Could Cat Ownership Lead to Mental Health Issues?

A toddler kisses a catNinety-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.

References:

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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  • Kelli

    Kelli

    June 9th, 2015 at 3:51 PM

    Nooooo!! I love my kitties. If anything they are my calm place.

  • maura

    maura

    June 10th, 2015 at 3:06 PM

    Just like with any other pet, or just to be CLEAN, hygiene is going to be a good answer

  • Scientist

    Scientist

    June 10th, 2015 at 10:42 PM

    There is 0 scientific evidence in this article.

  • Daniella

    Daniella

    June 11th, 2015 at 2:42 PM

    I have always had all sorts of pets, and I have to disagree with this whole theory that having an animal is going to make you sick. Ok, so I can see how you can spread illness from animal to person and I know that there are some cases where this has happened, but I honestly think that this is being way overblown and that actually having a pet is going to make you an overall happier and healthier person. I do not know of one person who has ever started to feel bad because they owned a pet, so I do not intend to let something that could be so minor influence whether or not I continue to have cats or dogs.

  • R

    R

    June 11th, 2015 at 4:51 PM

    Oh. My. Goodness. My son was in the process of being diagnosed with a periodic fever syndrome. I took him for quantum bio feedback, at the recommendation of a friend. I left very disappointed and felt it was a scam. A month later I had to eat my words, because my son did not have an episode when expected, and has not had a flare in almost three years. At that appointment, the clinician told me this bacteria was showing up, and that he didn’t necessarily have exposure but could have been in his genes. I didn’t think anything of it. My son had never been around cats. I wasn’t around cats when pregnant. I blew it off. Until reading this. We have a very strong family history of mental health issues. Wow.

  • Sara

    Sara

    June 12th, 2015 at 11:42 AM

    People, this isn’t just about the cats. Look to the foods that we eat too

  • catwomaninstl

    catwomaninstl

    September 26th, 2015 at 11:04 PM

    Is there a test cat owners can get to determine if they do have this bacteria? Seems like making this yearly bloodwork with your GP would quell any anxiety people might have about this issue.

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