Internet Study Indicates an Association Between Cat Scratches and Depression

Introduction from Michael (Admin): I feel that I have to introduce this article by Jo because it is a very complicated area and scientists write in a language which is not easily interpreted by non-scientists. In addition, studies are often a collation of information harvested from other studies and therefore they can compound inaccuracies or create confusion. In my opinion this whole area has become very confused and possibly misleading.

This study essentially is stating that there is an association between cat scratches and depression in the people who look after the cats. The association could be because depressed people are more likely to be scratched rather than the cat scratch causing the depression. That point is very important and needs to be made at the outset. The reason why a depressed person may be more likely to be scratched is because they might be more careless or perhaps have substance abuse problems causing careless handling of their cat(s).

Another interesting aspect of this study is that they appear to have debunked an association between toxoplasmosis and depression which has previously been written about quite a lot. To reiterate: they could not find an association between toxoplasmosis and depression. Also in multi-cat households the owner was less likely to be depressed.

Beautiful claws

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

What follows is Jo Singer’s article, to which I have added a few words:

A recent study (not the one I am writing about) performed on 1.3 million patients had showed a strong association between being bitten by a cat and the probability of being diagnosed with depression. The
authors had suggested that infection with cat parasite Toxoplasma could be a likely reason for this association.

The new study revealed that only the group that received cat scratches had a positive effect on depression. Cat biting and toxoplasmosis had no effect on the depression and the number of cats had a negative effect on depression.

The study found an absence of association between toxoplasmosis and depression and a five times stronger association with cat scratching than with cat biting which suggested that the pathogen responsible for mood disorders in animals-injured subjects is probably not the protozoon Toxoplasma gondii, but possibly another organism; the bacteria Bartonella henselae, the agent of cat-scratched disease.

Caveat: As stated an association between depressed people and cat scratches does not automatically mean scratches cause depression.

Bartonella henselae is another infectious zoonotic disease. It is caused by the gram-negative bacterial Bartonella henselae. This disease is commonly referred to as “cat scratch fever“, and is transmitted in cats through contact with flea feces. This bacterium is excreted through the fleas into the feces and is then deposited on the cat’s skin. As the cat grooms itself, he ingests the bacterium which then causes the infection in the cat.

Caveat: dogs can also cause cat scratch fever. This seriously complicates this discussion.

Cat's Claws
Cat’s claws

Bartonella symptoms in cats are generally muscle aches, swollen glands and a possible fever. Humans can contract the disease through a scratch or possibly a bite from a cat who is infected. The disease in humans is usually mild; however in some cases a Bartonella infection can become sufficiently serious to warrant a short hospitalization. It is children who are at a higher risk of contracting the disease since they are more likely to play with infected kittens who tend to scratch and bite.

Kitty guardians can reduce the risk of their cats becoming infected with Bartonella through the prudent use of a regular, safe flea prevention program that is recommended by veterinarians. With an easy and simple flea prevention program, you will not only help prevent your cats from contracting Bartonella, but, based on the conclusion that the study reached this may also serve to prevent depression which may be caused through contracting Bartonella.

It will be interesting to learn more about what further studies may reveal about the cause of mental illness. I sincerely hope there are no further associations between cats and mental illness since we all know that having a deep and loving bond with a kitty and our interactions with them often are more effective than psychotropic drugs and there are no negative side effects that are caused by the human-feline bond.

What are your reactions to the study? Tell us in a comment.

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

16 thoughts on “Internet Study Indicates an Association Between Cat Scratches and Depression”

  1. My cat tested positive for toxoplasmosis and was treated but the chances of you getting it are pretty remote. Even the chances of them infecting another kitty are pretty remote. They have to be actively shedding the oocycts for another animal to get it or for them to even test positive for it. And a scratch will not transmit toxoplasmosis from cat to human. Unless you’re playing with or eating kitty’s poo or leaving the litter box incleaned for more than a couple days at a time everything should be fine for both owners and feline friends alike. It’s articles that scare people and why we have so many would be forever homes that are lost on such things. Don’t get me wrong, infections have serious consequences but you can get toxoplasmosis from not wearing gloves while gardening in your backyard….it’s in the soil people! How else do you think the animals we eat got it? Or our pets? And oocycts can live in the musc. Tissue of a living being for up to 20 years (with no signs,symptoms or testing positive for it) so if you do test positive, who knows when the heck you actually had it transmitted bc it could be an oocycts re-emerging in your body from grandmas backyard 15 years ago!
    I obviously am a cat lover!

  2. I agree that it’s more likely that depressed people tend to bug cats more and hence get scratched.

    Anecdotally, I’ve been scratched a lot by strays as a child as well as occasionally by my cats. When I was a kid, my parents wouldn’t allow me to have pets, but I was trying to pet every street cat I met. Being scratched was pretty much the permanent condition back then, and obviously, I wasn’t rushing home to disinfect, my not-very-hygienic way of handling scratches was to lick them. My parents kept admonishing me how I’d get ringworm one day if I keep going after strays, but I couldn’t resist.

    Once I got scratched badly by either a feral or a real European wildcat – the jury is out on what the mother cat was, but she was wild in behavior and so were the kittens I attempted to catch to my peril – the kitten I managed to catch scratched my hands while the mom run after me and sank her claws into my hip. The fact that 5 kittens were identical tabbies and looked somewhat different in markings from the cats I’ve seen before or after, and stayed with mother despite looking somewhat older speaks for wildcat, but having a wildcat come out from woods to find the refuge in an unused area under the house is a bit strange.

    At any rate, I’ve never had an issue with depression.

  3. I am delighted my cats scratch it keeps me on my toes. I’m depressed by people who justify mutilating a cats life by amputation it’s toes for ANY reason. They simply are not your toes.

  4. I have suffered from depression since age 12 and never had a pet of any kind until I was in my late 20s. My cats have ONLY had a POSITIVE effect on my depression. Now I don’t know that I’ve ever had cat scratch fever but I’ve had my share of scratches since I am really bad at claw clipping! Publishing something like this can only have a negative effect on people and negative outcomes for cats. If people are afraid to live with a cat or decide to give up their cats…I can’t even imagine the damage to all. There have been so many legitimate studies over the years proving what many of us know- that living with a pet improves mental and even physical health, especially cats. Mental illness already carries a tremendous unfounded stigma, this certainly will not advance the erasure of that stigma, which many of us work towards.

  5. Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

    This actually sounds to me like a group of scientists totally conned someone for grant money to study a non-association that’s a bit of a stretch. The only reason I would be depressed by scratches or bites–and moreso when I was a kid–is that I would interpret them as meaning, “The kitty doesn’t like me! BWAAA!” Of course, as an adult companion of two affectionate felines I know that’s not true. Otherwise I might be a bit depressed because it hurts, especially if anything gets infected. Mostly I think cats help depression–I know a lot of people who probably would not have made it as far in life as they have without their cats.

  6. Interesting article.
    I have dealt with cats for over 50 years. Some of my first ones were ferals, although we didn’t have a name for them then. I even carried home a baby bobcat as a child.
    Scratches, gashes, and bites have always been a way of life. I’m covered with scars. Just a couple of years ago, I had to have a ring cut off one of my fingers to accommodate the swelling from a very deep cat bite.
    Even today, I have to tackle some ferals that are trap shy so they can be TNR’d and am pretty bloody when I take them in.
    All in all, I’ve never felt like doing my self in, throwing myself under a train, or sitting in a corner rocking.
    I think that there may be something to an already depressed person that would evoke a cat scratch from a domesticated cat as opposed to the scratch causing the depression. Depressed people can, often, be aloof, irritable, and neglectful.
    My vote is that the depressed person, in some way, caused the cat to scratch instead of the cat scratch causing any depression.

    1. I am in agreement with you Dee. You can probably tell that from my introduction. These studies can be dangerous because scientists want to publish studies which can drive then to lose objectivity. I sense that a depressed person could more easily become careless about his/her safety and wellbeing and therefore expose himself to the danger of being scratched more often than someone who is not depressed. If that is the case the study is pretty meaningless.

  7. You are absolutely right, Jo, in that even allopathic practitioners (read: western, symptom-based treatment by those who’ve earned degrees and practice these disciplines) are increasingly realizing that cats, more than any other species, are healing to human beings through their loyal, loving companionship, the quality of their purrs, etc. I am always dismayed to know that there will be some very gullible and suggestible people out there who will believe negative press without bothering to learn that it is mostly, if not completely, baseless. The “study” you cite is one such source of misinformation, best filed in the “dustbin of history”.

  8. I’ve had many cats in my lifetime, and have only been scratched a few times, which have been during playtime. Recently, I was scratched in a freak type situation. My cat was laying on my chest, and we were both relaxing before a nap. All of a sudden, she leaped up landing on my face, leaving some scratches and a small puncture wound on my forehead. She heard something that startled her.

    I immediately washed my face, and put Neosporin on those areas. I’m aware that cat scratches can be dangerous. It seems like common sense when you consider that they use their paws to bury their poop.

    I’ve known women who kiss their cat’s paws, which I’d never do. There are times when my cat touches my face affectionately, but I don’t let let her paws near my mouth.

    Could it be that depressed people who have cats aren’t really aware enough to be good guardians, and may get scratched more often, and/or expose themselves to cat feces?

    I know a mentally ill person who has two cats, and he only cleans their litter box once a week. It’s awful, and I wish he didn’t have the cats. But they’re his reason for living.

  9. I’ve probably been scratched thousands of times and I admit I’m not exactly the BEST person when it comes to running to the sink and washing them off. For pete sakes it’s just a scratch.(Keeping in mind my 5 cats are totally indoors, do not have fleas and do not have to be treated with any flea treatments) Yep, I suffer from a bit of depression but uhhhhh….if I had to get rid of my cats, I’d probably be suicidal. So bring on the kitty scratches….mine never get infected (so how bad can they be? .. or I’ve developed an immunity to whatever germs they have lalalalalala) just kidding…I’m not a germophobe and we all know the monster we’ve created with all the anti bacterial soaps etc etc etc, so it certainly is a possibility. I’m probably one of the healthiest 66 year olds around…praise the Lord.

    1. 30 years, thousands upon thousands of cats, ferals, fosters, biters, scratches and never EVER had Cat Scratch Fever, or Toxoplasmosis (keep them indoors).

      The reason for rubbish articles like this is to give you an excuse to amputate the toes of your magnificent beast to the tune of hundreds of thousands a year. Fear mongering that you will have deformed babies, you will get a fever and die, you might get an infection from a scratch!!!

      Cats and babies are perfect.
      Cats with claws are perfect. Alias, we aren’t dying emass from claw related disasters.

      If we hurry America can be the 45 th country to see the unnecessary amputation of healthy toes a crime.

      #NeverDeclaw #PawProject #Citythekitty #ScreamingMemeeesAgainstDeclaw

      1. Thanks Kat. I made sure that I added my words of warning (caveats) because we agree that these studies can be dangerously misleading.

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