Owning a pet can present several potential ways to improve mental and physical health. However pet ownership comes with its own set or risks too. A study published in the journal Schizophrenia Research found a strong connection between cat ownership and the development of schizophrenia later in life.
Researchers E. Fuller Torrey and Wendy Simmons of the Stanley Medical Research Institute and Robert H. Yolken of the Stanley Laboratory of Developmental Neurobiology took a look at a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) questionnaire from 1982 that had been administered to 2,125 families. The researchers found that 50.6 percent of those who developed schizophrenia had owned a cat in early childhood. Other studies researching this link that were conducted by NAMI later in the 1990s showed almost identical results. Again, according to these studies, 50.9 percent and 51.9 percent of participating cat owners developed schizophrenia.
The researchers noted, “Cat ownership in childhood has now been reported in three studies to be significantly more common in families in which the child is later diagnosed with schizophrenia or another serious mental illness.”
While this research does not show a causal relationship, it does demonstrate a link. The researchers theorize that a parasite found in cats’ intestines, Toxoplasma gondii, could play a role in this relationship. Torrey told the Huffington Post, “T. gondii gets into the brain and forms microscopic cysts. We think it then becomes activated in late adolescence and causes disease, probably by affecting the neurotransmitters.” This same parasite has been linked to flu-related illness, fetal development disorder, blindness and even death.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 60 million Americans have T.Gondii. Those with strong immune systems are normally able to fight off the infection without developing symptoms. Those with weak immune systems and pregnant women are more susceptible to the infection and could experience some flu-like symptoms. In severe cases, death has occurred.
Other studies in the past have linked exposure to T. Gondii with a higher risk of developing mental illnesses. In 2014, a study reported that the parasite was responsible for roughly one fifth of schizophrenia cases.
Another study, conducted by A. L. Sutterland of the Academic Centre in Amsterdam, presented data gathered from a meta-analysis of over 50 studies, which established a link between the T. Gondii parasite and the increased risk of developing schizophrenia. This meta-analysis found that people who had been infected with the T. Gondii parasite were twice as likely to develop schizophrenia when compared to those who were not infected. Sutterland and his team even identified a link between the T. Gondii parasite and an increased risk of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and bipolar disorder.
This parasite is not exclusive to cats. Humans can become infected by the parasite after consuming undercooked or contaminated meat and/or contaminated water. The CDC recommends regularly changing a cat’s litter box regularly and feeding them only canned or well-cooked meats to avoid infection.
Severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia can contribute to addiction as a means of coping. Sovereign Health Group provides helpful inpatient and outpatient treatment programs across the country for patients who struggle with mental illnesses, drug addiction and dual diagnosis conditions. If you know someone who is struggling with mental illness and addiction, please do not hesitate to call. You may reach us at 888-530-4614. Our admissions helpline is open 24/7 and our treatment specialist will assist you in finding the right treatment option for you.
Written by Benjamin Creekmore, Sovereign Health Group writer