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27 Myths and Misconceptions About Cats Debunked

In this guide we review 27 of the most common myths and misconceptions about cats. These myths affect the way people care for and keep their cats. They are often old school ideas which have been debunked by better science. Others are caused by people seeing cats as though they were just small dogs. Read on to learn the truth about our amazing feline friends.

Purring is a Sign of Happiness

Purring is a sound created by vibrating the vocal cords. that cats make when they are happy. The reasons why cats purr can vary, Cats may purr when being petted or held or engaged in activities like playing or eating to communicate pleasure or security. A cat purrs to show contentment, joy and relaxation. But cats also purr when having a scary experience, like going to the vet, or when in pain possibly as a self-soothing mechanism.

Wagging Tails Must Mean Kitty Is Happy

If you are used to dog behavior and communication, it is easy to see how this myth got started. A dog greets you with that wagging tail to tell you how happy they are to see you. But Kitty might be sending a different message indeed. Cat tail language is expressive and can tell you a lot about your cat’s emotions.1https://www.purina.co.uk/articles/cats/behaviour/common-questions/why-do-cats-wag-their-tails A flicking or wagging may show you furbaby is unhappy or scared. She probably wants to be left alone. A quick quiver means she’s excited, playful, or hunting. A lashing tail is an indicator of anger. Are his ears flat by his head? more indications of anger. The more intense the tail movement , the stronger Kitty feels.

Related Post: Essential Guide to Cat Communication

If A Cat Shows You it’s Belly, Pet it

Or not. Unlike dogs, cats don’t show their belly for attention. It’s a sign of trust and feeling safe around you. All their vital organs are in the belly. In the wild, cats don’t relax on their back. If a cat is on its back with paws up, it’s ready for battle. If you ever see a cat fight, they’ll go for the throat or the belly. The belly is also hypersensitive to touch, so petting it can overstimulate Kitty. If you reach in for a rub, you violate your cat’s trust and have likely wandered into a trap. However, some cats do enjoy belly rubs, like my Treeno. If your cat allows it, you have a special bond. But even then, make sure he’s in the mood. Does he stop purring when you pet him? Start switching his tail? Pin his ears back? Watch out. But if he rubs his head on you or licks your hand, closes his eyes and purrs, you’re probably okay to pet him.

Cats Do Things Out of Spite

Cats are stereotyped as vengeful little creatures out to get us for something. This is a myth. Cats can’t act out that way. They don’t have the mental capacity to think and plan ahead. The frontal lobes of their brains aren’t developed.2https://www.tuftscatnip.com/behavior/its-not-out-of-spite/

What we see as spiteful or “getting back at us” for going on vacation or taking them to the vet, is really just anxiety, fear, or pain. Kitty uses her feline instincts and natural behavior to cope with her life and space. If she pees on your things, she’s missing you and attempting to communication and blend her scent with yours. Scratching on the sofa is a lot more about the fact that she needs a proper scratching set up than the fact that she’s mad at you for having people over for dinner.

Cats Don’t Care About Their People

As cats’ popularity as companion pets increases the scientific community is taking more notice and studying cats as cats rather than how cats aren’t dogs. The Oregon State University’s Human-Animal Interaction (HAI) lab is a leader in this research. Their recent research shows that our cats are securely attached to us just as dogs or even human babies are.3https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/09/190923111229.htm

Another study debunks the theory that cats see their humans as giant can openers. In fact, they love us – more than food! 4https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0376635716303424 They become attached to us as if to parents. Cats show love in many ways including some we might find annoying. If you’ve ever tripped over a cat winding around your ankles or wondered why you can’t ever go to the bathroom alone, be assured your feline friend adores you.

Related Post: Guess What? Your Cat Loves You

Cats Are Aloof And Anti-Social

The popular myth that cats are aloof and anti-social is not true. While cats might be more independent than other types of pets, they still form strong attachments with their owners and enjoy social interaction. Cats don’t display the same level of enthusiasm around people as dogs; but if you can read their body language you will see their love and affection just as strongly. They might head butt against their owner, slow blink, rub against you, “groom” you, bring you “gifts”, curl up in your lap purring away happily, or sleep beside you.

Related Post: 9 Ways Your Cat Says I Love You

Cats Communicate With Each Other By Meowing

Cats even have a language to communicate with us. Meowing, after kittenhood, is a language cats reserve for humans. 5https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/cat-care/common-cat-behavior-issues/meowing-and-yowling They howl, hiss, growl, yowl and purr with other cats. But they save their meows for us. Probably because it makes us do what they want. They meow to greet us. Does Kitty meet you at the door after work meowing? Mine do. They ask for something they need. Food, water, playtime, to go out if allowed. They want to know where you are. You answer when she calls don’t you?

Cats Do Not Like Other Cats

Cats can be territorial. If your cat has outdoor access, he may patrol your neighborhood. Some cats can “time share” an overlapping area, while others prefer to stay far away from their neighbors. But cats can form social groupings. Feral cats form colonies based around co-operating females and their kittens in an area where resources are available. These aren’t hierarchical. Cats are not pack animals and prefer to hunt solo.

In our homes, our cats can also make friends or form social groupings. The success of such social structures depends on our providing enough resources to support the cats we have. Resources include food and feeding spaces, watering spots, clean litter boxes, high spaces, places to hide, toys, scratching posts, and us and our time. In a resource-rich environment, the reason cats don’t like other cats is that they weren’t properly socialized as kittens. If a kitten isn’t exposed to other cats and kittens in the first few months of life they are less likely to be social as they grow. It is much easier to introduce kittens than adult cats. But you can convince most cats to learn to at least live together if not actually be friends if introduced properly.

Related Post: How to Introduce a Dog to a Cat

Cats Hate Dogs

It is fairly natural for cats to be afraid of dogs. They are typically bigger than cats. Dogs like to chase smaller animals especially if they run and cats typically run. They’re also loud. Cats think they’re in danger. In addition to running, cats will hiss and scratch. Most dogs will be afraid of cats after they’ve had a close encounter with Kitty’s claws. Studies show that, like with multiple cats, it is possible to get cats and dogs to tolerate living together or even become friends if the introduction is handled properly.6https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1558787817302393

Black Cats Are Bad Luck

So this one is a no-brainer. Black cats are wonderful. But they got a bad wrap from being associated with the plague in the Middle Ages. And today there’s a myth that they don’t get adopted as fast as “prettier” cats and get returned because they don’t take good selfies. In fact, many cultures treasure the black cat and consider them good luck. And there are plenty of adopters looking for a black cat these days. Click on this link for more information on the Good Luck Black Cat.

red and white long haired kitten with big blue eyes and a pink nose on white mat. myths and misconceptions about cats.

Cats Hate Water

Not all cats hate water. Some breeds love water play. A fountain can be fun. A dish of water with some ping pong balls or robot fish gets some cats excited. Cats with outside access might go fishing. My father used to have to sneak back ornamental koi my cat brought home after fishing in the neighbors’ pond. Cats can swim as well as dogs, but they don’t generally seek out water adventures. One theory is that cats originated in desert climates and don’t have experience with water. More likely, cats don’t like the feeling of their fur being heavy and wet. Cats are also sensitive to smells and water washes off their smells. It is possible to bathe a cat if necessary though.

Related Post: How to Bathe a Cat

Cats Can See In The Dark

Cats have excellent vision. Although they cannot see in complete darkness, they have superior night vision capabilities. Cats can detect even the slightest light in the dark and make out much more detail than humans can. In addition to having a greater number of rods (light-sensitive cells) in their eyes than humans, cats also have a reflective layer behind the retina which reflects light back into the eye, allowing cats to detect even more movement and detail in low light conditions than humans.

Related Post: Through a Cat’s Eye: How Your Cat Sees the World

Cats Are Nocturnal

Some kitties are more active through the night, but they aren’t nocturnal animals. Cats are actually crepuscular, which means they are most active at dawn and dusk. If your furbaby is keeping you up all night, it is about managing their environment to adjust the behavior.

Cats Always Land On Their Feet

Cats don’t always land on their feet. They do have a reflex which activates as they fall, along with a flexible spine. This allows them to position themselves in such a way that they land on their paws with spread out legs. However, if they fall from a low height, this may not give them enough time to properly adjust and face the right direction. Elderly or large cats might find it difficult to spin around and land correctly.

Related Post: Cats Land on Their Feet

Cats Use Their Whiskers For Balance

Whiskers are really just long, specialized hairs in extra sensitive follicles. But they help your cat understand their environment. They provides navigation while hunting or running away from danger. They can “see” objects ahead of them and sense prey and predators moving around them even in pitch blackness. But they do not provide the input for balance. Just like us, Kitty’s inner ear serves that function.

Cats Should Drink Milk

Most cats are lactose intolerant once they become adults. Kitty may love milk but it isn’t good for him. It can cause digestive problems for him and give you a mess in the litter box to deal with. In addition to the lactose, milk contains a lot of fat which isn’t good for Kitty either. Milk contains high levels of phosphate. Phosphorus can impair kidney health in cats with chronic kidney disease. There’s no real nutritional value in milk for Kitty. If you want to offer a treat, there are milk-type formulas on the market for cats but he won’t miss it.

myths and misconceptions about cats diets. slightly crossed, blue eyed, tabby-pointed, cat face close up with tongue out licking lips.

Cats Can Live On A Vegan Or Vegetarian Diet

Cats are obligate carnivores. They’ve got to eat meat to be healthy. Our feline friends can not make their own taurine. They can only get it from their diet. The best sources are animal proteins, including fish, meat and eggs. Taurine deficiency causes blindness, heart disease, small litter sizes, low birth weights, or fetal abnormalities. In growing kittens, taurine deficiency can result in delayed growth. All complete commercial diets formulated for cats will have enough taurine to meet a cat’s needs. 7https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/taurine-in-cats

Other issues in feeding a plant based diet to cats are vitamin D deficiency, inadequate protein levels, imbalance in amino acids and essential fatty acids. This leads to weakened bones, poor muscle activity, heart disease and a number of other dangerous conditions. Even if you are a vegan or vegetarian personally, don’t feed your cat that way.

Dry Food Cleans A Cat’s Teeth

Cats can thrive on either canned food or kibble or both. Canned food is better for hydration, urinary tract care, kidney care and help with weight management. Kibble is more convenient, budget-friendly, less wasteful, and can be used in puzzle feeders. The big myth is that chewing dry food could clean debris off a cat’s teeth and reduce dental disease. But cats don’t naturally chew their food. They tear, shred, and swallow whole. Genetics and oral chemistry have a bigger impact on dental health than diet.

Cats Are Low Maintenance Pets That Don’t Require Much Care

Cats are not couch potatoes you can leave to their own devices. They are intelligent and resourceful animals that want and need our companionship. Cats need enrichment, exercise, opportunities to express predatory behaviors in play and a place to hide when they feel threatened. Kitty needs places to get up high and view his territory. They need to have appropriate places to scratch. Cats that don’t get enough mental and physical stimulation get bored. Bored cats will make their own fun and you probably won’t like it.

Related Post: Not as Low Maintenance as You Think

Cats Can Be Left Home Alone For Days At A Time

You can’t just leave Kitty alone with food, water, and a litter box. His people’s sudden absence, and the lack of his predictable routine, will stress a cat used being part of a family. Stressed cats may develop illnesses or pee outside the box. Cats shouldn’t be alone for over 24 hours.  Hiring a pet sitter can provide care and peace of mind while you are away from home.

Related Post: Can I Leave My Cat Home Alone

Indoor Cats Don’t Need Shots Or To Go To The Vet

Even indoor cats need to see the vet to support their health. Just because you don’t “see” something wrong with your cat doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. Cats are good at hiding pain and illness. Kittens will see the vet at least 4 times during their first year for their vaccinations and to be spayed or neutered. Adult cats need a checkup every year to assess their general health, need for dental cleaning, and to update vaccinations.

Related Post: Take Your Cat to the Vet

Female Cats Should Give Birth Before Being Spayed

There isn’t evidence to suggest that having a litter is beneficial to Kitty’s health. A cats’ risk for uterine and mammary problems, including cancer, increase with each heat cycle and pregnancy. Cats do not have the emotional attachment to the idea of parenting that we humans have.

Up Your Cat Care Game

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Kittens Don’t Need Socialization

It is a myth that kittens don’t need to be socialized. Kittens actually do need socialization to become well-adjusted cats and good family pets. Kittens learn to interact with the world by watching their mother and following her behavior. The term “copy-cat” is based on this behavior. The more exposure they have to their world the better they’ll fit in. Little kittens learn how to inhibit their play behaviors, biting, and scratching with their siblings. Without siblings, kittens don’t learn how hard is too hard to bite or how much scratching hurts.

Related Post: How to Socialize a Shy Kitten

Cats Can’t Be Trained

Cats are not necessarily untrainable and independent. They are intelligent and can be trained, but require different techniques than dogs. Tricks such as high fives, fist bumps, sitting, staying, jumping, rolling over, and dancing can be taught to cats. They can also learn to place, target, heel, and run an agility course. Cats can be trained to come, sit, stay, and walk on a leash. They can also learn to use the litter box reliably and avoid scratching the couch.

Exercising A Pet Is For Dog People

Its weird to walk a cat. Guaranteed you’ve heard it if you take your cat out on a leash. Dogs need exercise, cats are fine home on a pillow. But this is another myth that harms cats. Taking your cat out for a walk has so many benefits for your cat, for you, and your relationship. Just like for dog people. Walking your cat on a leash lets him explore his wild side. He can experience the joys that an outside cat does, without all the danger. It gives him exercise, preventing obesity. Taking Kitty out in the community gives you both the opportunity to enjoy new experiences together and to meet new people.

lynx point Himalayan cat with a lion cut coat wearing a turquoise harness and black leash walking on dirt path next to person wearing black shoes and pants

Pregnant Women Should Get Rid Of Their Cats

One of the worst myths and misconceptions about cats is that expectant women need to get rid of their cats, or at least put them outside. This is old school thinking related to the risk of catching toxoplasmosis from your cat and transmitting it to the unborn baby. Cats get it from eating infected rodents. So keeping your cat indoors reduces your risk significantly. Clean the litter box promptly, and wear gloves when you do so, if you can’t delegate the job to someone else. Wash your hands thoroughly.

You have a greater risk of contracting toxoplasmosis from working in garden soil or eating under cooked meat than keeping a cat. Even the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has stated that there is no reason to get rid of your cat just because you are pregnant.8https://www.acog.org/womens-health/experts-and-stories/ask-acog/is-it-safe-to-keep-a-cat-during-pregnancy

Cats Will Steal A Baby’s Breath

This myth has been floating around since the Middle Ages and is attached to cats’ reputation as witches familiars and wore recently as an example of the “cat’s act out of spite or jealousy” myth we’ve already debunked. Cats are naturally curious and may simply checking out the new addition to their home, but certainly not looking to harm them in any way. There is no scientific data to support the idea that cats will steal a baby’s breath. There is no reason to believe a cat poses anymore danger to your baby than sleeping with stuffed animals, pillows or blankets. Infants can not move away from any object, teddy bear or the family pet. Keep Kitty out of baby’s room until the child can move away from the cat or push him away. You can tent the crib or simply keep the door closed.

Related Post: Can Kids and Cats Live Together Safely?

Conclusion

After debunking 27 common myths and misconceptions about cats, it’s clear that there is a lot of false information out there surrounding these beloved pets. From the idea that cats always land on their feet to the belief that they are solitary animals, many of these myths are simply not true. Separating fact from fiction can help us appreciate our kitties real needs and behavior. The more we understand them, the better we can give our furry friends a happier and healthier lifestyle. Put these myths to rest and embrace our feline friends for who they truly are.

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