While researchers have found that adding a shelter cat into the family can help reduce stress and anxiety in children with autism, a new study from the University of Missouri shows that joining a family works wonders for 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 will be stressful or stressful for the shelter cats when they are adopted into a new, perhaps unpredictable, environment,” said Gretchen Carlisle, a research fellow at the MU Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) in the MU’s Faculty 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 MU research that found pets can reduce stress and anxiety in both children with autism and their parents can reduce.
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 cats were first screened 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 measure of stress that we tracked by collecting fecal samples from the cats, and we saw a significant decrease in cortisol over time,” said Carlisle. “Cats also have a tendency to lose weight from not eating when they are stressed, but we found that the cats actually gained some weight initially after adoption and then maintained their weight over time, so both Results indicated that the cats acclimatized well. “
Carlisle explained that children with autism can have sensitivity or sensory problems and occasionally problematic behaviors that are accompanied by loud, sudden outbursts. 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 is also helping animal shelters overcome the financial and administrative hurdles that can arise when cats are returned to shelters they don’t fit well into the adoptive family. ” “Said 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 other scientists will build on the work of our exploratory study so that shelter cats and families of children with autism can benefit. “
“Exploratory Study of Fecal Cortisol, Weight, and Behavior as Measures of Stress and Wellbeing in Shelters in Cats During Assimilation in Families of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder” was published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science. The study was funded by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) and the EveryCat Health Foundation. Co-authors on the study are Rebecca Johnson, Colleen Koch, Leslie A. Lyons, Ze Wang, Jessica Bibbo, and Nancy Cheak-Zamora.
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