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.
The Feline Friends Study was funded by HABRI and the Winn Feline Foundation. Read the full paper in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pedn.2020.11.011
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
Phillips Pet Food & Supplies Supports Human-Animal Bond Research
The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation announced today that Phillips Pet Food & Supplies has joined the organization’s Steering Committee and made a $25,000 contribution to support research on the human health benefits of companion animals. “Phillips Pet Food & Supplies is proud to support the HABRI Foundation and its mission to study the healing power of pets,” said Blaine Phillips, CEO of Phillips Pet Food & Supplies. “We represent more than 375 vendors and 700 brands of quality pet products across the nation, and understand that the better we take care of our pets, the better they will take care of us.” “Phillips Pet Food & Supply is a leader in keeping pets happy and healthy,” said Steven Feldman, Executive Director of HABRI. “By supporting HABRI, Phillips is demonstrating its dedication to the incredible bond pets share with their owners.” HABRI has assembled a growing body of scientific evidence that pets improve heart health; alleviate depression; increase wellbeing; 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. “Phillips Pet Food & Supplies customers, the independent retailers, play a major role in strengthening the human-animal bond,” Phillips added. “We’re going to work together to develop and share even more information about how pets make people, families and communities happier and healthier.”
PAWS Act Coalition Hails Passage of Appropriations Bill as Key Milestone in Protecting Victims of Domestic Violence and their Pets
The PAWS Act Coalition, a group of nonprofit and for-profit organizations, lauded the passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020, which, for the first time, will provide $2 million in USDA grants to enable more domestic violence shelters to become pet-friendly so that victims of domestic violence and their pets may shelter and heal together. The grants come one year after the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act was authorized as part of the 2019 Farm Bill, which received bipartisan support in its passage. “These new grants will help expand the network of domestic violence shelters which allow pets to accompany their families seeking safe shelter,” said Nina Leigh Krueger, president of Purina. “This is an important milestone in the coalition’s collective efforts to create safer communities for pets and pet owners, and Purina will remain steadfast in our commitment to protecting the bond between domestic abuse survivors and their pets by ensuring they can safely heal together.” 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 for Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) for spearheading the effort to pass the bill by including its language in the Farm Bill. “No one should have to make the choice between finding safety and staying in a violent situation to protect their pet,” said Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-MA-5). “This law and the newly appropriated federal dollars will empower survivors with the resources to leave a dangerous situation while being able to continue to care for their pet. I’m grateful for the partnerships we’ve formed between organizations working to end both domestic violence and animal abuse. Together, we will help save lives.” The USDA will now be able...
Dave’s Pet Food Supports HABRI
The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) announced today that Dave’s Pet Food, a leader in high-quality and affordable nutritious food for dogs and cats, has become an official supporter of HABRI and its research on the human health benefits of companion animals. “In addition to our mission at Dave’s Pet Food to provide pet owners with the food they need to keep their pets health and happy, we’re proud to be supporting HABRI’s efforts to fund scientific research on the health benefits of pets,” said Dave Ratner, Founder of Dave’s Pet Food. “The need to provide pets with healthy, high-quality food is an essential part of strengthening the human-animal bond.” “Supporting HABRI helps to raise awareness of the health benefits of the human-animal bond, which we know motivates pet owners to take better care of their pets,” said Steven Feldman, Executive Director of HABRI. “HABRI is grateful for the support from Dave and Dave’s Pet Food and looks forward to working together to help pet owners take the best possible care of their pets.” Increasingly, scientific evidence reports that pets can boost heart health, alleviate depression, improve well-being, support child health and development, and contribute to healthy aging. Additionally, 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. HABRI survey research demonstrates that understanding the scientific research behind the human-animal bond motivates pet owners to take better care of their pets, including providing pets with high-quality nutrition and maintaining their veterinary health. About Dave’s Pet Food Dave’s Pet Food combines nutritious, yummy, high-quality pet food for owners looking for healthy options for their cats and dogs—at an affordable price. Dave’s formulas were developed to be wholesome...