By Dr. Becker
Over the past few years, tabloid news headlines have given kitties a bad rap, linking cat ownership to increased risks for psychological problems and even cancer. Fortunately, more recent studies seem to discredit those assumptions and point to the health benefits of sharing a home with Tiger or Fluffy - a reality most of us owned by a cat are well aware of.
There is Simply No Evidence to Suggest Cats Cause Human Cancer
In a study published in Biology Letters titled "Cat ownership is neither a strong predictor of Toxoplamsa gondii infection nor a risk factor for brain cancer," researchers conclude that not only should cats not be blamed for human cancer, in fact, the opposite is true.
According to lead researcher Marion Vittecoq of the Tour du Valat research center in France, as far as she and her research colleagues are aware, studies investigating links between cancer and cat ownership have found either no association between the two or a reduced risk of cancer in people who have a cat.
One of the studies Vittecoq cites was published in 2008 in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention and found cat (and dog) owners have less risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma than people without pets1. The study further concludes the longer one owns a pet, the less chance the person has of developing this type of cancer.
Scientists can only speculate at this time about why having a cat or dog seems to make people healthier. But the evidence is mounting, including a study I wrote about recently that concluded babies living in households with pets developed fewer respiratory and ear infections during their first year of life.
And multiple studies over the years have proved the mental/psychological benefits of pet ownership, benefits that include comfort and companionship.
Cats Carry Low if Any Risk of Infecting Their Owners
One of the reasons cats have been in the news concerns a possible association between human cancer and the Toxoplasma gondii parasite.
A link has potentially been established between T. gondii and brain cancer. Since cats can carry this parasite, for the last year or so tabloid media has been promoting a connection between cat ownership and brain cancer with headlines like "Cat parasite linked to brain cancer. A parasite spread by cats could almost double their owner’s chance of developing brain cancer, research suggests.."2and "Can the cat give you cancer? Parasite in their bellies linked with brain tumours."3
Vittecoq and her colleagues believe cats have been wrongly accused, not only because the connection between the parasite and cancer has not been firmly established, but also because there are so many studies pointing to the health benefits of cat ownership.
According to study co-author Frédéric Thomas, humans most often pick up T. gondii by eating undercooked meat or through contact with contaminated soil. Other methods of transmission include contaminated water, fruit, vegetables and raw goat milk.