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Curiosity killed the cat: no evidence of an association between cat ownership and psychotic symptoms at ages 13 and 18 years in a UK general population cohort

  • F. Solmi (a1), J. F. Hayes (a1), G. Lewis (a1) and J. B. Kirkbride (a1)
Abstract
Background

Congenital or early life infection with Toxoplasma gondii has been implicated in schizophrenia aetiology. Childhood cat ownership has been hypothesized as an intermediary marker of T. gondii infection and, by proxy, as a risk factor for later psychosis. Evidence supporting this hypothesis is, however, limited.

Method

We used birth cohort data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) to investigate whether cat ownership in pregnancy and childhood (ages 4 and 10 years) was associated with psychotic experiences (PEs) in early (age 13, N = 6705) and late (age 18, N = 4676) adolescence, rated from semi-structured interviews. We used logistic regression to examine associations between cat ownership and PEs, adjusting for several sociodemographic and socioeconomic factors, household characteristics and dog ownership. Missing data were handled via multiple imputation.

Results

Cat ownership during pregnancy was not associated with PEs at age 13 years [adjusted odds ratio (OR) 1.15, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.97–1.35] or 18 years (OR 1.08, 95% CI 0.86–1.35). Initial univariable evidence that cat ownership at ages 4 and 10 years was associated with PEs at age 13 years did not persist after multivariable adjustment (4 years: OR 1.18, 95% CI 0.94–1.48; 10 years: OR 1.12, 95% CI 0.92–1.36). There was no evidence that childhood cat ownership was associated with PEs at age 18 years.

Conclusions

While pregnant women should continue to avoid handling soiled cat litter, given possible T. gondii exposure, our study strongly indicates that cat ownership in pregnancy or early childhood does not confer an increased risk of later adolescent PEs.

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Copyright
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: F. Solmi, Ph.D., UCL Division of Psychiatry, 6th Floor, Wing B, Maple House, 149 Tottenham Court Road, London W1T 7NF, UK. (Email: francesca.solmi@ucl.ac.uk)
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