Cats Thrive in Families With Autism

Asian mother and daughter sitting on the living room floor petting the family cat.

According to a recent study, cats make better pets for families with autistic children. (Image: Nontapan Nuntasiri via Dreamstime)

Life for kids coping with autism is tough and it is not something they can help. However, for parents and families of autistic kids, the problems are multifaceted. Autistic children can be enraged and agitated by certain stimuli and these can include certain sounds, sights, smells, or even movements in their vicinity. Naturally, parents of such kids find it hard to fathom what kind of pets would be suitable for their kids. While dogs are preferred by a lot of people as pets, they may not be right for families with autistic kids. This theory has been corroborated by a number of study findings. 

A recent study finding shows that cats tend to be better suited as pets for families with autistic kids as compared to dogs. This finding may sound amazing given the fact that dogs tend to be more affectionate, cuddle-loving, and adaptable to places than feline creatures. Cats are quite different and they are known to be moody, fussy about diet, and somewhat aloof in nature. But according to a study carried out by the University of Rennes, cats are better as they have less intrusive glances compared to dogs. 

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The study was carried out on a group of 42 kids and they were aged between 6 to 12 years. More than half of the group was afflicted with autistic spectrum disorders. Children with autism fare poorly when it comes to interacting with people, and even with interactive pets like dogs. While dog lovers experience a boost in oxytocin, or the happiness hormone, by getting long gazes from their canine companions, the same thing may make autistic kids agitated and uneasy. Some breeds of dogs show more excitement when they are with humans and they are eager to cuddle with them or jump on their bodies. This can make the autistic kids feel uneasy and then they get agitated.

Dogs like to give their owners long gazes, but this can make kids with autism feel uneasy.
Dogs like to give their owners long gazes, but this can make autistic kids feel uneasy. (Image: Eduardo Didonet via Dreamstime)

Cats don’t stare like dogs making children with autism more comfortable

Cats are not as socially friendly in nature and they do not make much eye contact with their owners. This makes cats appear rather non-threatening to kids coping with autism. Cats tend to look away after staring at their owners for a short while.

Another study finding also shows cats to be ideal pets for families with autistic kids. The study was carried out by the University of Missouri Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction. In the words of research scientist Gretchen Carlisle: “Previous research has shown parents of kids with autism are more stressed than parents of kids with any other disability. If a family is considering adopting a companion animal, we want to provide the best evidence-based information possible so they can make an informed decision, and cats might be more beneficial than dogs to some families.”

The study involved well-chosen cats and they were given to people with autistic kids in the family. The families reported bonding between their autistic kids and the adopted cats. They also reported the bond remaining strong over time. In fact, the parents and kids both had reduced anxiety post-adoption. Carlisle added: “We found the main benefit of these companion animals is their unconditional acceptance. Some children with autism may have sensory issues or be sensitive to loud noises, so a cat may be an appropriate, comforting pet for some families due to their calming presence.”

Over-stimulated boy holding his hands over his ears while standing in front of a loft bed in his room.
Some autistic children are sensitive to loud noises, so a barking dog could be hard for them to handle. (Image: Sergey Novikov via Dreamstime)

However, it would be wrong to say that there are no dogs that are suitable as pets in families having autistic kids. Certain breeds of dogs can be trained to act as therapy dogs for kids coping with autism and similar neurological disorders. However, training dogs to cope with kids with special needs is not exactly a cakewalk. Overall, mammals tend to be better suited than reptiles and birds for pets in this regard.

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