Science Links Cat Bites With Depression, And Science Has Weird Theories About Why

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Don't believe the hype about your cat secretly hating you? Um, we've got bad news: According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, cat bites are strongly correlated with depression. The study, which was published in the journal PLOS ONE, analyzed data from medical records of the mental and physical health of over 1.3 million people. 

Over the course of 10 years, researchers thoroughly examined the records, narrowing them down to people who indicated they'd suffered bites, and then re-examining them further to determine whether those bites were from cats or dogs. 

And if you have a cat, the results will probably freak you out.

  • Out of the 1.3 million people, 117,000 had been diagnosed with depression at some point
  • 750 patients had cat bites, while 1,108 patients had dog bites
  • Out of the patients who had suffered cat bites, a whopping 41.3 percent had suffered from depression
  • Out of the patients who had suffered dog bites, about 28.7 percent had suffered from depression
  • 86 percent of people who both had depression and were bitten by cats were women. (We're crossing our fingers that no one will use this to fuel more sexist cat lady jokes.)

As far as scientific studies go, this one wins gold for weirdest results. We hope cat-owners won't begin to shun their kitties. 

But what are the possible reasons for the correlations? Scientists have a couple of hypotheses:

  1. Possibly, depressed people are more likely to own cats. As the scientists pointed out, owning pets has been linked to reducing high blood pressure and providing social support. 
  2. Pets could be more likely to bite depressed individuals. (What?!) People diagnosed with depression are less likely to make eye contact than people without depression — and a human individual's gaze or lack theoreof can greatly impact an animal's behavior.
  3. And here's the grimmest hypothesis: Cats often carry a parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, which they can then transmit to their human owners. Scientists pointed out that infections with the parasite have often been correlated with self-harm and increased suicide rates. There's also a possibility that an infection from the parasite in the brain could cause depression in some individuals. 

While it bears repeating that there has been no actual causal link discovered between cat bites and depression, none of these scientific conclusions are uplifting. As cute and cuddly as they are, cats may not be our BFFs.

In more positive news, dogs are our BFFs — that's been proven by science, too. In a new study, researchers had dogs listen to 200 dog and human sounds, ranging from barks to whines. Through brain scanners, they determined that happy sounds were more likely to make dogs' primary auditory cortices light up than unhappy sounds. 

The results demonstrate that brain scanners show that dogs have "dedicated voice areas" in their brains, meaning they're in sync with their owner's emotions. 

Even more importantly, dogs and humans process sounds and emotions in extraordinarily similar ways. Guess we don't call dogs "man's best friend" for nothing. 

Sorry, cats, but dogs win this round.


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