A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Spring, 2018 | Number 2, Volume 32

Cats, children with ASD can form valuable relationships

While children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) frequently benefit from interacting with dogs, a new study indicates that many also can form valuable relationships with cats. 

Lynette Hart and colleagues conducted an internet survey of families that included both a child with ASD and at least one cat, tallying the results from 64 respondents. Afterward, they conducted phone interviews with 16 parents of children with severe ASD, 11 children with milder ASD, and 17 neurotypical children. 

The researchers say that most parents commented positively about their cats calming, protecting, or guarding the child with ASD. While cats were more affectionate with neurotypical children, the researchers found that “most were at least moderately affectionate toward the ASD child, with almost 20% very affectionate.” In addition, they say, “Most children with diagnosed ASD liked to hold the specified cat (or even always wanted to hold, pet, snuggle, and sleep with the  cat)—at similar levels as in typically developing children.” 

The researchers add, “Importantly, the results revealed that cats showed little aggression with ASD children, and certainly no more than with typical children. It seems that cats in families with an ASD child often provided valuable bonding, attention, and calming affection to the child.” 

They also note, “Although dogs have the capacity to perform useful tasks and are more interactive with people than cats, they require more attention and care, and some parents reportedly find their ASD child is more compatible with a cat, or that a dog simply would not be a feasible companion for their child.” 

Hart and colleagues do caution that cats vary greatly in affection and aggression, noting that their study found that cats adopted as kittens were more affectionate and less aggressive to children than cats adopted as adults. They conclude, “Persons seeking to acquire a suitable cat for a child in the family could do well to adopt a calm kitten at weaning, assuring that it has frequent gentle interactions with people of all ages, especially ASD children.”


“Affectionate interactions of cats with children having autism spectrum disorder,” Lynette A. Hart, Abigail P. Thigpen, Neil H. Willits, Leslie A. Lyons, Irva Hertz-Picciotto, and Benjamin L. Hart, Frontiers in Veterinary Science, Vol. 5, March 2018 (open access). Address: Lynette A. Hart, [email protected].