You’re probably aware of the stigma around “crazy cat ladies,” and of stereotypes about lonely old women acquiring too many felines. So, is there any scientific proof to the connection between owning cats and mental health problems?

A new study from researchers at University College London contradicts prior research, and finds no link between cat ownership and increased risk of mental illness.

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The research team studied nearly 5,000 participants, who were all born in 1991 or 1992, until the age of 18. Researchers took into account whether the person grew up in a household with cats, or if felines were present while their mother was pregnant, a press release from UCL said.

Results showed that there is no evidence that cats pose a risk to children's mental health.

Recent research has indicated that reputed mental impairments could be the result of a parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) in cat feces.

Stray or outdoor felines may carry the parasite, which is able to infect any warm-blooded animal, including humans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that some 60 million Americans have T. gondii. Most people don’t show any symptoms of the infection, but people with a weaker immune system could get sick with toxoplasmosis, which has been linked to miscarriage, fetal developmental disorders, blindness, and flu-like symptoms.

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"Our study suggests that cat ownership during pregnancy or in early childhood does not pose a direct risk for later psychotic symptoms," said senior author Dr James Kirkbride, according to the release. "However, there is good evidence that T. Gondii exposure during pregnancy can lead to serious birth defects and other health problems in children. As such, we recommend that pregnant women should continue to follow advice not to handle soiled cat litter in case it contains T. Gondii."

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