4 Thoughts on Schizophrenia and Cat Ownership

by Christina Bruni Patient Expert

A recent study confirmed the results of a 1982 survey that indicated half of
people who had a cat as a child were diagnosed with mental illnesses later in
life as opposed to 42% who did not.

Three studies linked cat ownership in childhood to be significantly more
common in families where a child is later diagnosed with schizophrenia or
another mental illness.

Four thoughts on these findings:

The science is intriguing.

Fifty studies were examined. The researchers found that a person infected with
toxoplasma gondii is nearly twice as likely to develop schizophrenia than
someone who doesn't have the poop parasite inside them.

A recent study showed that adults who had cats as children had a 50/50 chance of developing schizophrenia as adults.

It's estimated 60 million people in the U.S. have T. gondii and don't know it. The primary source is cats.

E. Fuller Torrey, MD claims T. gondii gets into the brain and forms microscopic cysts. It then gets activated in late adolescence and causes disease, thought to be because it affects the neurotransmitters.

I reported on risk factors for developing schizophrenia recently in a slide show.

It shows a link not a causal relationship.

I have a hard time swallowing this information although it interests me. As a kid,
and through my early twenties, I lived with a cat as a family pet. Though I'm
hard-pressed to believe the cats caused my illness I would not endorse cat
ownership at all if a causal relationship could be proven without a doubt.

To rule out or confirm the illness as the cause of symptoms a battery of schizophrenia diagnostic tools must be used. Brain on Fire is a memoir that details one young woman's medical condition that mirrored symptoms of psychosis. An astute doctor was able to diagnose a different cause.

Taking preventive measures could help.

Covering the litter box, keeping your cat indoors, and keeping pregnant women from changing the litter box are steps in the right direction.

T. gondii can be transmitted through neighboring cats. T. gondii can also be
transmitted to humans if we accidentally touch cat feces, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Aside from considering refraining from getting your kids a cat as a pet:
read the schizophrenia early warning signs if at all you suspect psychosis is
coming on in your child.

Pet therapy can help individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Get a dog instead. Psychiatric guide dogs are trained to assist those of us with our daily lives. A legally-certified guide dog is allowed to be kept in your apartment for medical needs. A guide dog can help you better manage your condition.

A takeaway about schizophrenia and cat ownership:

This all sounds freaky to me yet the fact is my family had cats as pets all during my childhood and early young adult years. The coincidence is unnerving.

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Christina Bruni
Meet Our Writer
Christina Bruni

Christina Bruni wrote about schizophrenia for HealthCentral as a Patient Expert. She is a mental health activist and freelance journalist.