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'Cat ladies' may be more likely to attempt suicide, scientists say

So you love cats. No big deal, right? Having a few of them has no effect on your mental health. Well, actually, it might.

According to new research from the University of Maryland, owning cats may be a risk factor in why some people attempt suicide. The study looked at the effects of the common cat parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which has been attributed to mental health issues in humans in the past. The nasty bug is found in cat feces, making cat litter boxes a cesspool of disease that is repulsive not only for its choking smell but for its health effect.

Specifically this research, which looked at over 45,000 Danish cat owners, found that infected women (yes, they were all women) were one-and-a-half times more likely to try to kill themselves than women who didn't have the parasite.

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"We can't say with certainty that T. gondii caused the women to try to kill themselves, but we did find a predictive association between the infection and suicide attempts later in life that warrants additional studies. We plan to continue our research into this possible connection," says Dr. Teodor T. Postolache, the senior author of the paper.

Despite the link presented in his paper, Dr. Postolache does concede there are other factors that may be contributing to these suicide attempts. Readers on the Telegraph web site were quick to jump on that point and really claw into the stereotype of the "crazy cat lady."

"Could it just be that lonely single people are in fact more prone to depression and hence suicide attempts?" asked one Telegraph reader.

"In my experience, many women own cats because they are mentally and emotionally immature," harped another know-it-all. "The cat is used as an ideal for the partner she will never find... compliant, doting, easily manipulated and (of course) unable to challenge the woman's motives."

There is, however, one upshot to this study for cat owners. The study found the parasite was especially dangerous for pregnant women, who unknowingly often passed it along to their fetuses. The bright side? Moms-to-be now have a "get out of jail free" card when it comes to cleaning the cat litter.

Cat lovers, do these findings make you nervous?

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About the Author

Madeleine White is the Assistant National Editor for The Globe and Mail. She has been with the Globe since 2011 and previously worked in the Globe's Video and Features departments, covering topics ranging from fitness and health to real estate to indigenous education. More

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