Lengthy shelter stays can be tough on cats, who already face poor odds when they enter the shelter system. Efforts to reduce stress, watch for behavior changes, get long-term residents into foster homes, and improve adoption performance will pay off in terms of improved animal welfare and lives saved.
A 2011 study of Portuguese shelter cats compared the behavior of cats subjected to different lengths of stay, room density, and sex ratio in a shelter for cats living in group housing enclosures. Behaviors investigated included grooming, inactivity, eating/drinking, friendly interactions, negative encounters, and active behavior.
The study showed that cats may not only reduce their food intake but also become sedentary, and spend more of their time engaged in negative encounters as a result of lengthy periods of group housing in a shelter.
Researchers also concluded that the same behavioral traits that suggest compromised welfare may reduce the chance of an animal being adopted, because they could be perceived as unattractive by potential adopters. Additionally, the longer a cat stays in a shelter, the greater the chance she or he will be exposed to disease, or develop stress-related illness.
Gouveia K, Magalhães A, de Sousa L. The behaviour of domestic cats in a shelter: Residence
time, density and sex ratio. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 2011;130(1-2):53-59.