New Study Shows Surprising Link Between Cat Parents and Serious Mental Disorder

Researchers from the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research in Australia have conducted a study which found that being a cat owner can double the risk of developing schizophrenia, especially if you are a cat owner under age 25.

The parasite Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii), often found in domestic cats, has been linked to a  broad range of direct and indirect physiological changes in the brain.

The researchers conducted an analysis of 17 studies published during the last 44 years, from 11 countries including the US and the UK.

"We found an association between broadly defined cat ownership and increased odds of developing schizophrenia-related disorders," explained psychiatrist John McGrath and fellow researchers, all from the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research, in their study published last December.

Related: Science Says Dogs Are Better for People's Mental Health Than Any Human

Science Alert goes on to report that once inside our bodies, T. gondii can infiltrate the central nervous system and influence neurotransmitters. The parasite has been linked to personality changes, the emergence of psychotic symptoms, and some neurological disorders, including schizophrenia.

The study concludes that there is a need for more high-quality studies, based on large, representative samples to better understand cat ownership as a candidate risk-modifying factor for mental disorders.

How Pets Help People with Mental Disorders

The sad irony of this study is that pet ownership has actually been shown to be beneficial for people with psychotic disorders, mood disorders and personality disorders.

Pets give us love, companionship, and unconditional support. They can provide people with mental disorders structure to their days and give them a sense of purpose. Of course, it may be difficult to care for a pet if you live with an extremely severe mental illness, but these people can even benefit from spending time with therapy dogs in a hospital setting.

Interacting with pets has been shown to reduce stress levels and promote relaxation by lowering blood pressure and heart rate. Any person can benefit from that.

Psychology Today reports that during a study twenty-one patients living with schizophrenia were selected from Spain and split into two groups. Twelve of the participants received a specialized trained therapy dog, while the others did not.

Patients with the intervention of the therapy dog showed better quality of life and a reduction in symptoms like hallucinations, delusions, and the absence of affect.

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