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Spay and neuter services can reduce the number of feral and free-roaming cats, but the invasive procedures are expensive and require a high level of veterinary training. Researchers have considered an injectable contraceptive vaccine—GonaCon—that has been shown to be effective in several mammals, including deer, horses, and laboratory-raised cats. But field-testing such a product is complicated. That's why a group of University of Illinois researchers created a unique study environment designed to bridge the gap between the lab and the real world. In short, it's a cat wonderland in which resident cats help to advance science.
"Many facilities have come a long way in making research conditions more humane for the animals, but they still involve small enclosures without a lot of enrichment," says Amy Fischer of the Department of Animal Sciences at U of I and lead investigator of the study published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. "We wanted to make our cats' environment much more stimulating."
Pole - Barn - House - Cats - Study
A pole barn was built to house the 35 cats in the study. In a unique approach, the facility was dual-licensed as a USDA research facility and an Illinois Department of Agriculture animal shelter.
With a giant climbing tree in the middle, the completely open structure had two levels, furniture, toys, scented objects, myriad hidey-holes, and a quarter-acre outdoor enclosure. Enrichment also included interaction with student volunteers, who played with and trained the cats to feel more comfortable with veterinary exams and procedures.
Cats - Room - Ultrasounds - Fischer - Conditioning
"The cats got pretty used to going to the exam room; they'd just lay back for ultrasounds," Fischer says. "That conditioning for cats, going through medical procedures and getting accustomed to cat carriers and wearing harnesses, really helped when we adopted them out at the end."
Female cats were allowed to intermingle and breed with the five males as they would...
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