Proof the Internet helps Cat Adoptions

And that toys are important in photographs of adoptable cats.

The internet helps cat adoptions - and here's the proof.
Photo: Piyato/Shutterstock

By Zazie Todd, PhD

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We all assume that internet photos and adverts play an important role in pet adoption these days, and now it’s possible to put a figure on it, at least for cats. 82.5% of people who adopted a cat from a shelter in Western New York said Petfinder strongly or moderately influenced their adoption.

The length of time cats waited for adoption varied from 1 to 126 days. Cats whose Petfinder profiles were clicked more than once a day were typically adopted in 9 days, but cats with less than one click per day typically waited 23 days for a new home.

The study, by Miranda Workman and Christy Hoffman (Canisius College), also looked at preferred features of adoptable cats. Coat colour made a big difference, with cream cats getting adopted in less than ten days, but black or smoke-coloured cats waited 22 days on average. Not surprisingly, younger cats were adopted faster. Male cats were adopted slightly faster than females (19 compared to 22 days).

The researchers took these features of the cats into account, and then looked to see if there was anything about the photographs that made a difference. 

The results will surprise many people, because most factors made no difference, including whether the photo showed all of the cat or just the head, was from the side or front, the cat’s ear position, even whether or not the cat was looking at the camera.

The thing that did make a difference was whether there was a toy in the photo. These photos were clicked more often, whether or not the cat was interacting with the toy.

The scientists say, 
“Shelters may benefit from including toys in photographs of cats who may otherwise be overlooked, while refraining from including toys in photographs of cats of a popular age or colour. For instance, placing a toy in a photograph of an older cat or a solid-black cat may be useful for drawing attention to that cat’s Petfinder profile.”
The study looked at all the cats whose Petfinder profile had at least one click during the study period, and who were available for adoption for at least one full day during this time. This was a total of 892 cats, out of the 3,835 the shelter adopted out that year. 248 people who had adopted cats in the study answered the survey.

This research shows how influential the internet profiles of adoptable pets are. A larger study of adoptable dogs in the UK (Siettou et al 2014) showed the importance of highlighting positive features of the animal (such asfriendliness) in the dog's profile

The quality of photographs has also been shown to make a difference for dogs (Lampe and Witte 2014). 

Although more research is needed on what leads people to adopt shelter animals, it seems that paying attention to both photographs and text in an animal’s internet profile will pay off for shelters.

Have you used the internet to find and adopt a pet?

If you liked this post, check out my book Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy. Dr. Sarah Ellis says, "Purr is definitely a book your cat would want you to read!"

Zazie Todd, PhD, is the award-winning author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy and Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy. She is the creator of the popular blog, Companion Animal Psychology, writes The Pawsitive Post premium newsletter, and also has a column at Psychology Today. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband, one dog, and two cats. 

Useful links:

Lampe, R., & Witte, T. (2014). Speed of Dog Adoption: Impact of Online Photo Traits Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 1-12 DOI: 10.1080/10888705.2014.982796  
Siettou, C., Fraser, I., & Fraser, R. (2014). Investigating Some of the Factors That Influence “Consumer” Choice When Adopting a Shelter Dog in the United Kingdom Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 17 (2), 136-147 DOI: 10.1080/10888705.2014.883924  
Workman, M., & Hoffman, C. (2015). An Evaluation of the Role the Internet Site Petfinder Plays in Cat Adoptions Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 1-10 DOI: 10.1080/10888705.2015.1043366

You might also like: 
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Great Photos are Important to Dog Adoption 
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