Flegr J., Preiss M. 2019: Friends with malefit. The effects of keeping dogs and cats, sustaining animal-related injuries and Toxoplasma infection on health and quality of life. PLoS ONE 14(11): e0221988. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0221988
Many studies show that keeping cats and dogs has a positive impact on humans’ physical and mental health and quality of life. The existence of this “pet phenomenon” is now widely discussed because other studies performed recently have demonstrated a negative impact of owning pets or no impact at all. The main problem of many studies was the autoselection–participants were informed about the aims of the study during recruitment and later likely described their health and wellbeing according to their personal beliefs and wishes, not according to their real status. To avoid this source of bias, we did not mention pets during participant recruitment and hid the pet-related questions among many hundreds of questions in an 80-minute Internet questionnaire. Results of our explorative study performed on a sample of 10,858 subjects showed that liking dogs has a weak positive association with quality of life. However, keeping pets, especially cats, and even more being injured by pets, were strongly negatively associated with many facets of quality of life. Our data also confirmed that infection by the cat parasite Toxoplasma had a very strong negative effect on quality of life, especially on mental health. However, the infection was not responsible for the observed negative effects of keeping pets, as these effects were much stronger in 1,527 Toxoplasma-free subjects than in the whole population. Any cross-sectional study cannot discriminate between a cause and an effect. However, because of the large and still growing popularity of keeping pets, the existence and nature of the reverse pet phenomenon deserve the outmost attention.