Your Cat May Not Be As Innocent As It Looks

As an aspiring cat lady who can think of almost zero situations where I'd rather be hanging out with a human than a sweet, adorable, perfect fluff-ball kitten, here's some news I find particularly alarming: new research links Toxoplasma gondii, a cat parasite, with mental illness like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which means that the precious feline face that fills your heart with unlimited joy could also be making you sick. What is this cruel world?

The research comes from scientists at the Stanley Medical Research Institute, who have been studying the link between mental developmental disorders and Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii), a cat-carried parasite that's apparently the most common parasite in developed countries, according to CBS News. In fact, 60 million people in the U.S. alone are thought to have it. While most people who come into contact with T. gondii never produce any symptoms, others with weaker immune systems can experience a host of health issues if they're infected by the parasite, including blindness and flu-like symptoms.

In a study published in Schizophrenia Bulletin, researchers E. Fuller Torrey and Dr. Robert H. Yolken compared past research that established a link between owning a cat during childhood and developing serious mental disorders like schizophrenia later in adult life. Another study published in the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica came to similar, terrifying conclusions: a person who has T. gondii is almost twice as likely to develop schizophrenia as well.

So what's a cat lover to do? Send Fluffy packing and tell her to hit the curb? (Don't worry Fluffy — I would never do that to you.) First, a few deep breaths might be in order. According to researchers at Washington State University, people are far more likely to contract the parasite by eating meat that has been undercooked than by spending quality time with their kittens. And while yes, there are a few worst case scenarios that come along with T. gondii (you know, like blindness, death, dementia, etc.), the chances that healthy individuals will ever show symptoms are pretty slim. But if you are still freaking out because you think your cat is secretly trying to kill you? Just make sure you're regularly cleaning out its litter box. The parasite lives in cat stool and doesn't become infectious until a day or two after being exposed. Which is good to know, because I take my dreams of becoming a cat lady pretty seriously, and would hate to think that something as tiny and inconvenient as an invisible parasite might get in the way of that.

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