A team of researchers from the University College London concluded cat ownership has nothing to do with feline lovers developing mental health issues, as was previously suggested. Past studies linked cat ownership with subjects developing schizophrenia or other mental disorders. However, the latest study, published recently in the journal Psychological Medicine, is the first of its kind to take a prospective look at the relationship between childhood cat ownership and the susceptibility of contracting the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, considered a risk factor for psychosis.
According to the past studies, the aforementioned parasite is commonly found in cats and is capable of infecting other warm-blooded hosts, human included, which could lead to the infected individual developing toxoplasmosis. The Toxoplasma gondii parasite, say U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials, is thought to have already infected as many as 60 million Americans. However, human hosts with a strong immune system do not exhibit any symptoms, as the body’s defense mechanism keeps the parasite from triggering any illness.
Even so, researchers say cat ownership among those with a weakened immune system and pregnant women can have devastating consequences on either the unborn baby or the host. Health experts said that a Toxoplasma gondii infection could be responsible for severe health issues, including damage to the eyes, brain, and multiple other organs.
The lead author of the study and a University College London’s Division of Psychiatry research associate, Francesca Solmi says that past research linking cat ownership to mental health issues had its limitations. The participants who were either perfectly healthy or exhibiting signs of mental damage were asked to recall details of their childhood. In the meantime, the researchers were checking for errors in the recollection process.
However, the new study kept track of 5,000 British subjects over the course of one year, from 1991 to 1992 and followed them into teenhood. Next, the team of researchers looked at whether the children were born into a household that had a cat and analyzed the level of interaction between the pregnant mother and Mittens before the children were born. Conducting thorough analysis at 13 and 18 years of age, the researchers did not find any clear association between mental health issues and cat ownership, as the subjects were all in perfect health.
“The message for cat owners in clear: there is no evidence that cats pose a risk to children’s mental health”, said Francesca Solmi in a news release.
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