Scratch That: Your Cat Will Not Give You Mental Illness

Those insane cat lady stories could be a myth.

Ultimately, the study found that there was no evidence that cat ownership during pregnancy or while growing up was linked with the onset of psychotic symptoms later in life. New research has cleared the name of cats, helping put to rest the debate over whether the creatures are risky because they host a common parasite that may play a role in disorders like schizophrenia. The scientists had data on whether cats were living in the household while the mother was pregnant and/or raising the children. 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. For this study, researchers specifically focused on participants with complete data on psychotic experiences in early adolescence, when they were 13 years old (6,705 in total) and in late adolescence at age 18 (4,676 in total).

Solmi led the study of almost 5,000 people born in the early 90's. "With the human stories, there now is no hard or definitive evidence that Toxoplasma causes behavioral changes at this time". It looked at families who owned cats in the 1990s and watched the children grow up. When a rodent, for example, is infected by T. gondii, the parasite goes to the host's brain and finds a way to switch off the rat's natural fear of cat urine.

The CCOHS says that if an infection is suspected, treatment depends on the severity of the infection but it's primarily treated with antibacterial and anti-parasitic drugs for about four weeks.

But to contract the parasite, humans would need to accidentally consume their infected cat's poo, or something that's come into contact with it.

'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. "As such, we recommend that pregnant women should continue to follow advice not to handle soiled cat litter in case it contains T. gondii", he added.

Is having a cat bad for your mental health? Nevertheless, this parasite can also be contracted from eating unwashed vegetables or eating undercooked meat.

The researchers from the University College London had initially set on the study to look at childhood cat ownership and the risk of infection of the parasite Toxoplasma gondii for probable psychosis.

There were a number of reasons why their results differed from past studies, the authors note.

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.

The researchers suggest that previous studies that did show a link had relatively small sample sizes.

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