No evidence-based connection between cat ownership and mental disorders, finds study

In the past, several studies suggested that there is a close association between cat ownership and mental disorders. However, some of the latest studies have challenged this finding. According to a new study conducted by the University College London (UCL) researchers, there is no direct link between cat ownership and development of mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia.

Some previous studies suggest that cat ownership is probably linked with the onset of mental illnesses as house cats are the primary host of Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that infects many warm-blooded animals (including humans) and may cause toxoplasmosis. Compared to others, pregnant women and those with a weak immune system are likely to witness problems that are more serious in nature due to toxoplasmosis.

Toxoplasmosis is linked to a number of serious health problems, such as damages to the brain, eyes and other organs. If the “soon-to-be” mom is infected with T. gondii during or just before pregnancy, the infant is at the highest risk of contracting the severe level of toxoplasmosis. As T. gondii infection can lead to serious mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, many of the former studies suggest that cat ownership can be one of the reasons for the onset of a mental health disorder.

Limitations of former studies

The previous studies conducted to check the association between cat ownership and mental disorders were mostly conducted depending on the statements of respondents about their childhood. For most of the respondents, recalling such childhood memories might have proven to be tricky. Due to the lack of accuracy, this could have probably resulted in erroneous results proposing cat ownership to be responsible for psychotic symptoms later in life.

Another finding suggests that the infection of T. gondii could occur due to the intake of undercooked meat and contaminated water. This also establishes the fact that there is no feline connection to toxoplasmosis. Therefore, cat ownership during pregnancy or childhood may not be responsible for developing any type of serious mental health disorder later in life.

“Once we controlled for factors, such as household overcrowding and socioeconomic status, the data showed that cats were not to blame. Previous studies reporting links between cat ownership and psychosis simply failed to adequately control for other possible explanations,” according to Francesca Solmi, the lead author of the study and a research associate in the Division of Psychiatry at UCL.

Why the current study is more reliable

The current study is more reliable than the previous studies for a number of reasons. Firstly, the study was certain whether a child grew up with a cat and whether this influenced the overall psychology of the person later in life. Moreover, it was not based on any recall of the childhood events. It just wanted the respondents to be sure whether they could probably have any contact with a cat during their childhood days. The findings of the study suggest that even if the parasite causes mental illnesses, cat ownership does not increase exposure and hence is in no way comparatively more responsible for the onset of mental disorders among adolescents.

However, the authors of the study have warned that pregnant women should be cautious while handling cat litter. “We recommend that pregnant women should continue to follow advice not to handle soiled cat litter in case it contains T. gondii,” said senior study author James Kirkbride of UCL in a press release. However, he reassured that cat ownership is not going to increase the chances of developing a mental illness in general.

Get help in case of need

While it is good to know that people may not have to give up their bonding with these feline beings, there is an increased risk of developing mental disorders due to several other factors that may or may not be under the direct control of individuals. If you or any of your loved one has any type of mental illness, the priority should be to seek help from a mental health professional capable of assessing and providing treatment for the condition. Connect with 247 Mental Health Helpline to find better mental health service providers. Alternatively, call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-653-8178 or chat online to get health care assistance necessary for the right beginning.