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New study finds reduced loneliness in older adults living with fostered cats

News
Article

The study conducted at the University of Georgia links improvements in older adults’ mental health and fostering shelter cats

Pixel-Shot/stock.adobe.com

Pixel-Shot/stock.adobe.com

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) shared the results of a study it funded that looked into how fostering shelter cats can contribute to improving mental health and decreasing loneliness in older adults who are living alone. The study was conducted at the University of Georgia by researchers from both the University of Georgia and Brenau University and has since been published in the Journals of Gerontology Series B.

“The ill-effects of loneliness and social isolation, particularly for older adults, are well-documented, and more strategies are needed to improve health outcomes for this population,” said Don Scott, MD, MHS, campus director of geriatrics and palliative care and associate professor of medicine at August University-University of Georgia Medical Partnership, and co-investigator on this research project, in an organizational release.1 “This project shows that fostering cats can make a measurable difference in the lives of older adults living alone.”

According to the release,1 Sherry Sanderson, DVM, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Science at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, led the project to explore the impact these felines have on the wellbeing of older adults who are living independently. The study also explored whether these animals would express interest in adopting their foster cat if certain barriers were removed, such as access to veterinary care.

“Our results show that by removing some perceived barriers to pet ownership, including pet deposit fees, pet adoption fees, pet care supplies, and veterinary support, we can not only help older adults live healthier, happier lives but we can also spur the fostering and adoption of shelter cats into loving homes,” explained Sanderson.1

Those who participated in the study were recruited through flyers posted at The Athens Community Council of Aging (ACCA), in-person presentations, regional community organizations, regional and local publications, and senior living facilities. Participants then completed health surveys prior to being placed with cats and completed follow-up surveys at 1, 4, and 12, months post-adoption and were provided supplies to care for the cat during the study. They also received monthly check-ins and veterinary care to make sure all parties were in good health during the duration of the study.

Each participant also received cat food, litter, and supplies, provided by Nestle Purina Pet Care. Prior to entering the study, all the cats involved were dewormed, spayed/neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, and treated for fleas and ticks. All of the shelter cats came from either Campus Cats Rescue or the Athens Area Humane Society.

“HABRI is proud to support this first-of-its-kind research which provides promising evidence that a cat fostering program for older adults has the potential to create a lasting human-animal bond that benefits both human and cat health,” said Steven Feldman, HABRI president. “We’re thankful for the tireless efforts of Sanderson and her research team who faced significant challenges in completing this important project during the COVID-19 pandemic.”1

The study found that at the 4-month mark, researchers observed a significant drop in loneliness score and observed an approached statistical significance. The researchers also shared that at the end of the study, 95.7% of the participants adopted their foster cats.2 They also noted that at the 12-month follow-up, results were no longer statistically significant, which is theorized to be a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reference

  1. New Research Indicates Shelter Cat Fostering Reduces Loneliness in Older Adults. News release. The Human Animal Bond Research Institute. November 15, 2023. Accessed November 28, 2023. https://habri.org/pressroom/20231115
  2. Sanderson SL, Emerson KG, Scott DW, Vidrine M, Hartzell DL, Keys DA. The impact of cat fostering on older adult well-being and loneliness: A feasibility study. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. Published online 2023. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbad140
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