No, Your Cat Isn't a Threat to Your Mental Health

New British research challenges earlier beliefs that parasites in cat droppings might be linked to schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other mental health issues.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, "more than 60 million men, women, and children in the US carry the Toxoplasma parasite, but very few have symptoms because the immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness". They may pass this infection on to humans through their feces. Since domestic cats are the primary hosts of T. Gondii - that is, they provide an environment within which this parasite can reproduce - it is often speculated that cat ownership may put people at increased risk of mental illness, by exposing them to it.

The researchers looked at almost 5,000 people born in the early 1990s until they turned 18 years old.

Dr. Solmi said that once they controlled the factors of their study, which includes socioeconomic status, as well as over-crowding of one's household, they found that cats were not to blame for the development of psychotic symptoms. She said what they found in their unadjusted data from the study was a very small link to owning a cat and mental health problems at about 13-years-old.

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At the end of the study, the authors appended an unusual conflict-of-interest statement: They all own or have owned cats, but that did not affect their work, it said.

"More than 60 million men, women, and children in the US carry the Toxoplasma parasite, but very few have symptoms because the immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness", the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website.

Although you may hold suspicions about your neighbor who feeds the local stray cats, new research has found no link between owning a feline and exhibiting psychotic symptoms.

"Previous studies reporting links between cat ownership and psychosis simply failed to adequately control for other possible explanations" for the link, Solmi said. "However, some of the studies that have looked at this association had methodologically limitations". The new study was not able to measure T. Gondii exposure directly, but the results suggest that if the parasite does cause psychiatric problems then cat ownership does not significantly increase exposure.

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Still, the researchers say that there is good evidence that exposure to this parasite during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects or other health problems. The data considered included whether the household had cats while the mother was pregnant and when the children were growing up.

Other scientists have also expressed skepticism about the trope of cats causing mental illness.

Soiled litter boxes are not the only places to contract the parasite.

People who grow up with cats in the home are no more likely than anyone else to have problems.

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