Medical

Cats do not cause mental health problems, study says

Cats do not cause mental health problems, study says”

It's not as ridiculous a question as it might sound.

House cats are recognized as the principal host of T. gondii, which infects numerous warm-blooded animals, including humans.

Recent research suggested that cat ownership might contribute to mental disorders because cats are hosts to the parasite Toxoplasma Gondii (T. Gondii).

A new study, carried out by researchers at University College London, found no evidence of a link between the parasite and depression.

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A 2016 study was one of several to link the parasite to a range of mental health disorders including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and intermittent explosive disorder (IED), as well as other behavioural dysregulations like suicide attempts and vehicle accidents. Past studies linked cat ownership with subjects developing schizophrenia or other mental disorders. "With the human stories, there now is no hard or definitive evidence that Toxoplasma causes behavioral changes at this time". That said, data from our study suggests that owning a cat during pregnancy or in early childhood does not pose a direct risk for offspring having psychotic symptoms later in life.

"Previous studies reporting links between cat ownership and psychosis simply failed to adequately control for other possible explanations", lead study author dr. Francesca Solmi said.

Researchers have previously theorized the culprit could be the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which separate studies have linked to mental health problems.

The researchers also interviewed the children at ages 13 and 18, to assess whether they had experienced psychosis symptoms, including delusions, hallucinations and intrusive thoughts.

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"As such, we recommend that pregnant women should continue to follow advice not to handle soiled cat litter in case it contains T. gondii", said Kirkbride, who is also with UCL Psychiatry.

While, the study did not find a link between T. Gondii and mental health, it can still cause other serious problems during pregnancy or in early childhood. It's commonly found in soil and reproduces in cats' digestive tracts.

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.

Thus, the experts warn all pregnant women and people with a weak immune system to take care and be caution when handling their cat's litter or foods or drinks that might have become infected with the parasite. 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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