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While researchers have found that adding a shelter cat to the family can help reduce stress and anxiety in children with autism, a new study shows that joining a family works wonders for the cats, too.
“It is important to examine not only how families of children with autism can benefit from these wonderful pets, but also whether the relationship is stressful or stressful for the shelter cats adopted into a new, perhaps unpredictable, environment,” says Gretchen Carlisle, a research fellow at the University of Missouri Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) at the College of Veterinary Medicine.
“In our study, we found that the cats got used to their new families well and became significantly less stressed over time.”
The findings, published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science, highlight the mutual benefits of human-animal interaction and build on previous research that showed pets reduce stress and anxiety in both children with autism and their parents can.
Carlisle and her team monitored shelter cats for 18 weeks after they were adopted by families in Missouri with at least one child with autism. The researchers first examined the cats using the Feline Temperament Profile to identify shelter cats with calm and relaxed temperaments.
After the families selected a cat that passed the screening, the researchers made house calls 2-3 days after adoption, and then every six weeks for 18 weeks, to check the cats to see how they were getting on with their new ones adopted families.
“Cortisol is a stress measurement that we tracked by collecting fecal samples from cats, and we saw a significant decrease in cortisol over time,” says Carlisle. “Cats also have a tendency to lose weight from not eating when stressed, but we found that the cats actually gained some weight initially after adoption and then retained their weight over time. Both results showed that the cats acclimatized well. “
Children with autism can have sensitivity or sensory problems and occasionally problematic behaviors that are accompanied by loud, sudden outbursts, Carlisle says. Because of these concerns, shelter cats that have been tested for calm, carefree temperaments may increase the likelihood of better long-term matching for both the children and the cat.
“Caring for the welfare of cats is vital from a humanitarian standpoint, and this research also helps shelter staff overcome the financial and administrative hurdles that can arise when cats are returned to shelters when they are not go well with the adopted family, ”says Carlisle.
“Of course, shelters want to house all of their cats, but some families may need a more specific fit, and using research-based, objective measurements to screen for temperament can help increase the likelihood of successful, long-term matches. We hope that other scientists will build on the work of our exploratory study so that shelter cats and families of children with autism can benefit. ”
The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) and the EveryCat Health Foundation funded the work.
Source: University of Missouri