(CNN)Studies have suggested that cat ownership could be linked to certain mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, but researchers at University College London say they found no link between cat ownership and the development of psychotic symptoms.
Published in the medical journal Psychological Medicine, the new study is the first to prospectively look at childhood cat ownership and the infection of the parasite Toxoplasma gondii as a risk factor for psychosis.
House cats are known to be the primary host of T. gondii, which infects various warm-blooded animals (including humans) and causes a disease called toxoplasmosis.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 60 million people in the United States may be infected with the parasite. However, most individualswho develop toxoplasmosis experience few symptoms because their immune systems keep the parasite from causing illness.
“There is good evidence that T. Gondii exposure during pregnancy can lead to serious birth defects and other health problems in children. As such, we recommend that pregnant women should continue to follow advice not to handle soiled cat litter in case it contains T. Gondii,”senior study author James Kirkbride of University College London said in a news release.
Soiled litter boxes are not the only places to contract the parasite. “You don’t have to own a cat to be exposed to contaminated feces,” Fuller said. “For example, cats love sandboxes because of the loose soil.” He warns that any loose soil can easily be contaminated by neighborhood cats.
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Solmi says she is relieved at the results of her study. “Many people own cats, and it’s reassuring that our findings suggest that cat ownership is not associated with an increased risk of mental illness, as previously suggested.”
She suggests that future studies look at replicating this research study to add more evidence.