FRIDAY, September 10, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Parents of a child with autism may wonder if a domestic cat is a good fit for the family. Research now suggests that both children with autism and cats benefit from having a cat join the household.
Gretchen Carlisle, a researcher at the Missouri University Human-Animal Interaction Research Center in Columbia, Missouri, and her colleagues studied pet dynamics from both sides.
“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 Carlisle in a university press release.
“In our study, we found that the cats got used to their new families well and became significantly less stressed over time,” she said.
Carlisle’s team monitored animal shelter cats after they were adopted by families with at least one autistic child. The cats were profiled to identify those with a calm temperament. The researchers made house calls to check the cats two to three days after adoption and every six weeks for 18 weeks.
To test cat stress, Carlisle’s group looked for the stress hormone cortisol in cats’ feces and found that it decreased over time, she said.
“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 retained their weight over time. Both results showed that the cats acclimatized well. ” said Carlisle.
Children on the autism spectrum may have sensitivity or sensory problems and occasional problem behaviors that are accompanied by loud, sudden outbursts, Carlisle said. Because of these concerns, screening cats for calm, carefree temperaments can increase the chances of a better match.
This research can help shelter workers overcome the financial and administrative hurdles that can arise when cats are returned to shelters when they are not a good fit with the adopted family, she noted.
“Of course, shelters want to house all of their cats, but some families may need a more specific fit,” Carlisle said. “We hope that other scientists build on the work of our exploratory study so that shelter cats and families of children with autism can benefit . “
The report was published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science on September 6th.
To learn more about autism, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCE: Missouri University College of Veterinary Medicine, news release, September 8, 2021