Free-roaming cats are exposed to a variety of risks, including involvement in road traffic accidents. One way of mitigating these risks is to contain cats, for example using an electronic boundary fence system that delivers an electric 'correction' via a collar if a cat ignores a warning cue and attempts to cross the boundary. However, concerns have been expressed over the welfare impact of such systems. Our aim was to determine if long-term exposure to an electronic containment system was associated with reduced cat welfare. We compared 46 owned domestic cats: 23 cats that had been contained by an electronic containment system for more than 12 months (AF group); and 23 cats with no containment system that were able to roam more widely (C group). We assessed the cats' behavioural responses and welfare via four behavioural tests (unfamiliar person test; novel object test; sudden noise test; cognitive bias test) and an owner questionnaire. In the unfamiliar person test, C group lip-licked more than the AF group, whilst the AF group looked at, explored and interacted more with the unfamiliar person than C group. In the novel object test, the AF group looked at and explored the object more than C group. No significant differences were found between AF and C groups for the sudden noise or cognitive bias tests. Regarding the questionnaire, C group owners thought their cats showed more irritable behaviour and AF owners thought that their cats toileted inappropriately more often than C owners. Overall, AF cats were less neophobic than C cats and there was no evidence of significant differences between the populations in general affective state. These findings indicate that an electronic boundary fence with clear pre-warning cues does not impair the long term quality of life of cats.
Kasbaoui, N., Cooper, J., Mills, D. S., & Burman, O. (2016). Effects of long-term exposure to an electronic containment system on the behaviour and welfare of domestic cats. PLoS ONE, 11(9). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0162073