Veterinarians Debunk 11 Cat Myths
Over the years many myths and legends about cats have circulated, some are fun, whilst others are a little frightening. For example, it’s said in England that a cat who claws at the curtains or the carpets is predicting windy weather, and the Welsh believed rain was coming when a cat’s pupil broadened. Rain is also foretold if a cat busily washes its ears.
This article debunks some of the more common cat myths. There is some truth to a few of these myths, which is somewhat fitting, since cats are very particular, special animals, that are a bit of a mixed bag (just like these myths).
Each myths is debunked by an emergency and critical-care veterinarian and internal medicine and oncology specialist that work at an Animal Medical Centre.
Cats love milk • MYTH
Cats as they get older are actually lactose intolerant, so their bodies can’t digest milk. As kittens they have an enzyme called lactase, which helps them break down milk because they are supposed to be drinking their mother’s milk. But as they get older, that enzyme, which is usually very present, goes away. And then they’re unable to digest milk. So if you feed milk to an older cat, or any cat after they’ve been weaned from their mother, they really can’t digest it. Even though they might seem like they’re really enjoying themselves, it can cause gastrointestinal upset.
However, you can go to the pet store and buy cat milk. And the cat milk has two things that makes it special for cats. One is it is lactose- free (similar to the lactose-free milk at the grocery store), and the second is it has extra taurine added to it. And cats require taurine in their diet, so it’s just an extra source of that amino acid special for cats.
Cats are nocturnal • Myth
How can you be nocturnal when you sleep 23 hours a day? The typical cat sleep 23 hours a day. They wake up long enough to kill some prey, eat that prey, and then go back to sleep until the next time they’re hungry. The correct reference for cats is that they are crepuscular animals – which means they’re active between dusk and dawn, which is how lions hunt. Our domestic cats actually evolved from that. Which means they’re supposed to be more active in the morning and in the evening, but not necessarily in the middle of the night (though some cats obviously are).
Cats think their owner is their mother • Myth
We’re sorry to say, but cats do not think of you as their mother or father. But they think of you as their caretaker and they need you. More particularly, cats see you as their source of food, comfort, cleanliness and a safe place to live.
Pregnant women can’t live with cats • Myth
Cats can sometimes be infected with a parasite called toxoplasmosis, which can be shed in your cat’s feces. If picked up by a pregnant woman, this parasite can sometimes cause birth defects or miscarriage – which is obviously something we would want to avoid. Cleaning the litterbox daily will help with this. Avoid leaving the litterbox to go for more than one day because that can increase infection. If you are pregnant and want to be extra cautious, wear gloves when cleaning the litterbox or have someone else clean the litterbox for you.
But if you’re concerned about your health or your cat’s health during pregnancy, be sure to bring up the topic with both your veterinarian and your obstetrician.
Cats can see in complete darkness • Myth
Cats really can’t see in complete darkness. Although they do have great night vision. They have what can be though of as a mirror in the back of their eye. Which is evident when taking photos of your cat and their yellow-green reflection in the camera (and that’s the mirror). This mirror helps in the back of the cat’s eyes helps to reflect light around to improve their vision. The reflector area is called the tapetum.
In short, cats can’t see in complete darkness, they still need a little bit of light in their eye for it to bounce back and forth within the eye off the tapetum. But a lot of darkness and a little bit of light they can see.
Cats don’t love people or babies • Myth
Babies are unpredictable and they smell different to people. They also make different movements to people (and they have smelly diapers!). So whilst it might be partly true, but it’s not necessarily true that cats don’t like babies, but just that babies are different to the people they’re used to.
When cats purr it means they’re happy • Myth
Purring is oftentimes associated with pleasure in cats; however sometimes cats can purr for other reasons, such as they’re very nervous, or a warning, or they are hungry. Not necessarily that they’re happy.
One human year equals seven cat years • Myth
This is something more associated with dogs (which is also a myth), but if you apply it to cats it’s even more of a myth. For instance, if you look at it from the reverse end of their lifespan, a cat can have 6 kittens when it’s 6-months old. A 6-month old cat would be 3.5 years in human age, and clearly no 3.5 year old children are having babies of their own.
Cats and dogs don’t get along • Myth
There are plenty of households with dogs and cats and everyone gets along fine. Sometimes a dog and cat don’t get along – just like some people don’t get along (or even two cats or two dogs that don’t get along). This is more about the personality of your cat and your dog, than it is that they can’t get along. Think of it like a working relationship.
Cats always land on their feet • Myth
Cats do have an excellent righting reflex, meaning that a lot of the time they do land on their feet. This has to do with their anatomy and vestibular system. However, don’t think that your cat will be fine if it unfortunately falls out of your window or even from the top of your refrigerator.
As sometimes when cats fall, they land on their chin or fracture their wrists. Or if they belly flop, as opposed to land on their feet, they’ll also get air in their lungs, or around their lungs as it may cause a tear in it and start leaking. These injuries are severe and life-threatening for cats.
Black cats are bad luck • Myth
Clearly a myth. If anything, black cats might be bad luck for themselves – being that they are not adopted from animal shelters as much as a pretty grey cat or a flashy tricolour cat. So the bad luck is actually for the cat, not for you.
If you’re more of a dog lover, read our article on Veterinarians Debunk 13 Dog Myths.
– Science Insider interview with Dr Carly Fox – Emergency and critical-care veterinarian at the Animal Medical Centre, New York City. Dr Ann Hohenhaus – Internal medicine and oncology specialist at the Animal Medical Centre, New York City
– Purina. Can Cats See in the Dark? Read article
– Catworld. Cat Milk – Can Cats Drink Milk? Read article
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