New Research Shows Cats Help Children with Autism | HABRI

New Research Shows Cats Help Children with Autism

Human Animal Bond Research Institute Lauds First-of-its-kind Scientific Study on Shelter Cats and Improved Social Skills for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

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.

About ReCHAI

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.

About HABRI

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.

Contact

Jamie Baxter

jamie@theimpetusagency.com

775.322.4022

###

Press Releases
New Research to Study Effects of Service Dogs on Post 9-11 War Veterans with PTSD

The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation today announced it has awarded a $42,000 grant to Purdue University to lead a first-of-its-kind, controlled scientific study to measure the effects of service dogs on post 9-11 war veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and/or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Participants in the K9s For Warriors program, a nonprofit organization pairing war veterans with service dogs, will take part in the study. “While numerous studies have confirmed that companion animals help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has cited a lack of specific scientific evidence on the effectiveness of service animals for war veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI,” said HABRI Executive Director Steven Feldman. “We are committed to addressing this gap in peer-reviewed science so that every veteran who needs a service animal can get one.” PTSD is a prevalent and debilitating disorder that, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, affects nearly 20 percent of post 9-11 war veterans. Typically triggered by intense events and situations, symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts. To explore the effect of service dogs on war veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI, the Purdue-led study will monitor the health and wellness of the K9s For Warriors participants including medical, physiological, and self-perception indicators. It is hypothesized that the veterans who have service dogs will demonstrate better health and wellness compared to those receiving other treatment services while on the waitlist for a service dog. “While there are existing PTSD treatments available for veterans, a number of them have limited effectiveness and high drop-out rates,” said Marguerite O’Haire, PhD, Purdue University. “This controlled research study will document the impact of service dogs on veterans, which may provide an effective addition...

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

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...

Press Releases
Easing Restrictions on Pets in Rental Housing Could Help 8.75 Million Pets Find Homes Over Time

Non-profit organizations Michelson Found Animals Foundation and the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) today announced the launch of the Pet-Inclusive Housing Initiative, a research and resource development initiative that promotes access to the joy of pets in every home. As part of the initial phase, the organizations today released the results of the most comprehensive survey research to-date on pets and rental housing in the United States. The research shows that, while the majority of rental housing allows pets, significant restrictions present hurdles for pet-owning renters. The research also shows that there are major opportunities for property owners and operators who can ease such restrictions. “Michelson Found Animals and HABRI had a clear goal with this research: to provide actionable insights that can help make it easier for renters to have pets in their lives,” said Aimee Gilbreath, executive director, Michelson Found Animals. “More pet-inclusive rentals could lead to millions more adoptions for renters who want pets.” Steven Feldman, HABRI executive director, added: “The health and wellness benefits of pet ownership are well documented. Both renters and property managers understand how great pets are, and when restrictions are lifted, everyone can enjoy the full benefits of the human-animal bond.” One third of pet owners in restricted pet-friendly housing said they would get another pet if restrictions were lifted, and 35% of non-pet-owners in non-pet-friendly housing would get a pet if restrictions were lifted. With changes that would allow more pets to be accommodated, as many as 8.75 million animals could find new homes over time.   24% of renters with pets said that “my pet has been a reason for me needing to move,” which means as many as 6 million people have experienced a move related to pet ownership at some point in their lives. 83% of property managers say that pet-friendly vacancies can be filled faster. 79%...

HABRI