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
New Handbook for Welcoming Pets at Nation’s Senior Centers

(Washington, D.C.) June 6, 2018 The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) and the National Council on Aging (NCOA) National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC) have teamed up develop a handbook focused on helping senior center administrators incorporate pet-friendly programming and policies into their facilities. The handbook, Older Adults and Animal Programming, provides an overview of the scientific research that demonstrates the benefits of human-animal interaction, and a path forward for senior centers looking to develop or expand animal programming. HABRI and NISC first conducted a survey of senior center administrators from across the country to gauge interest in animal programming. A large majority of senior centers surveyed allowed animals in some way, with many senior centers expressing a strong desire for more pet-friendly programs and policies. Responses were received from 113 NISC-member senior center administrators from across America. Of the 28% of respondents that had a current therapy animal program, significant positive health benefits for participants were reported: Improved social interaction 71% Improved mental health 48% Increased physical activity 35% “Scientific research demonstrates the benefits of the human-animal bond for healthy aging – from reducing blood pressure to encouraging social interaction to reducing stress and depression,” said HABRI Executive Director, Steven Feldman. “With this handbook and through our strategic partnership with NCOA and NISC, we can increase opportunities for seniors to experience the healing power of the human-animal bond.” “Only 32% of the senior centers that responded to the survey reported having pet policies in place, so we feel the handbook is a timely and important opportunity to have conversations about the added value that pet programming can provide to the lives of seniors and staff alike,” said Maureen O’Leary, Program Manager for NISC. “We’re excited to provide this excellent...

Press Releases
New Survey: 1 in 5 Pet Owners have had a Pet Recommended by a Doctor or Therapist

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) announced today key findings from its benchmark survey of U.S. pet owners. The survey found that growing importance and knowledge of the human-animal bond drive actions to improve both human and animal wellbeing. “These new results capture how pets are front-and-center in our lives, a trend accelerated by the pandemic,” said Steven Feldman, president of HABRI. “Pets are so important, especially to our mental health, that more than 1-in-5 pet owners said a doctor or therapist had recommended pet ownership.” HABRI first fielded its benchmark survey in 2016, providing a window into how attitudes, knowledge and behaviors have changed over the last five years. Important increases were noted in those reporting health benefits related to pet ownership and time spent with pets. • 76% of pet owners report that their personal health has improved as a result of owning a pet, up from 71% in 2016 (+5%) • 87% of pet owners say that they have experienced mental health improvements from pet ownership, up from 74% in 2016 (+13%) • 83% of pet owners say they spend most of or a big part or most of the day with their pets, up from 78% in 2016 (+5%) Connected to these increases, more people are aware of and talking about the human-animal bond with each other and with their medical professionals. 97% of pet owners are aware of at least one scientifically-documented health benefit of the human-animal bond 64% of pet owners have had a conversation with someone in the past year about the health benefits of pet ownership 22%, more than 1-in-5, pet owners have had a pet recommended for their health by a doctor or therapist 63% of pet owners have discussed the health benefits of the human-animal bond with their veterinarian (75% of Gen Z/Millennials), up from 56% in 2016 (+7%) Results strongly indicate that the more pet owners learn about scientific research on the benefits of the human-animal bond, the more likely they are to take...

Press Releases
PAWS Act Coalition Celebrates Increased Congressional Funding for Grant Program to Protect Victims of Domestic Violence and Their Pets

The PAWS Act Coalition, a group of non–profit and for-profit organizations, lauded the passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. For the second year in a row this Act provides funding for an important USDA grant program designed to enable more domestic violence shelters to become pet-friendly so that victims of domestic violence and their pets may seek safe shelter together. The $2.5 million appropriated for 2021 represents a $500,000 increase in funding, coming two years after bipartisan passage of the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act as part of the 2019 Farm Bill.   “This funding increase by Congress is a significant step forward in the public-private collaboration to keep domestic violence survivors and their pets together as they escape abuse and heal,” said Nina Leigh Krueger, CEO and President of Purina, and a champion for the company’s Purple Leash Project in partnership with RedRover. “Purina is proud to be part of the Coalition’s efforts to support funding for this important life-saving program, as we continue working to keep pets and people together, even in times of crisis.”  The PAWS Act Coalition would like to thank the original co-sponsors of the Pet and Women Safety Act for their leadership and commitment to its passage, especially the lead sponsors Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-MA-5), Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) and former Senator Dean Heller (R-NV). The Coalition is also particularly grateful to former Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) for spearheading the effort to pass the bill by including its language in the Farm Bill.  Domestic violence shelters across the U.S. will be eligible to apply online for grants in the coming months, and additional details about the application process will be forthcoming from the U.S. Department of Justice, which administers the grant program.     This continued funding follows the success of the FY 2020 Emergency Transitional Pet Shelter Housing and Assistance...

HABRI