In a significant research effort, Australian scientists have recently shed light on the possible connections between owning a cat and the elevated risk of developing schizophrenia. This analysis, based on a review of 17 studies spanning 44 years across various nations, including the United States and the United Kingdom, has been published in the Schizophrenia Bulletin journal. The study’s key finding suggests, “Our findings support an association between cat exposure and an increased risk of broadly defined schizophrenia-related disorders.”
Schizophrenia, a complex mental illness, often manifests in late teens and is characterized by symptoms like hearing voices and impaired clarity of thought. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 24 million people globally suffer from this condition. The disease is marked by delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, emotional withdrawal, and in some cases, paranoia or inflated self-esteem. Various treatments, including medication and therapy, are available to manage schizophrenia.
The hypothesis linking cat ownership to schizophrenia dates back to 1995, focusing on the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Transmission of this parasite can occur through bites, contact with a cat’s bodily fluids or feces, contaminated water, or undercooked meat. In the United States alone, an estimated 40 million people may be infected with T. gondii, often without exhibiting symptoms, despite its ability to affect the nervous system and neurotransmitters.
Previous studies have associated T. gondii with personality changes, psychotic symptoms, and other neurological disorders, including schizophrenia. Pregnant women are particularly at risk, as the parasite can be transmitted to the fetus through the placenta, posing serious health risks. The authors of the study emphasize the necessity for further high-quality research to solidify these findings. They state, “Our review provides support for an association between cat ownership and schizophrenia-related disorders. More large-scale, representative studies are required to better understand cat ownership as a potential risk-modifying factor for mental disorders.”