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Can I develop schizophrenia from owning a cat?
Someone told me that owning a cat has been linked with the development of schizophrenia. Do I need to be worried?
The link that has been reported in the past is an epidemiological association between some human psychoses such as schizophrenia and Toxoplasma gondii infection or cat ownership. However, this just means that humans with certain psychoses were more likely to be infected with Toxoplasma gondii or own a cat; this association does not mean that there is a cause and effect relationship. Almost any animal can be infected with Toxoplasma gondii but cats play an important part in the parasite’s life cycle. Despite this, human infection with Toxoplasma gondii is often not from a cat. Rather it is most often a result of ingestion of undercooked meat that contains the parasite; humans may also be infected though ingestion of the parasite’s oocysts (similar to an egg) from cat faeces in the environment.
Recently a large, well-conducted and scientifically rigorous study from the UK has given some more clarity on the subject. This study followed several thousand children through to early adulthood and found that there was strong evidence that cat ownership during pregnancy or early childhood had no relationship with the development of psychoses during early or late adolescence.
There is the possibility that exposure to Toxoplasma gondii may be linked to certain psychotic disorders but cat ownership does not appear to increase the risk. It is unusual for people to get infected by Toxoplasma gondii from their own cat. Even if a cat has been infected by the parasite, they only shed oocysts for a very short time just after they are first infected and not again (unless they are immunosuppressed in which case some may shed again). It is important to remember that healthy cats that carry the parasite but were not infected recently do not pose a risk of infection to humans. So in short, no you do not need to be worried, I certainly am not and I am in contact with a lot of cats!