New study finds reduced loneliness in older adults who live with foster cats


The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) has shared the results of a study it funded that looked at how petting cats can help improve mental health and reduce loneliness in older adults who live 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 Journals of Gerontology Series B.

“The negative 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 the August University-University of Georgia Medical Partnership, and a co-investigator on this research project, in an organizational release.1 “This project shows that the foster cat can make a measurable difference in the lives of older people living alone.”

According to the announcement,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 investigate the impact of these felines on the well-being of independently living older adults. The study also investigated whether these animals would express interest in adopting their foster cat if certain barriers, such as access to veterinary care, were removed.

“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 seniors live longer healthier, happier lives, but we can also stimulate the adoption of shelter cats into loving homes,” Sanderson explained.1

Study participants were recruited through flyers posted at the Athens Community Council on Aging (ACCA), personal presentations, regional community organizations, regional and local publications, and senior living facilities. Participants then completed health surveys before being placed with cats and completed follow-up surveys at 1, 4, and 12 months after adoption, and were provided with supplies to care for the cat during the study. They also received monthly checkups and veterinary care to make sure all parties were in good health during the study.

Each participant also received cat food, litter and supplies, provided by Nestle Purina Pet Care. Prior to study entry, all participating cats 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 that provides promising evidence that a cat parenting program for older adults has the potential to create a lasting human-animal bond that benefits both human and feline health” , said Steven Feldman. , president of HABRI. “We are grateful for the tireless efforts of Sanderson and her research team who faced significant challenges to complete this important work during the COVID-19 pandemic.”1

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


  1. New research shows that fostering shelter cats reduces loneliness in older adults. News. The Human Animal Research Institute. November 15, 2023. Accessed November 28, 2023.
  2. Sanderson SL, Emerson KG, Scott DW, Vidrine M, Hartzell DL, Keys DA. The impact of cat parenting on well-being and loneliness in older people: A feasibility study. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. Published online 2023. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbad140

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