Life is full of seemingly random events which individually don’t seem to make sense but when linked with other random events paint an interesting picture. Take being bitten by a moggy and depression. Thank heavens there are scientists who are prepared to investigate disparate bits of data in the hope of making sense of a bigger picture. Quite why DA Hanauer, N Ramakrishnan and LS Seyfried chose to investigate the linkage between cat bites and depression is anyone’s guess but their findings, published in the ever popular PLOS One journal, are fascinating nonetheless.
Their starting point was the 1.3 million odd electronic health records held by the University of Michigan Health system, dating back to 1998. They isolated the records of some 117,000 patients over the age of 18 whose records showed one of the 26 codes allocated to describe depression. Then they identified the records of all patients over the age of 18 whose records recorded some form of non-venomous animal bites or injuries.
When the researchers correlated the datasets they came up with some astonishing results. 41.3% of patients who had been bitten by cats had also been diagnosed with depression and some 28.7% who had been bitten by pooches had also suffered from the blues. Moreover, 85.5% of those patients who had suffered both a cat bite and depression were women compared with 64.5% who had both been bitten by a dog and were diagnosed as being medically depressed.
If a woman had sustained a bite from a moggy serious enough to trouble the medics there was a 47% of her being diagnosed with depression at some point in her life. There was a 24.2% chance of a man being diagnosed with depression if he had at some point been bitten by a cat. Interestingly, the probability of a depression diagnosis reduced to 35.8% in women if they had been bitten by a dog. The corresponding probability for men was 21.1%.
The study also showed that the majority of the bites inflicted on patients were from the patient’s own moggy. Being bitten by a stray or feral cat was least common although there was a very high incidence of depression amongst women who had been bitten by strays.
What to make of all this? Well, the report draws no firm conclusions save to make a desperate pitch for more funding with the throw-away comment, “while no causative link is known to explain this association, there is growing evidence to suggest that the relationship between cats and human mental illness, such as depression, warrants further investigation”. Quite.
I suppose there are two ways to look at this. If the moggy that you have lavished lots of love and attention on – not to mention money on those expensive vet’s bills and treats – turns round and bites you, you are going to be pretty peed off. For those of a sensitive disposition this might just be enough to tip you over the edge. On the other hand, cats are predators and all predators seek out the weakest amongst their prey – it saves a lot of trouble and effort in the long run. Perhaps the moggy is using some innate hunting instinct to recognise that their owner has some form of vulnerability and pounces. Makes some kind of sense, I suppose.
Best to play safe, though. Preserve your sanity by giving your cat the order of the boot.
Isn’t science wonderful?!