Science & Tech

Scientists discover mysterious link between cats and schizophrenia

Scientists discover mysterious link between cats and schizophrenia
The mother of 800 cats
Zoomin TV / VideoElephant

A recent study has suggested having a cat could potentially double a person's risk of developing schizophrenia-related disorders.

Australian researchers conducted an analysis of 17 studies published during the last 44 years and found a link between owning a cat and developing disorders related to schizophrenia.

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

The link was proposed in a 1995 study, with exposure to a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii suggested as the cause. But research so far hasn't reached a definite conclusion.

For example, some studies found cats during childhood could make a person more likely to develop schizophrenia, but not all studies made such a link.

Other studies linked cat exposure to high scores on scales that measure traits related to schizophrenia. But, again, other studies didn't show such a connection.

So in order to get a better understanding researchers did a thorough review and analysis of all the research on cats and schizophrenia.

The parasite T. gondii can be transmitted through a bite or the faeces from an infected cat. People can get infected without any symptoms, but research found more strange effects the infection may have.

Once in the body, T. gondii can infiltrate the central nervous system and influence neurotransmitters. The parasite has been linked to personality changes and some neurological disorders, including schizophrenia.

The new analysis of 17 studies found "a significant positive association between broadly defined cat ownership and an increased risk of schizophrenia-related disorders".

"After adjusting for covariates, we found that individuals exposed to cats had approximately twice the odds of developing schizophrenia," the team explained.

However, it is important to note that 15 of the 17 studies were case-control studies, meaning it cannot prove cause and effect. On top of this, a number of the studies were of low quality, which the authors highlight.

The researchers agree that better and broader research is needed.

"In conclusion, our review provides support for an association between cat ownership and schizophrenia-related disorders," the authors wrote.

"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."

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