Cat owners not at increased risk of mental health issues, UCL research finds
There’s no such thing as a ‘crazy cat lady’ (or man)
Previous research has indicated that a parasite carried by cats, toxoplasma gondii, can cause depression in cat owners. Scientists at UCL have dispelled this with new research conducted at the university, finding no such link.
UCL researchers found that although cats carry the parasite, there were no links with this and psychotic symptoms in cat owners.
However the study did find that exposure to the parasite by an expecting mother could lead to physical health problems in her child. Subsequently, researches advise pregnant women to steer clear of soiled cat litter.
The study involved circa 5,000 people, born in 1991 or 1992, who were followed up until age 18. It was found that children who grew up with cats did not suffer an increased risk of developing mental health problems in adolescence.
Speaking to The Daily Mail lead author on the study, 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.”
In relation to previous studies, which have indicated that exposure to the parasite through cats leads to an increased risk of mental health problems, Solmi commented: “Previous studies reporting links between cat ownership and psychosis simply failed to adequately control for other possible explanations.”
Previous studies have often relied upon participant’s recall of elements of their childhood, with such account highly liable to error.
Toxoplasma gondii can also be found in undercooked/ raw meat, although cats are the primary carrier of the parasite. It lives in the brain of cats, and is then passed onto humans through cat bites, or from contact and subsequent infection from cat litter.
Older research suggested a causal link between the parasite and psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder.
However UCL’s research showed that even if the parasite plays a causal role in psychiatric problems, cat ownership does not significantly increase our risk of exposure to the bug.
The term ‘crazy cat lady’ (or man for that matter) is but a myth in virtue of this research…