Why Children with Cats Have More Mental Health Issues

Those who own cats know how fine a feline can be, but a study slated to appear in the Human-Animal Interactions Bulletin uncovered some less-than-fine statistics. The study compared children who lived with cats to those who lived without cats, finding children with cats had nearly three times the rate of mental health issues.

Children diagnosed with mental health issues:

  • Children with cats: 14 percent
  • Children without cats: 5 percent

In addition to a higher instance of mental health issues, children with cats also had more attention problems. This held true even when researchers took various factors into account, such as a child’s age, poverty rates, and parents suffering from depression.

What’s the Deal?

So why do cat-owning children have higher rates of mental health issues and attention problems? The answer is not cut and dry, although there are a few of theories kicking around.

Theory 1: Blame a Parasite

The first theory suggests there may be something about cats that brings on more mental health problems in children. What could that something be? One study pointed to the possibility of a tiny parasite being at the root of the problem.

The name of the parastic organism is Toxoplasmosis gondii, and it is known to invade cells of cats, humans and other mammals. A few studies noted that a Tox infection can increase the risk of mental health issues, including those related to attention disorders.

Other research, however, found just the opposite. These studies emphasized that no link exists between Tox infections and mental health issues in humans.

Theory 2: Look to the Parents

Another theory looks beyond the cats themselves to seek out the cause of the problem. It looks to the primary cat owners in the household, or the children’s parents. A study that compared adult dog and cat owners found that cat owners had lower scores when it came to positive emotions and being conscientious, and higher scores when it came to negative emotions and neurotic tendencies.

The theory proceeds to explain that the type of people who opt to have pet cats may be more likely to have children with mental health issues. In this theory, the root cause is traced back to the parent instead of the pet.

Theory 3: A Total Fluke

One more idea is that the results of the children with cats study could actually have come about by pure and simple chance, or what is known as a statistical fluke. Perhaps a dozen or so follow-up studies could help to prove or disprove this theory, which stands about as solid as the other two at the moment.

The Bottom Line

Take in the information and file it or discard it, either way it is an interesting study that would be even more intriguing with additional research. In any event, you may not want to run to get rid of any pet cats you may have hoping your anxious child will no longer have any signs of child anxiety. Let the cat stay.

Pets in general teach children much about relationships and life while giving them a pal to love. This counts for a dog, rabbit, hamster, rat and yes, especially a cat.