Do Cats Cause Schizophrenia?

One psychiatrist suspects possible link between cat parasites and mental disorder.

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Although he has been studying a possible link for at least 10 years, Dr. Fuller Torrey and his speculation that exposure to cats could cause schizophrenia have garnered a great deal of media attention in the past few days, with coverage in Esquire magazine, The New York Daily News and The New York Times Magazine.

Specifically, Torrey, associate research director at the Stanley Medical Research Institute in Bethesda, Md., contends that the parasite Toxoplasma gondii may cause schizophrenia, a mental disorder. Humans are generally infected by the parasite by eating undercooked meat or by being exposed to an infected cats feces.

Torrey has noted that exposure to cats as children, or mothers exposed to cats during their pregnancies, was one of many risk factors for the disorder. The disorder generally does not become apparent until late adolescence or adulthood.

In one study, 51 percent of 165 schizophrenics had owned cats as children, compared to 39 percent of 163 non-schizophrenics. In another study, 52 percent of schizophrenics had owned cats when they were 13 years old or younger, compared to 42 percent of 522 non-schizophrenics. 

Whether this possible link is ever confirmed or not, Torreys research is a reminder on the importance of implementing an appropriate, year-round parasite control program for your catsand your ownhealth.

Posted: Dec. 14, 2005, 3p.m. EST

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