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AVC study examines how adoption age impacts kitten behaviour

Dr. Karen Overall has collaborated with the Prince Edward Island Humane Society on a study that could inform new adoption processes for shelters and rescues.
| Atlantic Veterinary College
Rachel Cutcliffe
Kittens laying on the floor (Credit: Freepik)
A new study out of AVC will determine the effects of various rehoming ages on subsequent behaviour problems and stress levels in kittens. (Credit: Freepik)

The Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC) at the University of Prince Edward Island and the Prince Edward Island Humane Society (PEIHS) have partnered on a new study that will examine how early adoption age impacts kitten health and behaviour.

“The PEIHS sees more than 500 kittens go through our doors every year,” explains Ashley Travis, development and communications coordinator, PEIHS. “This study will help us learn more about the appropriate time to send kittens to their new forever homes to ensure they have a happy and healthy life.”

Dr. Karen Overall, professor of behavioural medicine, Department of Health Management, AVC, will be conducting a study with 60 PEIHS kittens that will explore how early familial separation before eight weeks of age contributes to kitten stress, social behaviour, exploratory behaviour, and aggression toward humans.

“Currently, there is no research that studies homeless or rescue kittens,” explains Dr. Overall. “This study, in collaboration with the PEIHS, creates an exciting opportunity for us to determine effects of various rehoming ages on subsequent behaviour problems and stress levels.”

The kittens will perform a series of behavioural tests to assess how active, curious, and outgoing they are and compare those with their age at familial separation. Additionally, the researchers will measure the effects of maternal and post-natal stress through telomere length of genes and hair cortisol levels.

“Anecdotally, we know that kittens adopted after 12 weeks old have showed decreased returns and higher client satisfaction,” says Dr. Overall. “Through this research, we hope to inform new processes for shelters and rescues that will ultimately reduce death, abandonment, and relinquishment due to behavioural issues.”

Media Contact

Rachel Cutcliffe
External Engagement Officer
Atlantic Veterinary College

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