Published: Sat, February 25, 2017
Health Care | By Kelly Miles

Cats Do Not Pose Mental Health Risks

Cats Do Not Pose Mental Health Risks

It's not as ridiculous a question as it might sound.

So if you were about to swear off cats forever, maybe hold off or find a new reason for getting rid of it. 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.

Earlier research has suggested that humans infected with the parasite are up to seven times more likely to commit suicide, and are more prone to psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder. The lead researcher in the study, Dr. Francesca Solmi of University College London, released a statement on Tuesday. The researchers used birth information to determine whether households had cats when the mothers were pregnant and when the children were growing up. So some researchers hypothesize that owning cats in childhood increases the risk of developing mental illnesses, particularly schizophrenia, and a handful of studies have supported this idea.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) lists several occupations that may be at risk for contracting the parasite. It can cause miscarriage or physical deformities in the child.

Solmi said, "In our study, initial unadjusted analyses suggested a small link between cat ownership and psychotic symptoms at age 13, but this turned out to be due to other factors".

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But Solmi said the findings indicate that owning a cat doesn't amount to an additional risk for developing psychotic symptoms - in other words, if we assume T. gondii is a driver of mental health disorders, then having a cat around doesn't seem to be more unsafe than other sources of infection, such as dirty vegetables.

For this study, researchers investigated 5,000 people born in 1991 or 1992 who were part of an 18-year ongoing health study. The new study is accurate, being extremely relevant since other studies from the past showed a correlation between cat ownership and the development of schizophrenia.

That said, separate evidence that suggests parasite exposure can lead to general health problems in children hold up.

"Even if we are suggesting that you get it at, say, age 4 when you're playing in a sandbox, you don't have to own a sandbox to have a cat go to the bathroom in it". In addition, many of these studies asked people whether they remembered having cats, which is not quite as accurate.

The CDC recommends that pregnant women avoid changing cat litter if possible. That means staying away from litter boxes and other areas (like loose soil in the garden) where their cat - or neighborhood cats - may have deposited contaminated feces.

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