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Owning a cat while pregnant increases the risk of DEPRESSION, study claims

The “cats versus dogs” debate is about as old as the pets themselves — but science may have set the score for moms-to-be who also choose a fur baby.

A new study has found that owning a cat during pregnancy increases the mother’s risk of developing postpartum depression.

However, dogs have been found to reduce that risk, as well as for other mental health issues such as anxiety and psychological distress after childbirth.

Pregnant cat owners are also at risk for the parasite toxoplasmosis, which causes an infectious disease that can lead to miscarriage, baby defect, or brain disease.

Lead author Kenta Matsumura said: ‘We found that the type of pet you own can affect a mother’s mental health, both in the perinatal and postpartum period.

“Our findings suggest that special attention should be paid to cat owners, who are at higher risk of developing psychological complications and toxoplasmosis.”

The results of a study from the University of Toyama found that cat ownership 6 months after delivery was associated with an increased risk of depressive symptoms (stock image)

The results of a study from the University of Toyama found that cat ownership 6 months after delivery was associated with an increased risk of depressive symptoms (stock image)

One in four mothers-to-be has psychological problems BEFORE birth, according to research

Awareness about postpartum depression is growing – few people know that problems can arise before the baby is born.

Researchers from King’s College London diagnosed mental health problems in 27 percent of pregnant women.

Using a psychological screening technique at midwife appointments, they found that 11 percent of women were depressed, 15 percent had anxiety, 2 percent had eating disorders, and 2 percent had obsessive-compulsive disorder, with many women having combinations of different problems.

These are usually overlooked because people mistakenly believe that women always have a ‘feel-good’ glow when they get pregnant.

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Previous studies have looked at the relationship between pet ownership and mental health in different demographics.

However, there are not many targeted women around childbirth, when they have an increased vulnerability to mental disorders.

Matsumura’s team designed a questionnaire to explore how pet ownership affects pregnant women’s mental health.

Information was collected on topics such as demographic and socioeconomic status, medical and obstetric history, physical and mental health, and lifestyle.

The questionnaire was completed by 80,814 mothers in both urban and rural areas of Japan who had dogs or cats during their pregnancy.

They each took it five times — in the first trimester, in the second or third trimester, and one month, six months, and one year after giving birth.

The findings, published this month in Social Sciences and Medicinerevealed that owning a dog during pregnancy was associated with reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety one month and six months postpartum.

New mothers of dogs also showed signs of reduced psychological stress 12 months postpartum.

In contrast, cat ownership was associated with an increased risk of depressive symptoms six months after delivery.

Symptoms of psychological distress in the second or third trimester of pregnancy were also noted for both pregnant cat owners and pregnant dog owners.

However, this was largely comparable to a reference group of mothers without pets.

Owning a dog during pregnancy was associated with reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety at 1 month and 6 months after delivery.  New moms with dogs also showed signs of reduced psychological stress at 12 months postpartum (stock image)

Owning a dog during pregnancy was associated with reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety at 1 month and 6 months after delivery.  New moms with dogs also showed signs of reduced psychological stress at 12 months postpartum (stock image)

Owning a dog during pregnancy was associated with reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety at 1 month and 6 months after delivery. New moms with dogs also showed signs of reduced psychological stress at 12 months postpartum (stock image)

WHAT IS TOXOPLASM GONDII?

Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) is a parasitic protozoa that causes toxoplasmosis.

It infects species of warm-blooded animals, including humans. Routes of transmission include contact with cat feces, contaminated food or water, or sex with an infected person.

It can persist in the bodies of humans (and other animals) for a long time, possibly even a lifetime.

However, those who are infected have very few symptoms because a healthy person’s immune system usually stops the parasite from causing disease.

However, pregnant women and individuals with compromised immune systems should exercise caution; for them, a Toxoplasma infection can cause serious health problems.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The study authors conclude that the type of pet kept during pregnancy plays a role in the mother’s mental health before and after delivery.

They also suggest that dogs’ longer history of domestication may be why they have a beneficial effect on mood.

“Dogs and humans may have evolved together to provide benefits in both species, including human mental health,” they wrote.

‘The exact mechanism underlying the second finding of increased risk of mental health problems in cat ownership is unknown.

“While some researchers have shown that human-cat attachment is as high as human-dog attachment, others have shown that cat owners have lower self-esteem than dog owners.

“Unlike dogs, cats have a shorter history of living with humans.

“So the degree of co-evolution is not yet mature enough to yield broad benefits in humans.”

The study did not take into account the number of pets the pregnant women had, how taxing it was to care for them, and whether they would like to have pets.

Because it is impossible to control all variables, the authors claim that they cannot provide a definitive cause for their results.

They concluded: ‘The observed relationships do not necessarily mean that purchasing a dog will prevent mothers from developing postpartum depression or mental health problems.

“For example, we can’t rule out that expectant mothers with poor mental health usually don’t have dogs, but cats.”

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