Cats do not cause mental illness, new study says

Cats do not cause mental illness, new study says

However, for those anxious about owning a cat and developing schizophrenia, Dr. Solmi says you will not go insane.

Ultimately, the study found that there was no evidence that cat ownership during pregnancy or while growing up was linked with the onset of psychotic symptoms later in life. Next, the team of researchers looked at whether the children were born into a household that had a cat and analyzed the level of interaction between the pregnant mother and Mittens before the children were born.

For example, in 2012, a meta-analysis (an analytic review) of 38 studies found that people with schizophrenia were nearly three times more likely to test positive for antibodies to a common infectious parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii.

However, the new study kept track of 5,000 British subjects over the course of one year, from 1991 to 1992 and followed them into teenhood.

"More than 60 million men, women, and children in the USA carry the Toxoplasma parasite, but very few have symptoms because the immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness", the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website. 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.

"The message for cat owners is clear: There is no evidence that cats pose a risk to children's mental health", study lead author Francesca Solmi, a researcher in the Division of Psychiatry at University College London (UCL), said in a statement.

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T. gondii is a fascinating parasite because of its mind-control effect on mice. Several earlier studies, including research published in June 2015 in the journal Schizophrenia Research, have also found a link between owning a cat in childhood and developing schizophrenia or other serious mental illnesses. After the scientists controlled for factors like socioeconomic status, there was no link between developing psychosis and having owned a cat. For this reason, pregnant women should follow the public health recommendation to avoid changing cat litter (because the parasite can be present in cat feces), the researchers said.

House cats are known to be the primary host of T. gondii, which infects various warm-blooded animals (including humans) and causes a disease called toxoplasmosis.

It's reassuring, considering that many people own and care for their cats.

Soiled litter boxes are not the only places to contract the parasite.

The researchers suggest that previous studies that did show a link had relatively small sample sizes.

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