Feeline Better? – Application of the Five Freedoms Model for Cats
World Small Animal Veterinary Association Congress Proceedings, 2019
J. Berger
SF SPCA, Rescue and Welfare, Vacaville, CA, USA

Objective Statement

The goal of this presentation is to discuss the challenges in trying to balance the Five Freedoms for cats and provide solutions to address those challenges. We will learn in this presentation that all Five Freedoms are tightly interconnected and we cannot afford to ignore some of them when we are caring for animals in any environment. This comes with challenging decisions on what to prioritize for any given animal at any given time. It is important to be able to adequately triage the cat’s needs. Enrichment is a critical component to happier and less stressed cats.


At the San Francisco SPCA we use the Five Freedoms Model to define our standards for care.

The Five Freedoms Model is the basis of international animal welfare standards. Over 50 years ago, British animal welfare researcher Ruth Harrison wrote a book called “Animal Machines,” which described intensive livestock and poultry farming practices. By 1979, the Five Freedoms were developed to evaluate the physical and mental wellbeing of animals. Today, animal welfare is considered science and since 2014 the AVMA recognizes the field of Welfare a specialty in the veterinary field.

Balancing all five freedoms can pose a challenge, not only in shelter but also in many homes. Many caregivers are doing a good job of addressing the first 3 freedoms; however, the last two are often neglected. Because all 5 freedoms are tightly interconnected, we cannot afford to ignore some of them. This may pose a challenging question on what to prioritize for any given animal at any given time. It is important to be able to adequately triage the needs for animals on a regular basis. We all strive to give our animals the best life possible. It is just as important to create an environment that is fear and stress free, as it is to allow animals to be comfortable and perform normal behaviors. Stress on a daily basis places cats at higher risk for diseases, as well as behavioral problems.

Implementing the Five Freedoms Model

Multiple studies involving various species show the benefit of enriched environmental conditions, from increased learning capacity to improved immune responses. Enrichment includes a nutritionally well-balanced diet, controlled climate and good hygienic conditions, and catering to the animals’ physical needs. Unfortunately, most natural behaviors are restricted within confined housing conditions. The operational definition of enrichment suggested by Leach et al. (2000) is based on previous discussions by Broom and Johnson (1993). According to this definition, in order to count as ‘environmental enrichment’ any change to the housing system should increase the frequency and diversity of positive natural behaviors, decrease the occurrence of abnormal behavior, maximize the utilization of the environment and increase the animal’s ability to cope with the challenges of captivity.

Restriction itself may act as a stressor by not allowing an animal to perform normal behavior patterns. The restrictive conditions in any environment limit the animals’ potential for controlling their physical and social environment.

Enrichment Ideas: There are solutions for all budgets! Enrichment can come in the form of recycled boxes, trays from cat food cans, or automated toys.

Delivery: Define when, how, who, what and to whom enrichment should be delivered.

Food Puzzle: Freeze dried or boiled chicken, Chicken baby food (just chicken nothing added).

Normal Diet

DIY: Wrap food in a scrap of cloth or place in a paper bag, Place kibble in egg carton or ice cube tray, Toilet Paper Tube and Cat Food Tray, Place kibble in Toilet paper roll and fold the ends closed, Kibble in Muffin tin and put tennis balls on top.

Scent Enrichment: Place in paper bag or fabric sachet, Spray on hard, sanitizable toy, Spray on towel or paper towel, Never spray on animal.

Animal scents, Cinnamon, Pumpkin spice, Ginger, Lavender, Chamomile tea bag, cat nip.

Environment and Visual Enrichment:

Bring a place mat, yoga mat, or towel with a different texture for your foster animal to explore.

Bring a mirror for the animal to “have company” (cave: territorial behaviors).

Plug in a nightlight.

Hold up a Christmas ornament.

Play YouTube videos of birds, fish, squirrels, etc.

Auditory Enrichment: **Do not play for longer than 2 hours at a time**

Bird Calls App: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/bird- calls-bird-sounds-bird/id586869673?mt=8

Meditation App: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/relax-melodies-oriental-meditation/id448207365

Audio books and CD: Through the Cat’s Ear, Radio Stations preferred include classical, soft rock, reggae.

Example of enrichment rotation schedule for cats


Item 1 – AM application

Item 2 – PM application


Food puzzle

App sounds


Through a Cat's Ear or other music

Gentle handling


Toilet paper food puzzle

Scent enrichment


Visual enrichment

Egg carton food puzzle


Reading out loud or audio book

Scent enrichment


Visual enrichment

Food enrichment


Egg carton food puzzle

Mock Vet handling


Tricks and commands

Scent enrichment


Mock Vet handling

Tricks and commands


Visual enrichment



App sounds

Scent enrichment


Radio station

Food puzzle


Food puzzle

Environment enrichment


Scent enrichment

App sounds ( Birds)


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3.  Ellis SL, Wells DL. (2010). The influence of olfactory stimulation on the behaviour of cats housed in a rescue shelter. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 2010;123(1–2):56–62. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2009.12.011

4.  McCobb EC, Patronek GJ, Marder A, Dinnage JD, Stone MS. Assessment of stress levels among cats in four animal shelters. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2005;226(4):548–555. doi:10.2460/javma.2005.226.548

5.  Moore AM, Bain MJ. Evaluation of the addition of in-cage hiding structures and toys and timing of administration of behavioral assessments with newly relinquished shelter cats. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research. 2013;8(6):450–457. doi:10.1016/j.jveb.2011.10.003

6.  Myatt A. An olfactory enrichment study at the Ashland cat shelter. (Electronic Thesis or Dissertation). 2014. Retrieved from https://etd.ohiolink.edu/


Speaker Information
(click the speaker's name to view other papers and abstracts submitted by this speaker)

J. Berger
SF SPCA, Rescue and Welfare
San Francisco & Vacaville, CA, USA

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