There are two kinds of people in the world today. You’re either a cat person or a dog person. If you’re a cat person, you must absolutely love these independent, furry companions, even though sometimes they may cause mischief or completely ignore your existence. Nevertheless, regardless of their mood swings, there’s no denying that they are an everlasting part of modern society. Unfortunately, these little pets also come with a downside, in the form of a mental illness.
Recently, scientists unearthed a parasite in cats, known as Toxoplasma gondii which they linked to mental illness in owners, particularly schizophrenia. This parasite is actually present in the cat’s waste, and it can affect the brain of other animals. Let’s take mice for instance. They usually use their keen sense of smell to avoid cat urine, since it’s in their best interest to avoid cats. But, once they become infected with this parasite, their brain is altered and they actually start being drawn to the scent of cats. And as you can guess, this doesn’t work out well for the mice.
Once the cat eats the mouse, the parasite begins to reproduce again because cats are the only hosts which allow them to reproduce. So, you could say that it’s a win-win situation for the T. gondii. As a result, if an uninfected cat eats the infected mouse, the parasite will spread and the cat will become infected.
However, the involvement of humans further complicates things. As mentioned earlier, the parasite can’t reproduce in a human host, but it can cause mild toxoplasmosis that may ultimately lead to the development of mental illness.
A recent study in the journal Schizophrenia Research found that there’s a connection between individuals who had been exposed to cats since a young age and the development of mental illness later in life. This latest study is actually the third one to confirm this. The previous study examined this relationship more directly and showed that someone infected with T. gondii was almost twice as likely to develop schizophrenia later in life.
Further confirmation of the link between the parasite and mental health is that the use of antipsychotic drugs, which are commonly used to treat patients with schizophrenia, have a role in negating the effects of toxoplasmosis in rats and humans.
Your cat doesn’t seem so cute now does it?