New Research to Explore the Health Benefits of Cat Fostering for Older Adults | HABRI

New Research to Explore the Health Benefits of Cat Fostering for Older Adults

Human Animal Bond Research Institute Awards Grant to the University of Georgia

Human Animal Bond Research Institute Awards Grant to the University of Georgia

Washington, D.C. (November 6, 2017) — Funded by a two-year grant from the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), faculty from the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health, College of Veterinary Medicine, College of Family and Consumer Science and the Obesity Initiative are collaborating on a new research project to examine the impact of pet companionship on mental and emotional health in older adults living alone.

“Housing and health are essential to overall well-being, a fact known to pertain to both humans and animals”, said Heidi Ewen, assistant professor, Colleges of Public Health and Family and Consumer Sciences, University of Georgia. “We have proposed a unique solution to help older adults living alone at home establish new social bonds, by pairing them with homeless foster cats.”

Partnering with the Athens Area Humane Society and UGA’s Campus Cats organization, a rescue group that works with homeless cats on campus, the team will match foster parents and felines. The team is led by Heidi Ewen and Sherry Sanderson, a veterinarian and associate professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine. Beginning in October, the team will begin to identify older adults in the Athens Area that are willing to foster cats. The 34 pairs of cats and seniors will then be interviewed and assessed throughout the study to determine whether having a pet in the house leads to changes in their emotional well-being. Assessments include, loneliness, emotional well-being, and purpose of life scales as well as measures of attachment to, and comfort from, the foster cat. Findings are expected to demonstrate improvements in mental and behavioral health in foster parents including reduction in loneliness and depression, and that attachment to the companion animal will increase the duration of fostering or lead to adoption of the foster cat.

“As efforts around the country have increased to reduce euthanasia rates of homeless pets, there is an increasing reliance upon foster homes to bridge the time between intake and permanent adoption,” says Sanderson. “This study fulfills the needs of two populations, human and animal, that can mutually benefit each other, and is the perfect example of One Health.”

“Loneliness and social isolation are detrimental to mental health and wellbeing, especially for seniors aging in place alone,” said Steven Feldman, Executive Director of HABRI. “The results of this study will help demonstrate that the human-animal bond can facilitate healthy aging through providing companionship, a greater sense of purpose in life and emotional well-being.”

The majority of people who live alone are 75 years or older and many of them tend to spend their days inside the home. For those who are single, it can be hard for them to maintain social connections outside of their home. Ewen knows many older adults living alone may struggle to find a reason to plan meals or engage in other daily activities without another person around to share them with. “But once they have a pet in the house, they have a reason to get up and to do things, a sense of purpose. They have something to care for who depends on them,” she said. “We believe that older adults who live alone will be ideal foster parents because they can give the cat love and a lot more individualized attention, than somebody who works and has to leave the house for nine hours a day,” said Ewen.

Sanderson adds, “We’re also hoping that if we remove some of the barriers older people have for not wanting to adopt a pet that we may see enduring partnerships between the cats and their foster parents.”

“We will monitor and analyze the results of the various scales we’re using in this study to help us determine the impact the cats have on the quality of life for the seniors,” said Dr. Ewen. “Our goal is to increase feelings of purpose and raise the quality of life for our participating older adults.”

Loneliness is one threat to public health that can often be addressed in relatively simple and inexpensive ways, says Kerstin Emerson, assistant professor of gerontology in the College of Public Health’s Institute of Gerontology and team member on this study.

Emerson’s research on older adults has shown that loneliness is emerging as a serious threat to public health, with recent studies suggesting that loneliness poses a similar threat to our health as obesity and smoking.

“If we can address loneliness, we can prevent associated negative outcomes, such as disability, cognitive decline, and depression. Our intervention has the possibility of decreasing loneliness and increasing quality of life among vulnerable older adults,” said Emerson.

All the cats in the study will be spayed/neutered, screened for FeLV/FIV, vaccinated, dewormed, treated for fleas and microchipped before they go to their foster home. While the cats are in foster care the study will furnish all the supplies the foster parent needs, including food and cat litter, which is being donated by Nestlé Purina. Dr. Sanderson or a trained veterinary student will be checking on the cats monthly to see how they are doing, treat any minor health issues, and to bring food and litter. Diane Hartzell, program coordinator for UGA’s Obesity Initiative, will conduct interviews and assess results on an ongoing basis.

A preliminary case study initiated by team member Diane Hartzell — and the inspiration for the larger study and grant — has shown that a cat can bring joy and comfort into an individual’s life. Dan was overcome with grief after losing his wife of 61 years and 20-year-old cat within a two-month period. Seeing his pain, a neighbor decided to help find him a compatible friend. After working through his criteria for color, age and personality of a new cat, Dan adopted Sheldon, a six-month old foster cat from Circle of Friends Animal Society through PetSmart. The bond was instant, and Dan has said that he wasn’t sure he would have made it through the first Christmas holiday if it wasn’t for Sheldon. Sanderson adds that, “We hope we have many other success stories like Sheldon and Dan. It is a win-win for both.”

About The University of Georgia

The University of Georgia (UGA), a land-grant and sea-grant university with state-wide commitments and responsibilities, is the state’s flagship institution of higher education. It is also the state’s oldest, most comprehensive, and most diversified institution of higher education. The university was chartered in 1785 and has a current enrollment of over 35,000 students. The University of Georgia is classified as a Research I university based on its annual incoming external funding awards and the strength and diversity of its graduate degree programs. The University of Georgia is tied for 20th in U.S. News & World Report’s 2014 list of the 50 top public universities in America and was ranked #18 on the Forbes “Top 25 Public Colleges 2015.”

About HABRI

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) is a not-for-profit organization that maintains the world’s largest online library of human-animal bond research and information; funds innovative research projects to scientifically document the health benefits of companion animals; and informs the public about human-animal bond research and the beneficial role of companion animals in society. For more information about HABRI, www.habri.org.

Contact

Jamie Baxter

jamie@theimpetusagency.com

775.322.4022

###

Press Releases
Newly Published Study Shows Young Children with Pet Dogs Benefit from Greater Physical Activity and Reduced Screen Time

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) has hailed the results of a HABRI-funded study led by researchers at the Telethon Kids Institute and The University of Western Australia (UWA) that found dog ownership to be positively associated with physical activity in preschool-aged children. The study was just published in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports. “Our research found that engaging with the family dog through playing and going on family walks was positively associated with young children’s physical activity, sleep, and negatively associated with screen time,” said Telethon Kids and UWA Associate Professor Hayley Christian, who was Principal Investigator on the study. “With many young children not meeting the recommended levels of physical activity, screen time and sleep, we hope these results will help parents, children and pets be more active and healthy.” “With these new research findings, we have solid evidence that pet dogs can benefit physical health in young children,” said Steven Feldman, President of HABRI. “HABRI looks forward to sharing these results and encouraging families to spend more quality time playing with and walking their dogs.” The research team, led by Dr. Christian, analyzed data from 1,336 children aged 2-5 years in the ‘Play Spaces and Environments for Children’s Physical Activity’ (PLAYCE) study, an observational study investigating the influence of the childcare environment on young children’s physical activity. Parent-report surveys collected information about socio-demographic characteristics, family dog ownership, physical activity, outdoor play, family dog walking and play, screen time and sleep. Preschoolers wore ActiGraph accelerometers to measure physical activity. Findings indicate that dog-owning preschoolers did eight more sessions per week of unstructured physical activity than those from non-dog households. Dog-owning preschoolers who played with their dog three or more times per week...

Press Releases
Nature’s Variety Supports Human-Animal Bond Research

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) announced today that Nature’s Variety®, makers of natural, wholesome and delicious pet food has become an official supporter of HABRI and its research into the health benefits of the human-animal bond. “At Nature’s Variety, we believe in the power of pure, real nutrition to keep beloved pets healthy and happy. The human-animal bond is so central to our mission to give pets everything they need for a long and happy life with us,” said Reed Howlett, CEO of Nature’s Variety. “Supporting research into the human health benefits of pets is a perfect complement to our mission. We support better health for people and pets together.” Scientific evidence increasingly shows that pets improve heart health; alleviate depression; increase well-being; support child health and development; and contribute to healthy aging. In addition, companion animals can assist in the treatment of a broad range of conditions from post-traumatic stress to Alzheimer’s disease to autism spectrum disorder. The benefits of the human-animal bond impact more than just human health. Findings from a recent HABRI survey of 2,000 pet owners demonstrate that knowledge of the scientific research on the human-animal bond motivates pet owners to take better care of their pets. Specifically, when educated about the scientific research on the health benefits of pets, 88% of pet owners are more likely to provide their pets with high quality nutrition. “HABRI is thrilled to add Nature’s Variety as a HABRI supporter,” said Steven Feldman, Executive Director of HABRI. “By joining forces with HABRI, Nature’s Variety is demonstrating its leadership in the pet care community!” “From HABRI research, we know that healthy pets transform the lives of people through the human-animal bond – and Nature’s Variety transforms the lives of pets by empowering pet owners to provide their pets with natural nutrition,” added Howlett. “While HABRI does...

Press Releases
New Research to Study Relationship between Pet Ownership and Youth Development in a Nationally-Representative Dataset

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) announced today a new research project to determine the role of pet ownership in predicting trajectories of youth development. Funded by a grant from HABRI, researchers at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University aim to determine whether there are systematic differences between families who own pets and those without pets with regard to demographics, social environment, and health status, and if these factors predict patterns of pet ownership over time. “Existing human-animal interaction research is limited in exploring how race, ethnicity, and culture are related to pet ownership, and because the sample analyzed in this study will be nationally representative, we hope to have data on a very diverse group of youth,” said the study’s Principal Investigator, Megan Kiely Mueller, PhD, the Elizabeth Arnold Stevens Junior Professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. “This research project will capitalize on a rigorous study design, and a measurement model specifically designed for understanding how environmental experiences influence cognitive and social development and health outcomes.” The goal of the study is to leverage available data from a unique population-based longitudinal study of adolescent development, the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), by analyzing pet ownership information to answer key questions about the relationship between human-animal interaction and trajectories of youth development, including social interaction and support, academic performance, mental health and physical activity. The study includes a baseline cohort of over 11,800 youth enrolled in the ABCD study at 9-10 years of age and their parents/guardians, who will be followed for ten years. In addition to assessing youth development, the study will use the ABCD data to assess if there are systematic differences between families who own...

HABRI