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Cat owners more likely to commit suicide

Kim Hookem-Smith
Yahoo Lifestyle
3 July 2012

Female cat owners may be more at risk of committing suicide, due to a common parasite found in cat faeces. Changing the litter tray puts owners in contact with this parasite, which a new study has linked to a one and a half increased likelihood of suicide.

[Related article: Karl Lagerfeld's cat gets obsessive pampering]

The study specifically looked at female cat owners, meaning the stats relate to ‘cat ladies’, but there’s no reason to believe that male cat owners would not be similarly affected. The Toxoplasma gondii  (T. gondii)parasite is fairly common and as well as living in the intestines of cats, it is also spread through eating undercooked meat or unwashed vegetables. It’s thought that about a third of the world’s population is infected with the parasite.

The Danish study looked at more than 45,000 women who owned cats.  The researchers found a significant link between infections of T. gondii and suicide attempts. Women infected with the parasite were one and a half times more likely to attempt suicide compared to those not infected and the risk appeared to increase as the levels of T. gondii antibodies did.

“We can’t say with certainty that T. gondii caused the women to try to kill themselves,” said the study’s senior author Doctor Teodor Postolache, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in the US. “But we did find a predictive association between the infection and suicide attempts later in life that warrants additional studies.”

Pregnant women are advised not to change cat litter, as contact with the parasite can cause toxoplasmosis and be dangerous for the unborn baby. The study also advises that psychiatric conditions could possibly be explained by this parasite, changing the way we diagnose and treat some illnesses.

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