were domesticated around 10,000 years ago, research shows. A 2017 genetic study found that today's domestic cats descend from Felis silvestris lybica , a wild cat subspecies from the Near East. Genes from cats found in archaeological sites in the Near East, Europe and Africa reveal that about 10,000 years ago in modern-day Turkey, cats started to associate with humans and split from their wild relatives. 

Despite having relatively small natural ranges, Felis silvestris lybica started showing up in eastern Europe by 4400 B.C., according to telltale genes from cats found in archaeological sites. This spread strongly suggests that cats were hitching rides aboard ships with traders, who probably appreciated that cats kept rats in check. Cats certainly traveled long distances: A 2016 study found DNA from Egyptian cats at a Viking site in northern Germany dating to between A.D. 700 and 1000.

The oldest known burial of a domesticated cat comes from Cyprus, where a human and a cat were buried together 9,500 years ago, researchers reported in 2004 . Cat bones also have been found buried in 5,300-year-old refuse pits in China , suggesting that the felines were a part of human life in the Far East, too.

Even if cats joined people in the Near East, it was in ancient Egypt where they took on a starring role. Scientists aren't yet sure whether the Egyptians domesticated cats separately from the Near East lineage, or whether the cats spread from Turkey to Egypt. Either way, Egyptians treasured cats' mixture of protectiveness and independence and saw the traits of their gods in cats, which were sometimes mummified lovingly next to their deceased owners but were also sacrificed in large numbers as part of religious rituals. Bastet, a feline-headed goddess, was worshipped as a protector and as a deity of pregnancy and childbirth.

Related: Why were the ancient Egyptians obsessed with cats?

Are there different breeds of cats?

Cats come in many breeds, though not with the same degree of diversity as dogs. The Cat Fanciers' Association , a nonprofit dedicated to cats, recognizes 45 pedigreed breeds as well as the "companion cat," otherwise known as "most regular cats."

These breeds include relatively well-known varieties, like the slender Siamese cat and the fluffy Persian, as well as the leopard-spotted Bengal, the short-tailed American bobtail and the hairless Sphynx. While dogs have been bred over centuries to carry out different tasks, leading to a variety of sizes and shapes, domestic cats have only two jobs: controlling pests and being pets. Thus, most pedigreed cats are bred for traits such as color and fur length rather than, say, a waterproof coat for swimming or a strong herding instinct for guarding sheep. Most cat breeds date to less than 100 years ago, Leslie Lyons, a professor at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, told Live Science in 2017 .

Cats are intelligent, and the widely held notion that dogs are smarter than cats may be unfounded, given that each species has cognitive abilities best suited to their lifestyle, Live Science previously reported. Felines display object permanence , or the ability to realize that something still exists when it's out of sight — an ability humans develop around the age of 8 months. Object permanence is an important skill to have when you're a hunter operating at night, listening for the telltale patter of tiny mice feet. Cats also recognize their owners' voices , according to a 2013 study in the journal Animal Cognition .

But cats don't always make their smarts easy to measure. "They're a nightmare to work with in the lab," said Julia Meyers-Manor, a psychologist at Ripon College in Wisconsin who studies animal cognition.

Compared with other animals, such as rats and dogs, few studies have been done on cat intelligence, Meyers-Manor told Live Science. Cats hate strangers and unfamiliar places, like labs, she said; they typically bury their faces in their owners' arms and refuse to cooperate with the task at hand.

Unlike dogs, which are pack animals, cats evolved from a solitary wild lifestyle, thus making them less attuned to social cues   In a 2021 study , researchers had cats watch as their owners struggled to open a container. In some cases, an actor helped the owner open the container. In others, that actor rudely turned away. In still others, an actor sat by neutrally, neither helping nor refusing to help.

The actor then offered the watching cat a treat. Previous studies had found that dogs avoided taking treats from an actor who had refused to help their owners, but cats didn't care; they took treats from anyone. According to the researchers, this may not have been cold-hearted behavior by the kitties; instead, cats may not have understood the difference between someone who helped and someone who didn't. They simply haven't been bred for hyper-cooperativity with humans, the way dogs have.

In other words, cats are plenty smart, at least at tasks that a solitary hunter needs for survival. They just don't necessarily care if you know it.

Cats might not be the most socially savvy, but there is evidence that they form bonds with their humans. A 2002 study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that cats can develop separation anxiety, often displayed by peeing or pooping somewhere they shouldn't. Cats also seemed to defer to their owners in a 2015 experiment in which they were presented with an unfamiliar object (in this case, a fan). Of these cats, 80% looked between the fan and their owners while their owners talked about the fan in either a reassuring or alarmed tone of voice. Cats who heard the alarmed tone were more likely than cats whose owners were calm to look toward the room's exit, suggesting they understood the negative emotion in their humans’' voice and were responding to it. They also interacted with their owners more, suggesting they were seeking reassurance.

Cats also seem to recognize the emotions of both other cats and humans. In a 2020 study in the journal Animals , researchers showed pet cats pictures of angry or happy human faces alongside recordings of humans laughing or growling angrily. They also showed the cats pictures of angry and contented cats alongside recordings of cats hissing and cats purring. In some cases, the pictures matched the emotional sounds; in others, they were mismatched. The researchers then measured how long the cats looked at each image while the matched or mismatched sound played.

The results showed that cats looked longer at the pictures when the emotional sounds matched. They also showed more stress when exposed to the stimuli representing both human and cat anger. This finding suggests that cats can process basic emotions, even when displayed by another species.

"These findings demonstrate that cats have developed social skills that allow them to understand human emotional signals, which is a key factor for the maintenance of interspecies relationships and for strengthening the human-cat bond," the researchers concluded.

Do cats see color? (And other feline senses)

Cats have excellent vision, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual . Their eyes are loaded with sensing cells called cones, which provide acuity in bright light. They're also equipped with a high number of rods, cells in the retina that are good at capturing dim light. This allows cats to see six times better than humans can in the dark, according to Merck. A reflective layer in the eye called the tapetum lucidum also helps collect extra light at night. This layer is what makes cats' eyes shine green if a flashlight or headlight catches their eye in the dark.

Research from 2014 suggests that cats can see ultraviolet light , blue light outside the range that humans can see. Cats likely don't see color as well as humans, though. They have two types of cones that can detect short- and long-wavelength light, according to a 2009 study , while humans have three, giving people greater sensitivity at distinguishing between colors. In 2013, an artist created comparisons of scenes from the perspectives of cats and humans , showing that cats don't see long distances as well as people do and that their world looks more desaturated. However, cats have a broader field of view than humans do: 200 degrees compared with 180 degrees for people.

Cats aren't particularly strong smellers, but their sense of hearing is very sensitive. According to a 1985 study in the journal Hearing Research , cats can hear frequencies between 55 hertz and 78 kilohertz, a broad range that is topped only by porpoises and cattle. (For comparison, the deepest sound a human can hear is 20 hertz, and the most piercing high sound is around 20 kilohertz.)

Cats still work to control rats and mice around farms, nurseries and warehouses. But most of the time, a cat’s job is to provide companionship for people.

Science suggests they do their job well. A 2016 study in the journal Pet Behaviour Science found that spending time with a cat reduced heart rate and blood pressure in both owners and volunteers who didn't own cats. A study published online in the journal Anthrozoös in 2015 found that cats reduce their owners' negative moods.

Interacting with cats activates the prefrontal cortex, the front part of the brain that is associated with complex tasks. A 2020 study in the journal PLOS One found that playing with, petting, training and feeding cats all activated a region of the prefrontal cortex linked to empathy and nonverbal communication.

The autonomy and independence of the cats seemed to be key to what makes the cat-human relationship work: Getting a normally uncooperative cat to cooperate with play or training provided a big mood jolt, the researchers found. It turns out that for cats, playing hard to get pays off.

Learn more about caring for cats and avoiding their diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . Check out the The Humane Society of the United States for useful information on how to care for cats and solve common problems. And this Library of Congress page has a fascinating description of how cats became domesticated.

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Stephanie Pappas

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz. 

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Choose Your Test

Sat / act prep online guides and tips, 113 great research paper topics.

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General Education


One of the hardest parts of writing a research paper can be just finding a good topic to write about. Fortunately we've done the hard work for you and have compiled a list of 113 interesting research paper topics. They've been organized into ten categories and cover a wide range of subjects so you can easily find the best topic for you.

In addition to the list of good research topics, we've included advice on what makes a good research paper topic and how you can use your topic to start writing a great paper.

What Makes a Good Research Paper Topic?

Not all research paper topics are created equal, and you want to make sure you choose a great topic before you start writing. Below are the three most important factors to consider to make sure you choose the best research paper topics.

#1: It's Something You're Interested In

A paper is always easier to write if you're interested in the topic, and you'll be more motivated to do in-depth research and write a paper that really covers the entire subject. Even if a certain research paper topic is getting a lot of buzz right now or other people seem interested in writing about it, don't feel tempted to make it your topic unless you genuinely have some sort of interest in it as well.

#2: There's Enough Information to Write a Paper

Even if you come up with the absolute best research paper topic and you're so excited to write about it, you won't be able to produce a good paper if there isn't enough research about the topic. This can happen for very specific or specialized topics, as well as topics that are too new to have enough research done on them at the moment. Easy research paper topics will always be topics with enough information to write a full-length paper.

Trying to write a research paper on a topic that doesn't have much research on it is incredibly hard, so before you decide on a topic, do a bit of preliminary searching and make sure you'll have all the information you need to write your paper.

#3: It Fits Your Teacher's Guidelines

Don't get so carried away looking at lists of research paper topics that you forget any requirements or restrictions your teacher may have put on research topic ideas. If you're writing a research paper on a health-related topic, deciding to write about the impact of rap on the music scene probably won't be allowed, but there may be some sort of leeway. For example, if you're really interested in current events but your teacher wants you to write a research paper on a history topic, you may be able to choose a topic that fits both categories, like exploring the relationship between the US and North Korea. No matter what, always get your research paper topic approved by your teacher first before you begin writing.

113 Good Research Paper Topics

Below are 113 good research topics to help you get you started on your paper. We've organized them into ten categories to make it easier to find the type of research paper topics you're looking for.


  • Discuss the main differences in art from the Italian Renaissance and the Northern Renaissance .
  • Analyze the impact a famous artist had on the world.
  • How is sexism portrayed in different types of media (music, film, video games, etc.)? Has the amount/type of sexism changed over the years?
  • How has the music of slaves brought over from Africa shaped modern American music?
  • How has rap music evolved in the past decade?
  • How has the portrayal of minorities in the media changed?


Current Events

  • What have been the impacts of China's one child policy?
  • How have the goals of feminists changed over the decades?
  • How has the Trump presidency changed international relations?
  • Analyze the history of the relationship between the United States and North Korea.
  • What factors contributed to the current decline in the rate of unemployment?
  • What have been the impacts of states which have increased their minimum wage?
  • How do US immigration laws compare to immigration laws of other countries?
  • How have the US's immigration laws changed in the past few years/decades?
  • How has the Black Lives Matter movement affected discussions and view about racism in the US?
  • What impact has the Affordable Care Act had on healthcare in the US?
  • What factors contributed to the UK deciding to leave the EU (Brexit)?
  • What factors contributed to China becoming an economic power?
  • Discuss the history of Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies  (some of which tokenize the S&P 500 Index on the blockchain) .
  • Do students in schools that eliminate grades do better in college and their careers?
  • Do students from wealthier backgrounds score higher on standardized tests?
  • Do students who receive free meals at school get higher grades compared to when they weren't receiving a free meal?
  • Do students who attend charter schools score higher on standardized tests than students in public schools?
  • Do students learn better in same-sex classrooms?
  • How does giving each student access to an iPad or laptop affect their studies?
  • What are the benefits and drawbacks of the Montessori Method ?
  • Do children who attend preschool do better in school later on?
  • What was the impact of the No Child Left Behind act?
  • How does the US education system compare to education systems in other countries?
  • What impact does mandatory physical education classes have on students' health?
  • Which methods are most effective at reducing bullying in schools?
  • Do homeschoolers who attend college do as well as students who attended traditional schools?
  • Does offering tenure increase or decrease quality of teaching?
  • How does college debt affect future life choices of students?
  • Should graduate students be able to form unions?


  • What are different ways to lower gun-related deaths in the US?
  • How and why have divorce rates changed over time?
  • Is affirmative action still necessary in education and/or the workplace?
  • Should physician-assisted suicide be legal?
  • How has stem cell research impacted the medical field?
  • How can human trafficking be reduced in the United States/world?
  • Should people be able to donate organs in exchange for money?
  • Which types of juvenile punishment have proven most effective at preventing future crimes?
  • Has the increase in US airport security made passengers safer?
  • Analyze the immigration policies of certain countries and how they are similar and different from one another.
  • Several states have legalized recreational marijuana. What positive and negative impacts have they experienced as a result?
  • Do tariffs increase the number of domestic jobs?
  • Which prison reforms have proven most effective?
  • Should governments be able to censor certain information on the internet?
  • Which methods/programs have been most effective at reducing teen pregnancy?
  • What are the benefits and drawbacks of the Keto diet?
  • How effective are different exercise regimes for losing weight and maintaining weight loss?
  • How do the healthcare plans of various countries differ from each other?
  • What are the most effective ways to treat depression ?
  • What are the pros and cons of genetically modified foods?
  • Which methods are most effective for improving memory?
  • What can be done to lower healthcare costs in the US?
  • What factors contributed to the current opioid crisis?
  • Analyze the history and impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic .
  • Are low-carbohydrate or low-fat diets more effective for weight loss?
  • How much exercise should the average adult be getting each week?
  • Which methods are most effective to get parents to vaccinate their children?
  • What are the pros and cons of clean needle programs?
  • How does stress affect the body?
  • Discuss the history of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
  • What were the causes and effects of the Salem Witch Trials?
  • Who was responsible for the Iran-Contra situation?
  • How has New Orleans and the government's response to natural disasters changed since Hurricane Katrina?
  • What events led to the fall of the Roman Empire?
  • What were the impacts of British rule in India ?
  • Was the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki necessary?
  • What were the successes and failures of the women's suffrage movement in the United States?
  • What were the causes of the Civil War?
  • How did Abraham Lincoln's assassination impact the country and reconstruction after the Civil War?
  • Which factors contributed to the colonies winning the American Revolution?
  • What caused Hitler's rise to power?
  • Discuss how a specific invention impacted history.
  • What led to Cleopatra's fall as ruler of Egypt?
  • How has Japan changed and evolved over the centuries?
  • What were the causes of the Rwandan genocide ?


  • Why did Martin Luther decide to split with the Catholic Church?
  • Analyze the history and impact of a well-known cult (Jonestown, Manson family, etc.)
  • How did the sexual abuse scandal impact how people view the Catholic Church?
  • How has the Catholic church's power changed over the past decades/centuries?
  • What are the causes behind the rise in atheism/ agnosticism in the United States?
  • What were the influences in Siddhartha's life resulted in him becoming the Buddha?
  • How has media portrayal of Islam/Muslims changed since September 11th?


  • How has the earth's climate changed in the past few decades?
  • How has the use and elimination of DDT affected bird populations in the US?
  • Analyze how the number and severity of natural disasters have increased in the past few decades.
  • Analyze deforestation rates in a certain area or globally over a period of time.
  • How have past oil spills changed regulations and cleanup methods?
  • How has the Flint water crisis changed water regulation safety?
  • What are the pros and cons of fracking?
  • What impact has the Paris Climate Agreement had so far?
  • What have NASA's biggest successes and failures been?
  • How can we improve access to clean water around the world?
  • Does ecotourism actually have a positive impact on the environment?
  • Should the US rely on nuclear energy more?
  • What can be done to save amphibian species currently at risk of extinction?
  • What impact has climate change had on coral reefs?
  • How are black holes created?
  • Are teens who spend more time on social media more likely to suffer anxiety and/or depression?
  • How will the loss of net neutrality affect internet users?
  • Analyze the history and progress of self-driving vehicles.
  • How has the use of drones changed surveillance and warfare methods?
  • Has social media made people more or less connected?
  • What progress has currently been made with artificial intelligence ?
  • Do smartphones increase or decrease workplace productivity?
  • What are the most effective ways to use technology in the classroom?
  • How is Google search affecting our intelligence?
  • When is the best age for a child to begin owning a smartphone?
  • Has frequent texting reduced teen literacy rates?


How to Write a Great Research Paper

Even great research paper topics won't give you a great research paper if you don't hone your topic before and during the writing process. Follow these three tips to turn good research paper topics into great papers.

#1: Figure Out Your Thesis Early

Before you start writing a single word of your paper, you first need to know what your thesis will be. Your thesis is a statement that explains what you intend to prove/show in your paper. Every sentence in your research paper will relate back to your thesis, so you don't want to start writing without it!

As some examples, if you're writing a research paper on if students learn better in same-sex classrooms, your thesis might be "Research has shown that elementary-age students in same-sex classrooms score higher on standardized tests and report feeling more comfortable in the classroom."

If you're writing a paper on the causes of the Civil War, your thesis might be "While the dispute between the North and South over slavery is the most well-known cause of the Civil War, other key causes include differences in the economies of the North and South, states' rights, and territorial expansion."

#2: Back Every Statement Up With Research

Remember, this is a research paper you're writing, so you'll need to use lots of research to make your points. Every statement you give must be backed up with research, properly cited the way your teacher requested. You're allowed to include opinions of your own, but they must also be supported by the research you give.

#3: Do Your Research Before You Begin Writing

You don't want to start writing your research paper and then learn that there isn't enough research to back up the points you're making, or, even worse, that the research contradicts the points you're trying to make!

Get most of your research on your good research topics done before you begin writing. Then use the research you've collected to create a rough outline of what your paper will cover and the key points you're going to make. This will help keep your paper clear and organized, and it'll ensure you have enough research to produce a strong paper.

What's Next?

Are you also learning about dynamic equilibrium in your science class? We break this sometimes tricky concept down so it's easy to understand in our complete guide to dynamic equilibrium .

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Want to know the fastest and easiest ways to convert between Fahrenheit and Celsius? We've got you covered! Check out our guide to the best ways to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit (or vice versa).

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Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.

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September 1, 2015

Your Cat Questions Answered

A cat expert fields a host of questions from cat owners

By Kate Wong

Are cats less domesticated than dogs? Are they becoming more domesticated over time? Cats are far more similar to their wild ancestors than dogs are to wolves, so dogs are in that sense the more domesticated of the two species. As they adapted to living alongside humans, cats became more sociable with one another and much more accepting of people, but there is no evidence that they have changed much more than that over the past few thousand years.

Will cats, which require meat, eventually evolve to eat a broader array of foods as dogs do? Cats and dogs belong to a group of mammals known as Carnivora, and the wild ancestors of both species dined primarily on meat. Recent DNA analyses indicate that over the course of their evolution, dogs have acquired more copies of the so-called amylase gene, which makes an enzyme that helps to break down starch. Having more copies of this gene has allowed dogs to eat a more omnivorous diet. In contrast, the cat family, known as Felidae, lost the genes that encode several key enzymes—including those that manufacture vitamin A, prostaglandins and the amino acid taurine—early in its evolution. Whereas dogs (and humans) can synthesize these substances from plant-based precursors, cats have to obtain them from meat. To expand their diet, cats would have to evolve physiological traits that allow them to synthesize these and other key nutrients from plant foods. This capacity has not emerged during the 10 million years of felid evolution, so it seems unlikely to arise spontaneously in our domestic cats.

Why do cats purr? Cats purr because they have something to say, which roughly translated is “please keep still and pay attention to me.” Kittens purr to persuade their mothers to keep on nursing them, and pet cats purr when they want to be stroked. The vibrations emanating from the purr certainly have a calming effect on people. Yet sick cats will also purr as a cry for help. So purring doesn't always mean “I'm happy.” Some researchers have claimed that the vibrations from purring might help heal bone damage in an injured cat.

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How do they purr? The purr is an unusual vocalization, made by rattling the vocal cords together rather than vibrating them by pushing air past them, which is how cats—and humans—generate all their other vocal sounds. That's why cats can purr when they're breathing in and breathing out. Most species of wildcats can purr, including the cheetah. The exceptions are the big cats—lion, tiger, jaguar and leopard—whose voice boxes are modified so that they can roar.

Why do house cats have so many vocalizations compared with wildcats? House cats are much noisier than feral cats, although they have fewer vocalizations than some other species. The jungle cat from Asia, for example, has a couple more that are not in the house cat's repertoire, namely the “ow” and the “gurgle.” The house cat's characteristic sound, the meow, is hardly ever heard in feral cat colonies, except occasionally when mother cats are communicating with their kittens. Feral cats diligently monitor one another's comings and goings, so they don't need to announce their presence vocally. Cats that live with humans, however, learn that meowing is a good way of getting our attention: our pet felines often find that we have our noses buried in a book or a screen, so they meow to get us to acknowledge them. Some pets develop a “private language” of meows that only their owners understand, each signifying something different that the cat needs. Also, certain breeds are notoriously chatty, the Siamese in particular.

Do cats think of their owners as parents? Siblings? Friends? By rubbing around our legs when they greet us, cats show that they regard us as friendly but at the same time slightly superior to them. When living in a family group, kittens rub on their mothers, females rub on males and smaller cats rub on bigger cats. The reverse rarely occurs—an indicator of the small imbalance of power in each of these relationships.

How can you get a cat to love you? Cats naturally feel affection for those who feed, look after and play with them, although they don't always make that obvious. Trust can be harder to win because some cats are just nervous. One trick is to always allow the cat to approach you rather than forcing yourself on the cat when you feel like it. When the cat does approach, reward it with a few treats and let it leave as soon as it wants to. You should find that it comes to you a little sooner, and stays for a little longer, each time.

Why do cats sometimes suddenly bite or scratch the person who is petting them? You have probably missed the warning signs that the cat has had enough. Some cats, even if they enjoy being petted, also tire of it very quickly. Flattened ears and a slight twitching of the tail can signal that they have had their fill. If you have such a cat, try breaking off from stroking it every few seconds and allow it to move away if it wants to.

Can cats get jealous? Research has demonstrated that dogs can get jealous, so cats probably can, too. For both species jealousy is an in-the-moment emotion they experience when they see that another individual is getting the attention they are craving: they don't remember being jealous once the moment has passed. As with dogs, cats have a limited concept of time: they can learn to distinguish between different time intervals but only when these intervals are limited to a few seconds. Thinking back into the more distant past is probably beyond their abilities.

Do cats remember different people or just the people they see on a daily basis? Scientists have not studied this specific trait directly, but cats do seem to forget other cats once they have been separated for a long time, so the same probably applies to people as well. Dogs, for whom humans are much more important, can remember people by their scent for months, probably years.

Do coat colors and patterns correspond to certain personality traits in cats? Cat owners commonly believe that coat color can predict the personality of their pet, but there's no evidence that this is universally true. Locally, a very successful male can produce a lot of kittens that both look like him and behave like him because of their shared genes, which might explain how people have come to associate coat color with personality. Among pedigree cats, the major breed types do have characteristic personalities: the so-called oriental breeds tend to be particularly active, the exotics more laid-back. Cats that are hybrids of domesticated cats and wildcats exhibit even stronger breed-specific personality traits. For example, Bengals, which are a cross between domestic cats and the Asian leopard cat, tend to be extremely adventurous and sleep for only about half the time that a typical domestic cat does.

Why do cats bring their kills to their humans? It is tempting to see these kills as presents from our feline companions, but they are not intended that way. Cats take their kills somewhere safe before they eat them. If this location happens to be in or near the kitchen, they are automatically reminded that commercial cat food is much tastier than mouse, and hence they abandon their catch then and there.

Why do they knock objects off tables and shelves? Some cats are just clumsier than others, and material possessions mean nothing to them. Others will bat items over the edge simply to get their owner's attention. Sometimes they seem to do it for their own entertainment or because they have learned that this is a game that their owner seems to enjoy.

Do indoor cats suffer from not being able to go outside? If a cat has lived indoors all its life, it probably doesn't “miss” what it has never experienced. Outdoor cats that are suddenly confined do get stressed, however. All indoor cats should be given plenty of stimulation—hunting games using preylike toys are ideal.

Why do cats sometimes suddenly decide to run around like crazy for no apparent reason? Cats can get quite frustrated if they are bored or if they are stressed, perhaps because they have just seen a rival cat through the window. Under such circumstances, the slightest movement, perhaps just a speck of dust caught in a shaft of light, can set them off. Regular play sessions can help dissipate all that energy and relieve any stress.

Why do cats love to climb into boxes, including ones that seem too small? Cats like to feel well protected, especially when they intend to sleep, and cardboard cartons can be ideal for a secure nap. Why some seem to prefer too small boxes over just right ones is a mystery, though.

Why do cats climb to heights that they are subsequently afraid to jump down from? Because cats' claws face backward, they're much more useful for running up trees than for climbing down. (The margay, a tree-dwelling South American cat, has double-jointed ankles and wrists that allow it to descend as easily as it ascends.) Inexperienced or frightened cats may go higher than they should. But they usually succeed in descending eventually because they have a reflex that enables them to fall safely, even from quite considerable heights. They stretch all four legs out sideways, so that the loose skin on their belly forms a kind of parachute. Then, a split second before reaching the ground, they push their feet downward and arch their back to minimize the shock of landing.

Why do some cats go crazy for catnip and others show no response at all? The catnip response is a bit of an enigma because it consists of seemingly random segments of play (pouncing, clutching with the claws), socializing (cheek rubbing) and female sexual behavior (rolling onto the back, for example). Many cat species have this reaction to the herb, including lion, tiger, leopard and lynx. Yet not all individuals in these species show the response because it is controlled by a single gene that only about two thirds of cats carry [see “Catnip's Magic,” above]. There is no evidence to suggest that cats that ignore catnip are deficient where play, socializing and sex are concerned, however. The catnip response may simply be an evolutionary accident.

Why do cats lick and chew plastic bags, power cords and other nonfood items? Veterinarians have noted an unhealthy taste for plastics in some cats but have never convincingly explained it. Cats may be trying to alleviate stress. Among oriental cat breeds, adults commonly suck, chew and eat fabrics, especially wool, in response to stress. Also, kittens of all kinds that are weaned too early may develop the habit of suckling on a blanket, usually purring and kneading with their front paws at the same time, as if the blanket were their mother.

Why do they chew their fur? There are two possible reasons for this behavior. One is itchy skin, possibly caused by fleas or other parasites, or an allergy. But persistent overgrooming on one spot or pulling out clumps of fur can also be signs of chronic stress, perhaps because of conflict with another cat in the house or in the neighborhood.

Why do cat feet sometimes smell like tortilla chips? A common minor fungal skin infection, similar to athlete's foot in humans, often produces this smell. Dogs may carry this fungus, too.

Why can't domestic cats go without food for long, like their big cat cousins can? They get fatty liver disease in a couple of days. All cats, big and small, can suffer from fatty liver disease, in which fat released from other parts of the body accumulates in the liver, blocking its ability to carry out key functions such as recycling red blood cells. This condition can occur as a result of cancer, diabetes or kidney disease, but it can also be triggered by the cat not eating for some reason (stress is a common cause in pet cats). It comes on much more quickly in obese cats, so it's probably less common in big cat species simply because living in the wild they're unlikely to be overweight.

Why are cats so finicky about food and their litter boxes? Why are they so sensitive to any change in routine? Cats have much more exacting nutritional requirements than dogs do, so they have to be careful about what they eat. Also, as solitary hunters, their ancestors could afford to eat in their own good time. Dogs, in contrast, are descended from pack-hunting wolves, which evolved to eat quickly so they could grab their share of the kill. Cats also prefer to hide their feces, which would otherwise betray their whereabouts to prey and predators alike, hence their reluctance to use a dirty litter box. Cats are much more sensitive than dogs are to any change in their environment because they are territorial animals that get their sense of security from the place where they live. That's why cats often try to get back to their owners' previous home in the first few weeks following a house move.

Will cats really consume their deceased owners in some situations? If they are literally dying of hunger, cats (and dogs) will eat anything available. I'm sure that they don't mean to cause offense!


Cats in Research

Infographic: Cats in Research

Cats hold a very special place in society. They are one of the most cherished companion animals in our country, with their stature rising to the level of family member in many American households. Despite their special standing, however, there were 18,270 cats used in research in 2019, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. This represents a 75% decrease since their peak in 1974. In 2019, 2.34% of Animal Welfare Act -covered species used in research, testing and teaching in the U.S. were cats.

Most cats used in research are purchased from Class A dealers, licensed breeders that sell “purpose-bred” cats specifically for research, in part because the National Institutes of Health (NIH) implemented a policy prohibiting the procurement of cats from  Class B dealers  using NIH grant funds beginning in FY2012. Purpose-bred cats are genetically selected to be docile and have an even temperament.

Once in the laboratory, cats used in research are housed in spaces according to their weight, based on recommendations in  The Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals . It is recommended that cats less than 9 pounds have a minimum floor area of three square feet per animal and cats more than nine pounds have at least four square feet per animal. The  Guide  also recommends that cage height be at least two feet and that the vertical space have perches, which may require taller cages.

Cats are highly intelligent animals, and when confined in restrictive laboratory environments, suffer from specific problems including boredom, fearfulness, aggression towards people and other cats, and self-mutilation, although researchers attempt to enrich the environment of laboratory cats.

Aside from their use for these purposes, cats have historically been used in classroom dissection exercises.  A 2014 survey of middle and high school teachers and students revealed that cats continue to be used for this purpose, with nearly 20% of teachers and 10% of students indicating that they had used cats as dissection specimens. Cats that are used as dissection specimens are obtained from animal shelters after the animals have been euthanized, and these animals are not included in the USDA statistics regarding cats used in research in this country.

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  1. Unanswered Questions and Hypotheses about Domestic Cat Behavior, Ecology, and the Cat-Human Relationship

    Much of what is now published about these topics (see [1,2,3]) stemmed from the now retired author's own former research group. A fourth review about cat cognition research pointed out what (little) is known about social cognition in cats and yielded further open questions. The purpose of this article is to entice young researchers to take up ...

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    The goal of this Research Topic is to improve our understanding of companion cats, with particular focus on their interactions with humans, and human attitudes toward these animals. The twelve manuscripts in this Research Topic on cat behaviors and the development of the human-cat bond cover a wide variety of themes. Go to:

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    Socialization and Other Factors Affecting Establishment of a New Relationship. Eileen Karsh was the first researcher to experimentally determine the sensitive phase of kittens for socialization to humans and this was supported by further data from cat colonies in Zurich and Cambridge (1-3).Kittens handled frequently by humans during their second to mid-seventh week of age become friendly and ...

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    However, the cat essay topics can be explored more systematically as part of a written assignment. Research topics about cats could ... Cats are one of the most popular pets in the world, and for good reason. They are fascinating creatures with a rich history and numerous unique traits. In this essay, we will explore some fun and interesting ...

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    Although human interactions with cats are often even typically analyzed in the context of domesticity, with a focus on what sorts of interactions might make both people and cats "happy at home," a large number of cats in the world live, for one reason or another, beyond the bounds of domesticity. Human interactions with these more or less free-living cats raise deeply controversial ...

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  18. Unanswered Questions and Hypotheses about Domestic Cat Behavior ...

    After recent publication of several reviews covering research results from the last 35 years of domestic cat studies, a number of important unanswered questions and hypotheses have arisen that could interest active researchers, especially those beginning their academic careers. Some sections of this paper concern methodologies that have yielded new insights and could provide more in the future ...

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  20. Your Cat Questions Answered

    The catnip response is a bit of an enigma because it consists of seemingly random segments of play (pouncing, clutching with the claws), socializing (cheek rubbing) and female sexual behavior ...

  21. Cats in Research

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