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Cats do not cause mental health problems, study says

25 February 2017

So if you were about to swear off cats forever, maybe hold off or find a new reason for getting rid of it. However, for those anxious about owning a cat and developing schizophrenia, Dr. Solmi says you will not go insane.

The findings were published February 21 in the journal Psychological Medicine. "Future research should therefore focus on better understanding the mechanisms by which these types of infection might lead to mental illness, and many researchers are now investigating this".

There is some good news for cat lovers.

However, in expectant mothers and those with depleted immune systems, the condition could cause severe health issues, including harm to the brain and eyes.

These limitations included studies in which researchers asked people with and without mental health problems to remember details about their childhood, which could have led to errors in recall.

The latest study used a more reliable methodology that allowed the researchers to follow up with the subjects for nearly 20 years. The study looked at almost 5000 people born in 1991 or 1992 who were followed-up until the age of 18. Specialists analyzed whether those women who had a cat while they were pregnant or when their kid was three years old were more likely to have children who suffered from psychotic episodes, like hallucinations or paranoia, at age 13 up to 18. Babies who are born to women infected with T. gondii during or just prior to their pregnancy are at the highest risk for developing acute toxoplasmosis.

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After controlling for potential confounding factors, the study concluded that cat ownership in pregnancy and childhood did not play a role in developing psychotic symptoms during adolescence. The parasite T. gondii is the real culprit.

Studies have also linked toxoplasmosis with a range of human mental diseases, including schizophrenia, bipolar disease, obsessive compulsive disorder and even clumsiness. About 60 million people in the United States might be infected with Toxoplasma gondii, but the symptoms are not always visible since the immune system can take care of the parasite. Nevertheless, this parasite can also be contracted from eating unwashed vegetables or eating undercooked meat.

Solmin says that she and her team became interested in investigating the link between cat ownership and psychosis partly because most of the authors on the work actually have a furball of their own.

UCL scientists highlighted that Toxoplasma gondii can still pose a danger, however.

"They relied on small samples, did not specify how participants were selected, and did not appropriately account for the presence of missing data and alternative explanations", they wrote.

Cats do not cause mental health problems, study says