Washington, D.C. (December 9, 2020) — The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) today announced the results of a new study published in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing titled, “Exploratory study of cat adoption in families of children with autism: Impact on children’s social skills and anxiety,” demonstrating that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may experience increases in empathy and decreases in problem behaviors after adoption of a shelter cat into their families.
“Our study found that children with ASD experienced significant increases in the social skill of empathy, significant decreases in problem behaviors including bullying and hyperactivity/inattention, and also less separation anxiety after the introduction of a shelter cat,” said Gretchen Carlisle, PhD, MEd, RN, research scientist at the University of Missouri Research Center for Human Animal Interaction (ReCHAI). “Previous research has focused on interactions of dogs with children who have ASD, but dogs may not provide the best fit for all children and their families, especially given the hypersensitivities to sound that are common among children with ASD,” Carlisle said. “We hope the results of this study will help encourage more families to consider the possibility of cat ownership and help more shelter cats find loving, deserving homes.”
“For the first time, we have scientific research that shows how beneficial cats can be for families of children with ASD,” said Steven Feldman, President of HABRI, the primary funder of the study. “Selecting a suitable family pet is an important decision. Families with a child with ASD now have more information and more choices, and we hope that this will also help more shelter cats find good homes.”
Findings of the Feline Friends study, led by researchers at the University of Missouri, demonstrated that children with an adopted shelter cat had better empathy and less separation anxiety, as well as fewer problem behaviors exhibited by less externalizing, bullying and hyperactivity/inattention. Children and parents also felt strong bonds with their new cat almost immediately after adoption and despite the responsibilities involved in care for a cat, these bonds did not decrease over time. The researchers conclude that shelter cats may be beneficial for some children with ASD while not necessarily creating a burden for their parents.
Participating families of children were randomized into two groups. Families in one group adopted a shelter cat immediately and were followed for 18 weeks. Other families were in a control group for 18 weeks with no cat and then adopted a shelter cat and were followed for an additional 18 weeks. Surveys were collected every six weeks measuring children’s social skills and anxiety and parent/child bonds with their cat. Shelter cats available for adoption in the study were all required to pass the Feline Temperament Profile with a score of greater than or equal to 20 identifying them as having a calm temperament.
“In the families of children with ASD who adopted temperament-screened shelter cats in this study, parents and children bonded with their new cats. To our knowledge, no studies prior to this have examined the attachment to the cats of children with ASD and their caregivers after adoption. We hope other scientists will further study cat adoption in families of children with ASD, following this important exploratory study,” said Dr. Vicki Thayer, Interim Executive Director of the Winn Feline Foundation.
Citation: Carlisle, Gretchen, et al. “Exploratory Study of Cat Adoption in Families of Children with Autism: Impact on Children’s Social Skills and Anxiety.” Journal of Pediatric Nursing, vol. 58, 6 Dec. 2020, pp. 28–35., doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pedn.2020.11.011.
ReCHAI, founded in 2005, operates as a dynamic collaboration between the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing and College of Veterinary Medicine with a mission of education and conducting programs and studies about the benefits of human-animal interaction.
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, please visit http://www.habri.org.
About Winn Feline Foundation
Winn Feline Foundation is a nonprofit organization established in 1968 that supports studies to improve cat health. Since 1968, the Winn Feline Foundation has funded more than $7.6 million in health research for cats at more than 30 partner institutions worldwide. For further information, go to www.winnfelinefoundation.org.
More Press Releases
Nationwide’s Chief Pet Officer Joins HABRI Board of Trustees
The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) today announced that Heidi Sirota, Nationwide’s Chief Pet Officer, has joined the HABRI Board of Trustees. The HABRI Board of Trustees is the governing body that oversees HABRI’s programs and activities. This announcement follows the recognition earlier this year of Nationwide as a Human-Animal Bond Certified Company and reinforces Nationwide’s strong support for HABRI’s mission to advance the vital role of the human-animal bond in the health and well-being of individuals, families, communities and companion animals. “Nationwide’s support of HABRI is another way we help people and their pets experience better lives together,” said Heidi Sirota. “I am thrilled to join the HABRI Board and collaborate with other pet industry experts to advance science, educate the public and advocate for a healthier, more pet-friendly society.” “HABRI is grateful for Nationwide’s longstanding commitment to supporting scientific research on the human-animal bond,” said Steve Feldman, Executive Director of HABRI. “Stepping up as a HABRI Trustee only further underscores Nationwide’s commitment to the human-animal bond and to the health and wellbeing of pet and human lives.” 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 HABRI survey of pet owners demonstrate that knowledge of the scientific research on the human-animal bond motivates pet owners to take better care of their pets – from providing pets with better veterinary care to purchasing pet health insurance. In March 2020, Nationwide became a Human-Animal Bond Certified...
LifeLearn Animal Health Supports Human-Animal Bond Research
The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) announced today that LifeLearn Animal Health has become an official supporter of HABRI and its research on the mutually beneficial health benefits of companion animals. “LifeLearn is proud to become a HABRI supporter,” said Randy Valpy, President and CEO of LifeLearn. “The bond between people and their pets has been shown to influence the care that pet owners provide for their pets. So, supporting HABRI aligns with LifeLearn’s core commitment to advance animal health and education worldwide.” “LifeLearn is a leader in delivering innovative, trusted, and expert-vetted education resources for both veterinary teams and pet owners, which is what makes them such a good fit for a HABRI partnership,” said Steven Feldman, HABRI Executive Director. “LifeLearn can spread the word to key audiences about the strong connection between human and animal health.” HABRI research shows that when pet owners are educated about scientific research on the health benefits of pets, 92% say they are more likely to maintain their pet’s health, including keeping up with vaccines and preventative medicine. Additionally, 88% of pet owners are more likely to provide their pet with quality nutrition and 66% are less likely to skip visits to the veterinarian’s office when educated on the science behind the health benefits of pet ownership. “By creating education platforms that make it easier for people to communicate within the animal health profession, LifeLearn is making an important contribution towards strengthening bonds and improving lives on both ends of the leash,” Feldman added. About LifeLearn Animal Health Celebrating 25 years of continuing innovation and excellence, LifeLearn Inc. provides education and communications products and services to the veterinary profession, animal health organizations, and pet service businesses. LifeLearn’s award-winning competencies in digital media, combined with longstanding veterinary...
HABRI Awards Grant to Green Chimneys
The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) today announced it had awarded a $24,000 grant to Green Chimneys, a leader in animal-assisted therapy and educational programs, for a new research study, Animal-‐Assisted Social Skills Training for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). This grant to Green Chimneys advances the HABRI Foundation’s mission to better document the effects of animals on human health through scientific research,” said HABRI Executive Director Steven Feldman. “Animals can play a positive role in the lives of those with autism, and we look forward to learning more as a result of this study. Further exploring the effect of dogs on children with ASD, the purpose of this study is to develop and test an animal-assisted social skills intervention. As one of the first research projects undertaken by The Sam & Myra Ross Institute at Green Chimneys, the 12-week study will include a controlled trial with 32 Green Chimneys students ages 8-15, comparing an animal-assisted social skills group and a traditional social skills training group without an animal present. It is predicted that participants in the social skills training group that incorporates work with dogs will exhibit greater levels of change in social skills, perspective taking, theory of mind and decreased feelings of isolation when compared with those participants receiving the traditional social skills training. If significant results are found, it will further demonstrate that animal-assisted interventions are a valid approach for teaching children with ASD the skills necessary to engage with peers and will further support the role of the human-animal bond in advancing children with developmental delays. Green Chimneys’ long history of incorporating animal-assisted activities into therapeutic treatment makes it an ideal laboratory for conducting research in the area of human-animal interaction (HAI),” said Dr. Steven Klee, Green Chimneys Associate Executive...