Study: Cats Don’t Cause Mental Health Issues

Mary Simpson
by Mary Simpson
According to research, a common parasite carried by cats and left in litter boxes isn’t responsible for causing mental health issues in unborn children.

A recent study from the University College London (UCL) proves our furry felines aren’t responsible for causing mental health issues. I kid you not… our kitty sidekicks have been getting a bum rap!

The study out of Britain was undertaken to research a common parasite carried by house cats and the goal of the researchers was to better understand the risks it might pose to young or unborn children. Specifically, their brain health and the possibility that exposure to the parasite might cause instances of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, psychosis or other symptoms of mental illness. Holy crap!

Related: What is Toxoplasmosis?

Yes, the long-held belief that a pregnant women should never change the cat litter box out of fear they may contract the parasite and pass it on to the fetus, has been shattered. Much, I’m sure, to the chagrin of pregnant women around the world! You see, the parasite in question is called Toxoplasma gondii and while it’s commonly found in soil it just loves to reproduce in your kitty’s digestive tract – meaning it does end up in her litter box – hence the rationale for the above caution.

But the results from this most recent research (led by UCL’s Dr. Francesca Solmi) were published in the Psychological Medicine journal and showed that of the almost 5,000 subjects studied, there was no evidence to show this parasite was causing injury to the brain.

Related: What is the Best Cat Litter for your Kitty?

Why the mixed message on the impact of this parasite? Apparently past research has shown that it travels to and impacts the brains of test rodents. Because of this, it was assumed it would follow the same pattern with humans and result in brain damage. Not so.

According to Solmi, while initial analyses suggested a slight link between felines and psychotic symptoms, it ended up being discounted. Her research team surveyed families who owned cats in the 1990s and watched the kids as they matured. “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.”

It’s estimated that more than 60 million men, women, and children in the United States alone, carry the Toxoplasma parasite. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise that few have symptoms because our immune systems keep the parasite at bay.

So what’s the bottom line? UCL’s Dr. James Kirkbride oversaw the research and confirmed “Our study suggests that cat ownership during pregnancy or in early childhood does not pose a direct risk for later psychotic symptoms.”

Mary Simpson
Mary Simpson

Sharing space with three seriously judgy Schnoodles and a feline who prefers to be left alone. #LivingMyBestLife

More by Mary Simpson