Some scientists have suggested that owning cats could be associated with some mental disorders, like schizophrenia, but cat lovers can relax as researchers at the University College London have debunked the theory.
According to their study, there is no link between cat ownership and the development of psychotic symptoms. Specifically, the researchers looked at the suggestion that parasites in cat droppings could have an effect on mental health problems, US News and World Report states.
Dr. Francesca Solmi of University College London Psychiatry, and study author, says,
The message for cat owners is clear: There is no evidence that cats pose a risk to children’s mental health.
Cats may carry an infectious parasite called Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii). As carriers, they might pass this infection on to humans through their excrement. The researchers looked into this to determine if contact with felines during childhood raised the risk for mental illnesses. This is the first study to take a look at childhood cat ownership and infection of the said parasite as a factor in pyschosis.
The researchers looked at nearly 5,000 people born in the early 1990s until they turned 18 years old. Specifically, they examined whether the participants’ mothers owned a cat during pregnancy, or if they grew up in homes with a cat.
They concluded that there was not enough evidence to tell that cat ownership in childhood was linked in any way to psychiatric or mental health issues.
Solmi says, “Previous studies reporting links between cat ownership and psychosis simply failed to adequately control for other possible explanations.” Mental health aside, however, pregnant women should still be careful about exposure to cat litter boxes, researchers warn.
Dr. James Kirkbride, also with UCL Psychiatry and author on the study, says, “There is good evidence that T. gondii exposure during pregnancy can lead to serious birth defects and other health problems in children.”
The study was published in Psychological Medicine.