Environmental Enrichment Policy – Cats


Boston University is committed to observing Federal policies and regulations and AAALAC International standards for the humane care and use of animals.1  Humane considerations and current policies  require that research animals, whenever possible, must have the opportunity to interact with conspecifics and to benefit from Environmental Enrichment (EE). This policy provides guidelines for handling and EE for cats 2.

Cats are intelligent animals and require species-specific socialization and handling techniques.  The provision of frequent and gentle handling and daily routines have a calming effect on these animals and will reward laboratory animal staff as well as investigators with a more compliant research subject.  Interaction with handlers such as grooming and play is a form of environmental enrichment.  In addition, manipulable objects and toys should be provided.


A.   To define environmental enrichment for cats, including various ways to “facilitate the expression of species-typical behavior and promoting psychological well-being through physical exercise, manipulative activities or cognitive challenges”.1

B.   To outline how exceptions to this policy should be considered by the IACUC or  veterinarians.


  1. Compatible cats will be pair- or group-housed if temperament allows.
  2. Cats may, if scientifically justified in an approved IACUC protocol, be individually housed.  Unless otherwise indicated in the approved protocol, individually housed cats will be provided housing which allows visual, auditory and olfactory contact with other cats.
  3. If a protocol exception to limit or exclude enrichment is to be included in an IACUC submission, the Principal Investigator (PI) is required to consult with veterinary staff during protocol development to discuss the special circumstances that might limit participation in the enrichment program.  The PI will need to include the requirement and scientific justification for single housing in the IACUC protocol, specify the approximate duration of single housing and/or the requested exemptions from any EE strategies included in this policy or associated SOP.  If no exemptions are approved within the protocol, then the policy and associated SOP will be followed.  Once the protocol is approved, the PI must inform BUASC of the approved exceptions to this policy.
  4. Certain medical or compatibility conditions may require that cats be individually housed or that other elements of the enrichment program be changed.  These determinations will be made by a veterinarian and documented in the animal’s record.  Veterinary exemptions to this policy do not require IACUC approval.
  5. Singly housed cats are presumed to need more environmental enrichment than pair- or group-housed cats and may be provided with extra cage enhancements unless an exception to limit or exclude EE is justified in the IACUC approved protocol for scientific reasons.  Singly housed cats will be observed daily and will have their well-being evaluated at least monthly by a veterinarian or adequately trained veterinary staff.  The assessment and recommendations for continued single housing will be reviewed and approved by the Attending Veterinarian or designee.


 A.   Group activities for compatible cats must be scheduled regularly
The best way to provide EE for cats is to allow them time out of their cages with access to EE as described below.  Regularly scheduled free time (group activities) on the floor of the animal room allows cats to exercise, to manipulate objects, and to socialize. Cats should not be released for group activities and to interact with other cats during the quarantine period, if applicable.  Novelty of enrichment through rotation or replacement of items should be a consideration.  The following are examples of acceptable EE:

1.   Scratching poles or boards.  These should be provided to allow scratching and stretching.

2.   Perches. These should be provided in the animal room and may consist of free-standing high perch posts, shelves installed on the walls, or other devices.

3.   Toys. These should be replaced when worn or broken.

4.   Brushing the cat is usually a pleasurable activity for the animal and should be done regularly to accustom the cat to the handler.  This is also a good time to perform a routine physical examination.


 1.   The Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. 2011.  NRC ILAR.  P. 52-55.  Environmental Enrichment.

2.   ILAR Journal 2005 Volume 46(2)  Enrichment Strategies for Laboratory Animals

2.1 Thomas L. Wolfle.  Introduction.  Environmental Enrichment.

2.2 Enrichment Strategies for Laboratory Animals from the Viewpoint of Clinical Veterinary Behavioral Medicine: Emphasis on Cats and Dogs
Karen L. Overall and Donna Dyer

2.3 Ditto. P. 205.  Table 1.  Enrichment recommendations for cats.

 BU IACUC Approved January 2014