As a cat owner myself, this got my attention. We all know that cat videos rule the internet, but cats ruling the world? Through mind-control? Seriously? Well, YES, sort of.
Science has long known about a particular parasite associated with cats, Toxoplasma gondii. Although parasitic mind control sounds like the stuff of sci-fi television – IT IS REAL! The parasite, T. gondii, is specific to cats and can only reproduce within cats, once expelled by the cat, the T.gondii becomes infectious in 1-5 days. In rats and mice, the T.gondii infection has been shown to DECREASE the rodents aversion to predators, in effect making the cats better “mousers” or hunters, they cheat.
The CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Pevention, estimates as many as 60 million Americans carry the T. gondii parasite, which is not an issue for most with healthy immune systems. However, a recent study combined with past studies shows a significant link between T. gondii infection and schizophrenia, as well as other mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder. E. Fuller Torrey of the Stanley Medical Research Institute and Dr. Robert H. Yolken of Stanley Laboratory of Developmental Neurovirology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have been studying the link between infection with T. gondii and schizophrenia for close to three decades.
Their most recent study, published in Schizophrenia Research, along with researcher Wendy Simmons, compared two previous studies that found a link between childhood cat ownership and the development of schizophrenia later in life with an unpublished survey on mental health from 1982, 10 years before any data on cat ownership and mental illness had ever been published. Results of the analysis indicated that cat exposure in childhood may be a risk factor for developing mental disorders.
“Cat ownership in childhood has now been reported in three studies to be significantly more common in families in which the child is later diagnosed with schizophrenia or another serious mental illness,” the authors reported in a press release.
In a second recent study, A.L. Sutterland from the Department of Psychiatry at the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam and colleagues analyzed the findings of 50 published studies to confirm that T. gondii infection is associated with mental disorders.
“In schizophrenia, the evidence of an association with T. gondii is overwhelming,” the authors say in a press release. “These findings may give further clues about how T. gondii infection can possibly [alter] the risk of specific psychiatric disorders.”
There are precautions that cat lovers can take — you can defend yourself against Kitty Cat World Domination. “Children can be protected by keeping their cat exclusively indoors and always covering the sandbox when not in use,” Torrey says. The CDC also recommends changing the cat’s litter box daily, since T. gondii does not become infectious until 1 to 5 days after it is shed in feces. In addition, avoid feeding cats raw or undercooked meat.
Because toxoplasmosis is especially hazardous to unborn babies, health officials recommend that pregnant women avoid cleaning litter boxes, if possible, or wear disposable gloves and wash hands thoroughly with soap and water afterwards.