New research is sure to get cat owners purring: Despite suggestions that cats may boost one's risk of psychiatric disorders and other mental illnesses, a new study finds people who grow up in a house with cats are no more likely to suffer from mental illness than those who steer clear of cats. "The message for cat owners is clear: There is no evidence that cats pose a risk to children's mental health," the lead author says in a release. While it doesn't dispute the link between mental illness and a parasite carried in cat feces, known as Toxoplasma gondii, the Psychological Medicine study does suggest previous studies linking cat ownership and psychosis failed to consider factors like household over-crowding and socioeconomic status.
Researchers followed 5,000 children from birth to age 18, gathering health data as well as information on whether they grew up with a cat or even whether their mother lived with a cat while pregnant, per the Conversation. Though they couldn't measure T. Gondii exposure directly, they found cat ownership in pregnancy and childhood did not increase one's risk of psychiatric problems, per CNN. Researchers did find "a small link between cat ownership and psychotic symptoms at age 13, but this turned out to be due to other factors," the author says. Researchers maintain, however, that T. Gondii exposure during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, and other health problems for the baby so pregnant women shouldn't handle soiled cat litter. (This study shows how to cheer a grumpy cat.)