Your Cat's Parasite Won't Make You Psychotic, Study Says

Feb 25, 2017, 00:22

Specialists indicate that owning a cat during childhood does not cause mental illness when you grow older.

They wanted to see if a common parasite called "toxoplasma" that is carried by cats would affect the developing brain, making people more vulnerable to mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and psychosis.

New British research challenges earlier beliefs that parasites in cat droppings might be linked to schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other mental health issues.

There is no link between owning a cat and the development of mental disorders like schizophrenia, a new study out of University College London says.

"Our study suggests that cat ownership during pregnancy or in early childhood does not pose a direct risk for later psychotic symptoms", said co-author Dr. James Kirkbride in a statement.

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 risky than other sources of infection, such as dirty vegetables. New research has cleared the name of cats, helping put to rest the debate over whether the creatures are unsafe because they host a common parasite that may play a role in disorders like schizophrenia.

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

Some previous studies wrongfully categorized cats as the cause of mental illnesses.

Cats are the primary hosts of T. gondii, and the parasite can be passed on to humans through contact with cat feces - such as when changing a litter box.

After controlling other factors, such as socioeconomic status or a crowded household, they found that that the data did not point to the cat.

Scientists have pointed out that the one to blame is the parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii.

For cats to have the parasite in their systems, they first must eat contaminated raw meat or an infected rodent - which means that keeping your cat indoors goes a long way toward preventing an infection. As such, we recommend that pregnant women should continue to follow advice not to handle soiled cat litter in case it contains. The study evaluated the data of the participants born between 1991 and 1992 and followed them until the age of 18. However, most individuals who develop toxoplasmosis experience few symptoms because their immune systems keep the parasite from causing illness. While "cat ownership in pregnancy was associated with higher odds of [psychotic experiences] at age 13 years in all models, as was cat ownership at age 4 years", the study's authors note, once they factored in other variables, the cats were off the hook.

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