Cats who are friends with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) enjoy just as much of the relationship as their human companions.
This emerges from a newly conducted study funded by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) and the EveryCat Health Foundation. The research, led by a team from the University of Missouri (MU), built on previously published results examining the emotional, behavioral, and social benefits of shelter cats for families of children with ASD. The new study focused on the feline experience with these adoptions.
“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 and perhaps unpredictable environment,” says Gretchen Carlisle, PhD, MEd, RN, research fellow at the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) at the University of Missouri. “In our study, we found that the cats got used to their new families well and became significantly less stressed over time.”
The study worked with shelter cats that were found to have a relaxed disposition according to the Feline Temperament Profile. The cats were monitored for 18 weeks after adoption by a family with at least one child with ASD.
The researchers made house calls to check the cats two to three days after they were housed to see how the animals had adjusted to their newly adopted families, then every six weeks for 18 weeks.
“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 Dr. 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 kept their weight over time, so both Results indicated that the cats acclimatized well. “
Children with ASD can have sensitivity or sensory problems, as well as occasional behaviors that are accompanied by loud, sudden outbursts, Carlisle says. Because of this, shelter cats that have been tested to have a calm temper may increase the likelihood of a better long-term match 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, “she says.” Of course, the shelters want to house all of their cats, but some families may need a more specific fit.
“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,” added Carlisle.
The study, entitled “Exploratory Study of Fecal Cortisol, Weight, and Behavior as Measures of Stress and Wellbeing in Sheltered Cats During Assimilation in Families of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder,” was published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science.