For some time people have believed that owning cats was associated with mental health issues, this was especially true for individuals who grew up with feline companions. However, a new study from the University College London suggests that there is actually no real link between mental health issues and cat ownership.
As EurekAlerts reports, there has been recent research that had suggested that there might be a link between cats and psychotic symptoms due to the animals carrying a common parasite known as Toxoplasma Gondii, a parasite that is known to be linked to such problems as schizophrenia. While felines might be the host for the parasite, according to the latest study which was published in Psychological Medicine, there really is not a link between owning cats during pregnancy and the child later developing mental health problems.
Dr. Francesca Solmi, the lead author of the study from UCL Psychiatry, said that there is a clear message to people who choose to own felines, “there is no evidence that cats pose a risk to children’s mental health.” She said what they found in their unadjusted data from the study was a very small link to owning a cat and mental health problems at about 13-years-old. However, they ultimately learned that these problems were actually caused by other factors than the animal.
Dr. Solmi said that once they controlled the factors of their study, which includes socioeconomic status, as well as over-crowding of one’s household, they found that cats were not to blame for the development of psychotic symptoms. She indicated that past studies which linked cat ownership to mental health issues did not factor in other controls that would also explain the symptoms. In fact, their new study is said to be extremely more reliable than previous research, especially with them following up with the same families over the course of 20 years.
While the new study looked at a larger population of cat owners, previous studies were not nearly as thorough. Although the study did not measure exposure to the cat hosted parasite directly, they were able to determine that owning cats does not “significantly increase exposure,” which means that just because there is a cat in the household it does not necessarily mean one will develop psychotic symptoms over time. Pregnant women should still follow healthy guidelines from their doctor when it comes to dealing with such things as soiled kitty litter, but in general having a cat does not increase the likelihood of mental health problems.
By Dorothea James