Preventing URI in Cats through Stress Management: Practical Strategies

Room: St Laurent 6

Simultaneous English-to-French interpretation available for this session.


Dr. Jacklyn Ellis, Manager, Feline Behaviour, Rehabilitation, and Enrichment Programs, Toronto Humane Society
Dr. Stephanie Black, Veterinarian, Ontario Shelter Medicine Association

URI is largely unavoidable in animal shelters due to the continuous intake of potentially infected cats and the close quarters in which the cats are kept. Vaccination and treatment are vital tools in managing URI in a shelter environment, but careful consideration of enclosure design and environmental enrichment should not be undervalued. Stress impacts the immune system’s ability to function, making the organism more susceptible to infection. Enclosure design and enrichment can reduce stress significantly, thereby reducing an individual’s susceptibility to illness. This talk will review the evidence that careful environmental management can impact stress in shelter cats generally, and the incidence of URI specifically. Finally, practical methods for stress reduction will be presented, including portalized housing, managing movement, enrichment techniques, pharmacological assistance, low-stress handling, and alternative housing.


  1. A preventative approach to managing URI in shelter is preferable to treatment
  2. Review of the research showing the link between environmental management and the reduction of both stress and URI
  3. Practical methods for reducing stress and URI in shelter cats

Dr.Jacklyn Ellis identified as a crazy cat lady from a very young age. Unaware of the opportunities for working with cats outside of becoming a veterinarian, she shifted her focus to primates. After completing her undergraduate degree in Anthropology at McMaster University, she earned her Master’s of Research in Primatology at Roehampton University in London, UK, where she investigated the behavioural and physiological correlates of stress for the wild male olive baboons, in Gashaka-Gumti National Park, Nigeria. She was then delighted by the opportunity to return to the species that ignited her interest in working with animals when she was offered PhD position studying methods for reducing stress in shelter cats at the Atlantic Veterinary College, University of Prince Edward Island. After graduating, she served for 4 years as a Behaviour Scientist at Nestlé Purina’s Product Technology Center in Missouri before starting in her current role as the Manager of Feline Behaviour, Enrichment and Rehabilitation at the Toronto Humane Society. She has published widely and presented at many national and international conferences, particularly on feline stress and elimination behaviours.

Stephanie Black graduated from the Ontario Veterinary College in 2007. Since then, she has worked in private practice as a general practitioner, emergency veterinarian and now as a shelter veterinarian. She has worked with many shelters across Ontario including the OSPCA, Toronto Humane Society, North Bay Humane Society, Humane Society of Durham Region and now Toronto Animal Services. She completed a Masters of Veterinary Science with a focus in Shelter Medicine as well as a Graduate Certificate in Veterinary Forensics from the University of Florida. As well as currently working at Toronto Animal Services she is also teaching in the Veterinary Assisting Program at Seneca College.