Ninety-five million Americans own cats, but could cat ownership be associated with an increased risk of mental health issues? That’s what two new studies, one published in Schizophrenia Research and the other published in Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica suggest. The culprit, researchers claim, is the Toxoplasma gondii parasite in cat feces.
Is Your Cat Undermining Your Mental Health?
Doctors often advise pregnant women to avoid cats and litter boxes, citing fears that the T. gondii parasite could compromise the health of both mom and baby. Most healthy people are able to fight off the parasite, though, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 60 million Americans are infected with the parasite. Most never experience symptoms. Though previous research has linked T. gondii infections with mental health challenges, the two latest studies strengthen the connection.
In the first study, researchers reviewed a 1982 National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) survey. The survey, which was conducted well before any data suggested a link between cat ownership and mental health issues, found that about half of respondents who had a cat during childhood later developed mental health issues. Among those who did not own a cat, the figure was 42%.
In the second study, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of more than 50 studies of the link between T. gondii and schizophrenia. A meta-analysis is a study that reviews data from previous studies. Researchers found that those with the T. gondii parasite were more than twice as likely to develop schizophrenia. The team also found a correlation between the parasite and bipolar, OCD, and addiction.
Reducing the Risk of Infection
The latest research doesn’t mean you have to give up your beloved cat. Indeed, a host of studies suggest that pet ownership is good for mental health. Instead, it’s important for cat owners, as well as those exposed to cat litter boxes, to practice good hygiene. The parasite takes one to five days to become infective, so as long as cat owners change the litter box daily, the parasite shouldn’t be a problem.
The T. gondii infection can also be contracted by eating undercooked or contaminated meats and through contaminated water, so cats aren’t the only risk factor for this infection.
Could owning a cat raise the risk of mental illness? (2015, June 8). Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/295012.php
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