How Your Cat Could Make You Mentally Ill

At the date of this post, there are a plethora of articles about how the toxoplasma gondii (deliberately described as “toxoplasma protozoan” here) can cause mental illness in people. It is all over the Internet at the moment. Recently TIME also published an article about it. It is disturbing to cat lovers. It should be disturbing to many people, particularly parents, who care for a cat or cats and children. I have already written about how there is lot of exaggeration regarding the cat’s ability to transmit the disease to people. There is also, I believe, a bias. The domestic cat is being victimised.

The research published in Schizophrenia Research examines a possible link between a child’s connection with a cat or cats in the family and a later development of serious mental illness in that child.

I want to mention the authors of this research who have stated that there is a link between the toxoplasma protozoan and mental illness in people as it is very relevant. The authors are E.Fuller Torrey of the Stanley Medical Research Institute and Dr Robert H Jolken of the Stanley Laboratory of Developmental Neurovirology.

Edwin Fuller Torrey is the Executive Director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute. Back in the early 1970s, over 40 years ago, Edwin Fuller Torrey became interested in the possible causes of schizophrenia due to viral infections and particularly the toxoplasma protozoan. Many of the current research studies on the link between schizophrenia and toxoplasmosis written by different authors in different countries have been funded and supported by the Stanley Medical Research Institute.

We therefore have to conclude that Mr Torrey has been convinced, possibly obsessed, with the idea that the toxoplasma protozoan causes mental illness in people, particularly children at an early age. His theory that the mental illness of schizophrenia is caused by viral infections rather than through bad early experiences or inheritance is “not prominent in current mainstream scientific views”1. In other words, his strong views that the toxoplasma protozoan causes schizophrenia is not supported by mainstream science and scientists. This observation must put what he says about cats into context. It must put what has been often quoted in the online media recently also into context.

Torrey said he likes cats:

“My wife thinks I’m going to be assassinated by cat owners,” says Torrey with a sigh. “In fact, I like cats. Unfortunately, if we are correct that they transmit infections…” (note: he says ‘if we are correct’ – he is not sure yet journalists quote the research as gospel truth…..)

What is disappointing is that the journalists who quote Torrey’s research do not put Torrey’s long held views and his research into context, namely a more than 40 year crusade to establish that toxoplasmosis causes schizophrenia. This is scaremongering in my opinion and it needs to stop.

The other author of this research Dr Yolken. It is noted in his biography that he has speculated that a virus or the toxoplasma protozoan invades the brain and lies dormant for years triggering the onset of schizophrenia. This appears to be a pet (excuse the pun) concept of this scientist.

There is a desperate shortage of good sense amongst reporters and journalists when reporting on science. Standards need to be improved. This article is openly intended to defend the domestic cat and deliberately biased in the cat’s favour with the intention of adding balance to the debate.


Note: 1 — Sources for info about the authors: Wikipedia and general internet research.

Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

25 thoughts on “How Your Cat Could Make You Mentally Ill”

  1. Hopefully I’ll get some time between now and middle of next week to write something short – after checking what research was actually done. A good researcher challenges their hypothesis.

  2. The study requires the following sample sets (and needs large sample sets) to campare the correlation between cat contact & mental illness (either in general or a specific mental illness):

    Owned cats/had close contact as a child and later developed mental illness.
    Owned cats/had close contact as a child and has not developed mental illness.
    Didn’t own cats/have close contact and has developed mental illness.
    Didn’t own cats/have close contact and has not developed mental illness.

    And extend this to those who had/had not close contact with other domestic pets (e.g. dogs) instead of cats. That will help with figures for toxo picked up from non-feline sources.

    1. Would you like to write an article about this from the standpoint of a scientist to try and put all what is being said by scientists into context? I think it needs to be placed into context and some sanity to emerge from this feasting by journalists on online news media sites of the dangers of toxoplasmosis to children and their parents. There is too much discussion about schizophrenia being caused by toxoplasmosis. If you decide to write an article, and of course there is absolutely no obligation to do so, then I would be glad to make a donation to Cats Protection as in the past.

  3. Many people with mental conditions adopt cats for companionship. In linking toxo to any mental illness there need to be studies to identify those who were already diagnosed with mental illness before having close contact with cats (tracing my medical history, I was ill – albeit not schizophrenia – from a very young age when I had no contact with cats). Mental illness can lead to cat ownership. Cat ownership doesn’t necessarily lead to mental illness. I’ve been fielding emails from my worried younger correspondents and reassuring them that they really don’t need to worry. The researchers need to challenge their findings, not look for data that backs them up.

    1. An excellent point to make Sarah. This is certainly very true and when you write “mental illness can lead to cat ownership [but] cat ownership doesn’t necessarily lead to mental illness” you sum it up very nicely. I should have used that as the title!

      Thanks for the support. It is nice to have it from a scientist (I consider you to be a scientist).

  4. Harvey Harrison

    It’s pretty much the same situation with L Lyons’ studies on Turkish cats. The cat fancy controls the usual source of funding , The Winn Foundation, so the results are inevitably tailored to suit the cat fancy’s version of things. They scratch each other’s backs like mad but the results do not stand up to scrutiny.

    1. Harvey, I couldn’t agree with you more.

      It’s sad but true, that the majority of these studies are not independent and the sponsors have a vested interest in ‘proving’ a particular opinion. The results are always skewed so as to support the sponsors’ viewpoint.

  5. Harvey Harrison

    These 2 scientists seem to be intent on making a name for themselves by “discovering”that toxoplasmosis is the root cause of mental illness, and thus overlook the fact that human infection by this parasite is extremely common and thus almost everybody should have schizophrenia. Anybody who does gardening or handles meat, vegetables, etc do contact that parasite and become infected. But the illness is hardly noticed and is soon overcome by the host’s immune system. Infected cats only shed the spores for a very limited time. but they are present all the time in soil. So we should ban gardening or maybe cover everything over with concrete!!

    1. Well said Harvey. Even IF, their theory were true, these “researchers” only ever concentrate on cats as the source of toxoplasmosis.

      I bet that more than a few of these “studies” are funded by the likes of the Audoban Society.

      1. only ever concentrate on cats as the source of toxoplasmosis.

        Absolutely and anyway they are presenting a proposed explanation – a hypothesis, not fact as the journalist state. Toxoplasmosis is caused far more often by eating undercooked meat. It is irritating to me that journos don’t mention this because it is too sensible. It is not hyped up enough. And it blames people rather than the cat.

    2. Thanks Harvey. Personally, I am sick to death of idiotic cult of blaming the domestic cat for causing mental illness in people through toxoplasmosis. It is poor science in league with poor journalists as far as I am concerned. The journos want something sensational to say and the scientists feed them a crumb from which they make a loaf.

  6. Fiction or not…
    Now, I have a source to blame for my lunacy!

    In reality, no animal has the capability of mentally debilitating us.

    Sick of research groups sucking taxpayer monies trying to prove some idiotic theory.

    1. Dee, I have totally embraced the crazy cat lady image. I’ve done it for years and I did it on my own.

      I remember these scientists were the same Brainiacs who claimed that male children didn’t feel pain so it was okay to circumcise them without anesthesia.

      Mighty funny we never see any of this nonsense directed at dogs.

        1. Yep, they are. Especially when the people who believe them don’t even bother to find out what’s true for themselves.

      1. Dee, when I saw him over on One Green Planet he had a couple idiots who seemed to follow him around. One was supposedly a 16 year old serial killer in training who killed his uncle’s kitten and blamed it on coyotes. He claimed he couldn’t wait to become legal so he could get his guns and go on a feline killing spree. The other one was certifiable, just as looney.

        Of course, those were probably sockpuppets, Woody in disguise.

    1. Woody will certainly be pleased to read this research but there are many Woody-types out there and some are scientists. I am not saying that these two are Woody-types but they may have a bit of wood in them ๐Ÿ˜‰ .

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