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The weird news about cats

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Posted: Monday, February 27, 2012 11:57 am

OK, let me say this up front: I like cats.

We don’t own one, true. We have a dog, a Corgi mix named Jake, whom I jokingly refer to as our surrogate grandchild, but that’s another topic.

The thing is, I like cats, my family owned them when I was a kid, I frequently pet them and find them rather entertaining, in an independent and unpredictable sort of way.

But what I have been reading about cats lately is not encouraging.

OK, brace yourself: Cats may be making us sick, even crazy.

I first stumbled across the contention in an excellent book edited by Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes fame titled, “50 Years From Today,” a collection of essays written by brilliant and distinguished men and women. Each one opines about how things will change over the next 50 years, from the spread of robots to breakthroughs in clean energy.

The one essay that floored me, though, was by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, described as an eminent research psychiatrist and even “the most famous psychiatrist in America.”

What does he talk about? Cats.

In 50 years, he suggests, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and even some cancers will have been proven to be caused by infectious agents “transmitted to humans from animals.”

“The relationship between humans and animals will be more distant ... keeping cats, hamsters, birds and other animals will be uncommon because the known danger of infectious agents they carry.” Because we have been around dogs for 14,000 years or so, the bad stuff we might get from them is no longer, says Dr. Torrey, “pathogenic.”

After reading that essay, I started spouting about cats in the newsroom. Then reporter and online coordinator Maggie Creamer came across an article in The Atlantic all about research showing that a cat-borne parasite does indeed infect many millions of people and has shown up in a large percentage of people who suffer brain damage related to schizophrenia.

One doctor says that schizophrenia only started showing up in the latter half of the 18th century, when people in London and Paris started keeping cats as pets.

There is some reassuring news, though. The vast majority of people who are infected with the parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, never show any symptoms. And even some of the people studying the link between cats and illness are keeping their cats. Indoor cats are not a danger at all and even outdoor cats only carry the parasite for three weeks of their life.

So the advice is not to freak out over cats, but more research is definitely needed.

Attached is a link to the Atlantic article, titled, "How Your Cat is Making Your Crazy."

What do you think of all this? Any personal or academic perspectives gladly accepted.