Debunking Anti-Cat Arguments

Cat haters often describe felines as cold-hearted, indifferent, or even dangerous to their owners; terrible for the environment; and generally useless, but there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Cat Hater Argument 1: Your cat doesn’t love you.

Most cats don’t follow their owners around like dogs. They enjoy spending time on their own, but the same can be said of many people. We don’t assume that people are incapable of love just because they don’t spend every moment with us, yet this is often taken as evidence of indifference in cats. It’s certainly true that dogs will tolerate mistreatment, whereas cats will usually walk away from it, but this doesn’t indicate an inability to love, just unwillingness to be abused.

Cat brains are actually quite similar to human brains, and they have the same neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) regulating their emotions as people do, so they are physiologically capable of experiencing similar emotions, though probably in simpler feline forms. For more on this, see Do Cats Experience Love and Other Human Emotions?

Cat haters also like to claim that cats only rub against people to mark them as property. Cats do release pheromones when they rub against things, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a social act when they do it with people or other cats. Many experts believe that cats rub against other cats (and people) to transfer scents that mark them as part of social group. In other words, when a cat rubs against you, he’s saying that he likes and trusts you enough to accept you as part of his clan or inner circle.

Cat Hater Argument 2: Pet cats are the primary threat to local wildlife and generally bad for the environment.

There are a couple of problems with this argument. First, humans are a far bigger threat to wildlife than any other animal. Second, the argument is often made by those who have no problem with dogs, yet a review of 69 studies of canine impacts on local wildlife found that off-leash dogs also have severe impacts on local wildlife (Hughes & Macdonald, 2013). For example, a single pet dog killed up to 500 kiwis in New Zealand’s Waitangi State Forest. Dogs are also responsible for most of the 55,000 rabies deaths in humans worldwide, as well as spreading the disease to countless other animals, including rare and endangered species (Gannon, 2013). Of course dogs are not to blame for this – when they destroy wildlife or spread disease, the fault lies with owners who neglect, fail to supervise, and abandon their pets.

Cat predation is certainly an issue, but most of it is done by feral cats, so owners who abandon their pets are the problem. In Australia, 24-hour curfews imposed on pet cats have had little impact on local bird populations, indicating that many housepets are terrible hunters. Pet cats are often adopted while young, so they don’t get the prolonged hunting skills training from their mothers that feral cats receive.

The fact that most wildlife kills are carried out by feral animals is a good argument for trapping, spaying or neutering, and adopting out any that can be tamed. However, although many pets are incompetent hunters, some housecats with outdoor privileges do have a negative impact on local wildlife, so keeping cats indoors, confining them to a yard with a cat fence or enclosure, or taking them for walks on a leash and harness are better options, not only for local wildlife, but also your cat, given that indoor cats live far longer than outdoor cats, on average.

The best way to solve the problem of cats and dogs harming local wildlife is for humans to take responsibility for their pets and support rescue organizations that trap, spay or neuter, socialize, and find homes for feral animals.

As for their general environmental effects, pets are certainly bad for the environment, given the impacts of feeding and caring for them and driving them around. However, the main problem with this as an anti-cat argument is that dogs are worse for the environment than cats, and people are far worse for the environment than dogs, so if we’re going to fix environmental problems through a process of elimination, we’d have to start with our own behaviours.

The findings of a recent New Zealand study indicate that the environmental impact of owning a dog is twice that of driving an SUV.  By comparison, a pet cat has a carbon footprint similar to a small Volkswagon, a pair of hamsters equates to a plasma television, and a goldfish to a cell phone (Ravilious, 2009). The largest proportion of these pet-related environmental impacts come from meat consumption, as pets are fed a meat-heavy diet and this negatively affects the environment far more than a plant-based diet. But the impacts of our pets are minimal compared to human impacts, particularly the GHG emissions associated with our vehicles and our agricultural industry, among other problems. We could help the environment far more by changing our own behaviors than by getting rid of our pets.

Cat Hater Argument 3: Parasites carried by cats are manipulating your mind.

This is certainly true – if you happen to be a mouse. A parasite called Toxoplasma gondii infects the brains of rodents, making them lose their fear of predators, and cats are infected when they eat infected prey. People can be infected with the parasite as well, but they’re more likely to get it from consuming undercooked meat or unwashed garden produce than from their pets. To get it from a cat, you actually have to ingest cat poop that has been sitting around for a day or more because the eggs take 1-5 days to mature. On the other hand, you can get it quite easily from preparing raw meat if you touch your mouth before washing your hands.

Some research does suggest that the Toxoplasma gondii  parasite may increase testosterone levels and could have slight personality effects on people. Men infected with toxoplasma gondii are more likely to be rule breakers, and to be more suspicious or jealous, expedient, vigilant, and dogmatic, and infected women tend to be more conscientious, warm-hearted, persistent, moralistic, and outgoing. Infected people are also slightly more likely to be involved in traffic accidents. However, it is unknown whether the parasite causes behaviour changes or those with certain characteristics are more likely to be infected. In other words, rebellious, high-testosterone men and warm-hearted, friendly women may be more likely to eat undercooked meat and be careless drivers, leading to increased risk of both infection and car accidents. So, the parasite may cause changes, or certain types of people may be more likely to get infected, in which case, the parasite does not affect human behaviour at all.

Up to 60% of the global population carries the parasite, usually with no ill effects, so if you don’t have it, you may actually be in the minority (Dubey, 2016). It’s usually only dangerous to those with weakened immune systems and fetuses, as pregnant women can pass on the infection, with a slight risk of serious birth defects. However, women who are infected at least six months before they get pregnant don’t pass the infection along.

To be on the safe side, pregnant women should have someone else handle the cat litter, or if they do it themselves, wear gloves and a mask and change the litter and wash the box daily. Cats that have always lived indoors and don’t eat a raw diet are far less likely to have the parasite, so keeping cats indoors and avoiding raw food will also reduce the risk.

Cat Hater Argument 4: Cats are useless; they do nothing for you.

People didn’t domesticate cats because they’re cute and amusing. They lured cats into their settlements because felines provided a service humans desperately needed.  We once depended on cats to eat the rodents that otherwise ate half our food stores and defecated all over the rest, as well as spreading the bubonic plague and other diseases. Without cats, it would have been far more challenging to stockpile food or establish global trade, because cats were brought along on ships to protect food stores in transit and prevent rodents from chewing up ropes and woodwork as well. The bubonic plague ran rampant throughout Europe at times when the superstitious persecution and mass killing of cats was at an all-time high, and some historians believe that getting rid of so many cats indirectly contributed to the bubonic plague’s high death toll because it allowed the population of rats bearing plague fleas to rise significantly.  In the future, if we suffer a technological collapse and have to go back to the old ways to survive, cats will be our best friends, protecting our food from rodents and reducing the risk of dying from rodent-borne plagues.

Today most cats seem to be purely ornamental, but there is evidence they may actually be providing a physical and psychological health benefits. For example:

    • Cat owners are 30% less likely to die from heart attacks (Quereshi et al., 2012).
    • Pets reduce high blood pressure caused by mental stress, most likely by providing social support (Allen et al., 2001).
    • Pet owners enjoy better health overall and visit their doctors less often (Headey & Grabka, 2003).
    • Pet owners tend to have a greater sense of self-esteem, less depression and loneliness, better general well-being, and greater happiness, as well as being more conscientious and having less fearful attachment styles with other people and reduced negative feelings in response to social rejection (McConnell et al., 2011).
    • In a study of couples and singles who lived with and without cats, single male and female cat owners reported the fewest bad moods, followed by those who lived with partners and cats, whereas singles without cats reported the most bad moods (Turner et al., 2003).

This is just a small sampling of the research that has been conducted. Not all studies have found benefits, a few have even found negative effects, and there are a number of confounding variables. For example, cat owners are more likely to have university degrees (BBC News, 2010) and education level is positively associated with health outcomes. However, the majority of studies have found benefits with pet ownership, and there is enough evidence to suggest that living with cats probably does have a positive impact on health for many people.

For more cat articles, see the main Cats page.

References:

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