I regularly get an email from the APA (American Psychatric Association) highlighting various topics from the current academic literature. Last month, the top headline announced that exposure to cats in childhood might be a potential cause of schizophrenia.
(Watch out kitties and cat lovers!)
Before we vilify our feline friends, let’s discuss the article a little further. Cats are carriers for a parasite, toxoplasma gondii, which is implicated in many illnesses. Toxoplasmosis is asymptomatic in most (our immune systems successfully fight off the bug), but it tends to attack those with weakened immune systems (people with HIV, those undergoing chemotherapy, pregnant women…) and can cause encephalitis, damage the heart, liver, inner ear, eyes, and, contribute to OCD, ADHD, and schizophrenia.
But hold up. The bug is transmitted in feces, so petting Fluffy won’t hurt you. (It IS important, however, for immunocompromised people to avoid cleaning litter boxes.)
Furthermore–getting back to cats and schizophrenia–developing a mental illness is multifactorial. Genetics, environment, and exposure to drugs can play a role. Even the weather has been implicated. (Those born during winter months have a higher incidence of schizophrenia.)
Every bit of research is therefore significant in identifying and clarifying anything and everything that leads to mental illness.
So, while it’s important to know that T. gondii might be linked to schizophrenia, I feel kind of bad for cats. It reminds me of the anecdote about the mass killing of cats allowing rodents to multiply and propagate the spread of the Black Death in Europe. I can’t help but wonder if history will repeat itself.