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Cat ownership during childhood does not increase the risk of mental health problems, study says.
A study in 2015 linked cat ownership during childhood to increased risk of mental health problems like schizophrenia /ˌskɪt səˈfri ni ə /, which is characterized by delusions, during adulthood. The connection was based on the fact that cats are the primary carriers of Toxoplasma gondiig /ˌtɒk səˈplæz mə gŏn’dē-ī’/ (T. Gondii), a parasite known to affect mental health. As the parasite is released in cats’ waste, people may get infected with it after contact with a contaminated material, such as a cat’s litter box.
However, a new study, which involved around 5,000 people who were monitored until the age of 18, has refuted previous claims. The researchers had information on whether or not the children had cats while they were growing up. Based on the results, mental disorders among the children who owned cats may be related to other factors such as household overcrowding and socioeconomic status. Researchers further argued that previous studies failed to take other factors into account when explaining the cause of the mental illnesses.
Despite the study’s findings, T. Gondii remains dangerous and can cause health problems, such as serious birth defects. One of the scientists recommends that pregnant women avoid handling cat waste to prevent possible contact with the parasite since pregnant women and their unborn children are more prone to infection.