Contrary to previous research, a new study published in the journal Psychological Medicine suggests cat ownership does not increase the risk of developing psychosis or any other mental health conditions.
Cats can be a primary host for Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that is spread through contact with cat feces and that many previous studies have linked to mental health conditions. One study found about half of childhood cat owners had a mental health diagnosis in adulthood. Another study that looked at 50 previous studies found a link between the parasite and the later development of schizophrenia. Research published in 2013 found the parasite could change people’s brains in sex-specific ways.
Cat Ownership: Safe for Mental Health After All?
The study followed nearly 5,000 children born in the early 1990s, and researchers followed up with them until they turned 18. Researchers asked questions about cat ownership in childhood, or while the mother was pregnant, and sought details on any mental health conditions.
They found people whose mothers owned cats during pregnancy, or who had cats in childhood, were no more likely than their peers without cats to experience mental health issues such as psychosis.
The study did not look directly at infection with Toxoplasma gondii, and research still suggests fetuses exposed to the parasite may be at risk for birth defects. As a result, the study’s authors still suggest pregnant women should avoid any contact with cat litter in case it does contain the parasite.
Mental Health Benefits of Cat Ownership
The study is likely good news for cat owners concerned about their mental health. Other research also supports the mental health benefits of pet ownership, including owning cats. One recent study found children may have better relationships with their pets than with their siblings, suggesting many children may lean on their pets for emotional support. Other research found people diagnosed with mental health conditions see their pets as central to their support network.
- Cat ownership not linked to mental health problems. (2017, February 21). Retrieved from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-02-cat-ownership-linked-mental-health.html
- Dallas, M. E. (2017, February 21). No, your cat isn’t a threat to your mental health. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/news/fullstory_163700.html
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