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article imageCats cause no harm for your mental well-being: Study

By Tim Sandle     Feb 27, 2017 in Science
A new research project has cast doubt on earlier, more controversial studies that suggested there is an association between cat ownership and mental health issues. The new research has found no connection between cat ownership and psychotic symptoms.
Some studies have suggested that cat ownership is some way connected to mental disorders. This was cited by biologists due to the connection between some cats and the parasite Toxoplasma Gondii (T. Gondii). In those with a weak immune system, severe symptoms such as seizures and poor coordination may occur. If infected during pregnancy, a condition known as congenital toxoplasmosis may affect the child
The parasite has also been linked to mental health problems like schizophrenia. With this study, which looked at around 350 adults, it was found that those with a psychiatric disorder called Intermittent Explosive Disorder were twice as likely to have been infected by the toxoplasmosis parasite compared with healthy individuals who displayed no psychiatric diagnosis.
New research counteracts this. It suggests that cat ownership at different stages in life, such as pregnancy and childhood, does not play a role in a person developing psychotic symptoms during adolescence. The study looked at some 5000 people born in 1991 or 1992. The participants were tracked until the age of 18. Associated information included whether the participants had a cat at home (and if so, at what stages during a mother’s pregnancy and the child’s adolescence).
The study did not look at T. Gondii exposure directly but instead reviewed the mental health state of the participants. This allowed the conclusion that cat ownership does not significantly increase exposure (rather than inferring that the parasite does cause psychiatric problems). It remains that T. Gondii exposure during pregnancy can lead to serious birth defects and other health problems in children. Good medical advice, such as pregnant women not to handle cat litter or cat feces, should remain in place.
Given the long time frame the new study is considered to be more accurate than previous reviews. The new study took into account close to a 20 year time-frame. Furthermore, the new study was far larger than previous researches into the subject.
Commenting on the findings, lead scientist Dr Francesca Solmi stated: “The message for cat owners is clear: there is no evidence that cats pose a risk to children's mental health.”
The researcher added: "Once we controlled for factors such as household over-crowding and socioeconomic status, the data showed that cats were not to blame.”
She also said this about other research: “Previous studies reporting links between cat ownership and psychosis simply failed to adequately control for other possible explanations."
The research has been published in the journal Psychological Medicine under the title “Curiosity killed the cat: no evidence of an association between cat ownership and psychotic symptoms at ages 13 and 18 years in a UK general population cohort.”
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