Weaning cats early ‘increases risk of aggression’ – research

A study has shown the age of weaning in cats has a direct impact on the animal’s later behaviour and that early weaning increases aggression and stereotypic behaviour1.

The work – generated from a multi-choice online questionnaire involving the Finnish owners of 5,726 home-living domestic cats made up of 40 different breeds – was carried out by scientists from the University of Helsinki.

Based on the study, researchers concluded the Finnish recommended weaning age of 12 weeks should be extended by at least 2 weeks. The authors state delaying weaning is an easy and cost-efficient way of improving the quality of cats’ lives. It is suggested adopting such a policy could have a global impact on cats and their owners.

The authors stated: “The results show weaning before eight weeks of age increases the risk for aggression, but not fearful behaviour. Moreover, cats weaned after 14 weeks of age have a lower probability for aggression towards strangers than early weaned cats, and a lower probability for stereotypic behaviour (excessive grooming) than cats weaned at 12 weeks.

“The effect of weaning age on stereotypic behaviour is partially explained by the effects on aggression. These findings indicate early weaning has a detrimental effect on behaviour, and suggest delayed weaning as a simple and inexpensive approach to significantly improve the welfare of millions of domestic cats.”

Two more weeks

As reported in Science Daily, author Hannes Lohi, of the University of Helsinki, said: “We found an easy way to improve cat welfare: we propose the recommended age of weaning be increased by two weeks.

“The number of cats in the world is immense and behavioural problems are very common. This could have a significant positive impact on the well-being of cats and their owners on a global scale.”

The multiple-choice online questionnaire was designed to collect extensive information on the health, living conditions and behaviour of Finnish domestic cats. Owners defined their cat’s activity level, tendency to seek human contact (later labelled as “contact with people“), aggressiveness towards family members, strangers, and other cats – as well as shyness towards strangers and novel stimuli, ranging from “not at all“ to “very much“ on a five-point Likert-type scale.

References

1. Ahola MK, Katariina Vapalahti K and Lohi H (2017). Early weaning increases aggression and stereotypic behaviour in cats, Scientific Reports 7(1). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-11173-5.

  • For the full story, see the 2 October issue of Veterinary Times.