The “cats versus dogs” debate revolves around the age of the pets themselves — but science may have settled the outcome for expectant mothers who also opt for a fur baby.
A new study has found that owning a cat during pregnancy increases a mother’s risk of postpartum depression.
However, dogs have been found to reduce this risk, as well as other mental health problems such as anxiety and psychological distress after birth.
Owners of pregnant cats are also at risk of contracting the parasitic toxoplasmosis, which causes an infectious disease that can lead to miscarriage, infant abnormality, or brain disorder.
Lead author Kenta Matsumura said: “We discovered that the type of pet owned can affect a mother’s mental health, both in the perinatal and postnatal period.
Our findings suggest that special attention should be paid to cat owners, who have a higher risk of developing mental health complications in addition to toxoplasmosis.
The results of a study from the University of Toyama found that owning cats was associated with an increased risk of depressive symptoms at 6 months after birth (stored image)
The study claims that one in four mothers suffers from mental health issues before giving birth
Awareness about postpartum depression is growing – but few people know that problems can appear before a baby is born.
Researchers at King’s College London diagnosed mental health problems among 27 percent of pregnant women.
Using a psychological screening technique at midwives’ appointments, they found that 11 percent of the women had depression, 15 percent had anxiety, 2 percent had eating disorders and 2 percent had obsessive-compulsive disorders, with many women having a combination of various problems.
These things are usually missed because people mistakenly believe that women always have a “glow” of feeling good when they get pregnant.
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Previous studies have looked at the relationship between pet ownership and the mental health of different demographics.
However, he did not target much Women around childbirth, when their susceptibility to mental health disorders increases.
Matsumura’s team designed a questionnaire to investigate how pet ownership affects the mental health of pregnant women.
Information was collected on topics including demographic, socioeconomic status, medical and obstetric history, physical and mental health, and lifestyle.
The questionnaire was taken by 80,814 mothers in both urban and rural areas of Japan, who owned either dogs or cats during pregnancy.
He took them each on five occasions – in the first trimester, in the second or third trimester, and at one month, six months, and one year after birth.
The findings, published this month in the journal Social Science & Medicine, revealed that owning a dog during pregnancy was associated with reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety at one and six months after birth.
New mothers who had dogs also showed signs of reduced stress at 12 months after birth.
In contrast, cat ownership was associated with an increased risk of depressive symptoms at six months after birth.
Symptoms of psychological distress have also been observed in the second or third trimester of pregnancy for both owners of pregnant cats and owners of pregnant dogs.
However, this was very similar to a reference group of mothers without pets.
Owning a dog during pregnancy was associated with reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety 1 month and 6 months after birth. New mothers who had dogs also showed signs of low stress at 12 months postpartum (stored image)
What is Toxoplasma gondii?
Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) is a protozoan parasite that causes toxoplasmosis.
It infects species of warm-blooded animals, including humans. Modes of transmission include contact with cat feces, contaminated food or water, or sex with an infected person.
It can persist for long periods in the bodies of humans (and other animals), possibly even for life.
However, of those infected, very few develop symptoms because a healthy person’s immune system usually prevents the parasite from causing disease.
However, pregnant women and individuals with weakened immune systems should exercise caution; For them, toxoplasmosis infection can cause serious health problems.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The study authors concluded that the type of pet owned during pregnancy plays a role in the mother’s mental health before and after birth.
They also suggest that dogs’ long history of domestication may be due to their beneficial effect on mood.
“Dogs and humans may have evolved together to achieve benefits in both species, including human mental health,” they wrote.
The exact mechanism underlying the second finding of the increased risk of mental health problems with cat ownership is unknown.
While some researchers have shown that human attachment to cats is as high as human attachment to dog, others have shown that cat owners have lower self-esteem than dog owners.
Unlike dogs, cats have a shorter history of living with humans.
“Consequently, the degree of coevolution is not yet mature enough to produce widespread benefits in humans.”
The study did not take into account how many pets a pregnant woman has, how much the burden of caring for them is, and whether she would like to have pets.
Since it is impossible to control for all variables, the authors claim that they are unable to provide a specific reason for their findings.
They concluded: “The observed relationships do not necessarily mean that having a dog will prevent mothers from developing postpartum depression or psychological distress.
“For example, we cannot rule out the possibility that expectant mothers with poor mental health tend not to have dogs but to have cats.”