Exactly what do 8 out of 10 cats prefer?

April 29, 2005

Do cats prefer Atomic Kitten to Snoop Dogg? Is Animal Hospital their equivalent of Holby City ?

Sarah Ellis, a feline expert at Queen's University Belfast, is investigating whether watching television, listening to music and smelling particular scents can improve life for cats in animal rescue shelters.

Ms Ellis, a PhD student in Queen's school of psychology, who also teaches animal behaviour classes through the university's institute of lifelong learning, aims to reduce the stress suffered by cats in shelters.

Work has already been carried out on how to improve their environment, such as redesigning cages, looking at different forms of feeding, and giving the animals toys. But Ms Ellis said "sensory enrichment" has, until now, been overlooked, even though cats can smell, see and hear much better than humans.

Their hunting instinct means that a cat's sense of movement is particularly acute. Ms Ellis, who reported on her research last weekend at the annual conference of the Northern Ireland branch of the British Psychological Society, said that while many owners say their pets enjoy particular television programmes, this has never been scientifically tested.

She has been observing cats watching snooker programmes; a commercially produced video aimed at cats - featuring birds, mice and other felines - and the film When Harry Met Sally . The last was chosen not for its storyline but for its focus on humans without animals. The cats will not hear the screams in the film's renowned diner scene as the sound has been removed from the TV sets as part of the study.

The cats are separately being played country music; a "new age" CD which claims to heal animals; and the soundtrack to the cat video, featuring a range of animal noises. Ms Ellis has not yet begun analysing the results.

However, a preliminary analysis of the introduction of scented cloths into their cages seems to show that cats play and groom themselves more when they smell catnip, and relax and explore their cage when they smell lavender. The scent of rabbit, however, does not appear to interest them.

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