Cat Myths Debunked

gray catMyth: Cats Always Land on Their Feet.

Fact: While cats will twist around to land feet first if they have sufficient time, they are not always able to do this. Also, even when they do manage to land on their feet, they can still sustain serious injuries, so screening in high windows and balconies is recommended.

Myth: Cats Need Milk.

Fact: While the majority of cats like milk, a properly nourished cat doesn’t need it. Many cats will even suffer digestive upsets such as diarrhea after drinking milk. A little milk can be provided for adult cats as an occasional treat if they can tolerate it, but it shouldn’t be a dietary staple.

Cow’s milk should never be given to young kittens. It is nutritionally incomplete for them and can cause life-threatening diarrhea.

Myth: Neutering a Cat Will Make Him Lazy and Fat.

A neutered male cat is unlikely to wander, spray, or get into fights, and neutered cats don’t hunt or climb as much. They are also less likely to show aggression toward humans and other pets in the household, or strangers who visit. They may seem lazy because they stick closer to home, but they won’t necessarily become inactive.

Neutered male cats will only gain weight if their wandering and fighting behaviours aren’t replaced with other forms of exercise. A fixed cat that has plenty of playtime with his human companions and the right diet will not gain weight. After they have been neutered, cats should be fed approximately 20% to 30% fewer calories per day unless they stay very active.

Myth: Neutering a Cat Will Make Him Feel Less Masculine.

Fact: While many people are concerned that neutering a cat will harm his self-esteem by making him feel less like a male, cats don’t have a sense of gender or sexual identity the way people do. Because they don’t value one type of sexual identity over another, they are not psychologically damaged by a change that affects their sexual behavior.

Myth: Cats Try to Steal Babies’ Breath.

Fact: Cats are often drawn to babies because they like the warmth, and it’s a good idea to keep cats out of the nursery when a baby is too young to turn her head, as the cat may accidentally block her mouth. However, the cat is not intentionally trying to harm the baby when she snuggles up to her, and there is no verified account of a cat ever suffocating a baby. There have been a couple of sensationalistic tabloid headlines, but in each of these cases there was no evidence that the cat actually suffocated the baby; people just blamed the cat because of the old wives’ tale about cats stealing babies’ breath. On the other hand, there have been a number of verified accounts of cats saving babies by lying on infants left out in the cold to warm them or alerting parents to babies in distress (having a seizure, tangled in a mobile, etc.) so that help could be provided in time to avert disaster.

Myth: Pregnant Women Should Not Live with Cats.

Fact: Toxoplasmosis infection carries a slight risk of birth defects. However, you are far more likely to catch it from digging in garden soil or handling raw meat and then touching your mouth, or from eating unwashed produce or undercooked meat because you have to ingest the parasite’s eggs to become infected.

To be on the safe side, pregnant women should either have another person deal with the cat’s litter box or wear a mask and rubber gloves when cleaning it, and the box should be cleaned at least once a day for the duration of the pregnancy (the parasite eggs take 1-5 days to mature). Cats catch the infection from eating infected prey, so cats that have always lived indoors and don’t eat a raw diet are far less likely to be infected.

Myth: Indoor Cats Don’t Catch Diseases.

Fact: Although indoor cats are far less likely to succumb to contagious diseases, airborne microorganisms may get into the house through open doors and windows, and most indoor cats find their way outside from time to time, where they are exposed to a variety of diseases.

Myth: Cats Get Tapeworms from Bad Store-Bought Food.

Fact: Fleas carry the tapeworm parasite, and pets acquire tapeworms when they groom themselves and swallow the fleas. Eating infected rodents or other animals may also cause an infestation.

Myth: Garlic Cures Tapeworm Infestation.

Fact: Garlic is ineffective against tapeworms and toxic to cats. Tapeworms should be treated with a veterinarian-prescribed medication.

Myth: Licking Wounds Speeds the Healing Process.

Fact: Licking wounds can actually keep them open and cause further damage. Initial licking cleans the wound. However, if injured animals engage in excessive wound licking once injuries have begun to heal, their owners should use Elizabethan (cone-shaped) collars to prevent this behaviour.

Myth: Female Cats Should Be Allowed to Have One Litter Before They’re Spayed.

Fact: Cats that are spayed before having any litters are less inclined to develop mammary tumors, which are particularly deadly in cats. Allowing one litter contributes to the overpopulation problem that leads to many cats being euthanized in shelters each year and provides no medical or psychological benefits for the cat.

Myth: Cats Demand Attention When Their Owners are on the Phone Because They’re Jealous.

Fact: The cat hears her owner talking on the phone and because there is no one else in the room, she assumes that the owner is talking to her and responds accordingly.

Myth: Cats Sulk When They’ve Been Scolded.

Fact: Staring is perceived as a challenge among cats. A cat that has been scolded feels inferior and possibly fearful as well. He will turn away and avoid looking at his owner because he doesn’t want to provoke any further hostility. Walking away and refusing to make eye contact is a sign of surrender rather than passive-aggressive anger.

Myth: Feeding a Cat Well Will Cause Her to Lose Her Hunting Skills.

Fact: Hunting is both an instinct and a talent. All cats have the instinct to hunt. Cats train their kittens to hunt, and they practice hunting skills with cat toys, household objects, or other animals and people in the home. Some cats are naturally better hunters than others, but this has nothing to do with how much they are fed.

Myth: If a Cat Pees on the Floor, Rubbing His Nose in the Mess will Prevent Future Problems.

Fact: Rubbing a cat’s nose in it will actually increase the likelihood of future accidents because it increases the anxiety that may have caused the problem in the first place. Also, accidents outside the litter box are often caused by medical problems that require treatment.

Myth: Cats Like to Torment Those Who Dislike or Fear Them.

Fact: Those who like cats tend to stare at them, whereas cats perceive a direct stare as a challenge, particularly from people they don’t know well, and whose reactions they can’t anticipate as easily. Therefore, the cat makes a beeline for the one person in the room who is not staring at her.

Myth: White Cats are Not Good Mothers.

Fact: Many cats with white fur and blue eyes are deaf, and thus may not hear the calls of their kittens, which can make it appear as though they are ignoring them. However, deaf cats can be good mothers because they become sensitive to sound vibrations and visual cues in order to compensate for the handicap.

Myth: Cats Only Purr if They’re Happy.

Fact: Cats that are sick or in pain will purr, both to speed the healing process and to appease any potential aggressors. A cat that feels threatened may also purr in the hopes of diffusing the other’s aggression. A cat may even purr when dying.

Myth: Tom Cats Will Always Kill Kittens.

Tom cat behavior is highly variable. A male may attempt to care for his kittens or ignore them, or he may not be given the chance to show what he would do because the mother drives him away. When allowed to interact with their kittens, some tom cats take very good care of them, guarding them and supplying them with food. Tom cats sometimes kill kittens sired by other males, but they’re more likely to ignore them than attack them. However, they may drive young males away when they reach sexual maturity. Neutered males will usually either ignore kittens or take on a caring paternal role.

Myth: Cats Are Solitary Creatures.

Fact: Among barn cats and feral cats, cats hunt alone, but usually live in a matrilineal colony that includes a mother cat and her daughters and granddaughters. Male cats tend to leave the clans when they are around 18 months old to go off in search of fertile, unrelated females.

Domesticated kittens that are not taken away from their littermates for at least 10 weeks after birth are more likely to be comfortable living in multicat households as adults. Those taken away too soon often have trouble getting along with other cats because they have been deprived of socialization opportunities with their siblings.

Myth: Cats Use Their Whiskers for Balance.

Fact: Whiskers act as feelers; they have no effect on balance. A cat uses her whiskers to judge whether or not she’ll fit through an opening, to navigate around obstacles in the dark, to locate prey when hunting, and to kill prey quickly and cleanly. A cat’s whiskers should never be removed or trimmed.

For more cat articles, see the main Cats page.

References:

    • Cat Fanciers’ Association. (2007). “Myths and Facts About Cats.” CFAinc.org.
    • Plotnick, Arnold, DVM, ACVIM, ABVP. “Spaying and Neutering: Facts, Myths, and Misconceptions.” ManhattenCats.com.
    • Schneck, Marcus, & Caravan, Jill. (1990). Cat Facts. New York: Barnes & Noble Inc.
    • Schultz, Jacque Lynn, CPDT, for the ASPCA. (n.d.). “Nine Feline Myths.” PetFinder.com.

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