Study: Cats Not Linked to Mental Illness

There is some good news for cat lovers. Turns out those reports that people who grew up with cats have a higher risk of mental illness are not true.

Writing in the journal Psychological Medicine, researchers from University College London say a common parasite associated with cats, Toxoplasma Gondii, which is associated with mental health issues, does not cause mental issues in people who grew up around cats.

Lead author Dr. Francesca Solmi said, “The message for cat owners is clear: there is no evidence that cats pose a risk to children’s mental health.”

She said, “Previous studies reporting links between cat ownership and psychosis simply failed to adequately control for other possible explanations.”

Solmi said, “In our study, initial unadjusted analyses suggested a small link between cat ownership and psychotic symptoms at age 13, but this turned out to be due to other factors. Once we controlled for factors such as household overcrowding and socioeconomic status, the data showed that cats were not to blame.”

Researchers say their study of those who grew up around cats is “significantly more reliable” than studies that suggested a link between cat ownership and mental disorders because the subjects were monitored for nearly 20 years, rather than asking people with mental illness to remember details from their childhood, as was the case with studies suggesting a link.

Furthermore, they say those studies were relatively small with “gaps” in the data.

“Our study suggests that cat ownership during pregnancy or in early childhood does not pose a direct risk for later psychotic symptoms,” said senior author James Kirkbride. “However, there is good evidence that T. Gondii exposure during pregnancy can lead to serious birth defects and other health problems in children. As such, we recommend that pregnant women should continue to follow advice not to handle soiled cat litter in case it contains T. Gondii.”

For this study, researchers investigated 5,000 people born in 1991 or 1992 who were part of an 18-year ongoing health study. Data from the study showed whether cats were in the house when the mother was pregnant or had cats while the children were growing up.

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