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Owning a cat during pregnancy, childhood: Is there a mental health risk?

March 17, 2017—Can growing up with a cat lead to mental health problems like schizophrenia? Nope. That's according to a new study that found no link between owning a cat and psychotic disorders in children.

The concern about cat ownership all stems from the parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii. Children and adults are sometimes exposed to this parasite through cat feces and litter. The parasite is linked to the disease toxoplasmosis, which can cause serious infection in people with weakened immune systems. And it can lead to eye problems and brain damage, including seizures and intellectual disability, in children who were exposed before birth—symptoms that might not appear until later in life.

But in this study, the researchers found that cat ownership during pregnancy and in early childhood was not connected to psychotic experiences in young children or during adolescence.

Learn more about the study published in Psychological Medicine.

Pregnant women and cats

The study didn't show a link between a child having psychotic symptoms and pregnant women owning cats, but toxoplasmosis is still a pregnancy risk for unborn children.

So what's the best course of action? If you are pregnant and own a cat, make sure all litter boxes are changed daily. The parasite doesn't become infectious until one to five days after it's shed in cat feces. Also, avoid changing the litter if possible. If you must change it, wear disposable gloves. Keep your cat indoors, and don't get a new cat or kitten while you are pregnant.

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