Black Cats Are Not Bad Luck
Busting Popular Cat Myths
A little over a week ago, I did a piece about popularly believed myths about dogs. Well, it's the cats turn now!
Just like dogs, cats have some pretty widely held beliefs about them that are simply not true. As with the piece on dogs, I will start by saying that this piece is not intended to shame anyone. Popular beliefs become popular because they're taught; handed down from generation to generation.
As for why you should take my word for it, I will say I do not have as long a list of credentials in terms of cats as I did for dogs. However I am still a vet tech and I have five cats of my own and I did work for one of the largest pet supply companies in the country and I did write an entire webpage on animal education.
At the animal hospital where I work, I'm known as the "cat whisperer" because even the angriest of our cat patients tend to calm down around me. My secret? I'm not afraid to bleed. And I sing to them.
So let's unravel some myths about cats, shall we? Starting with the title.
Black Cats Are Bad Luck.
This one can be traced all the way back to Ancient Greece. According to Greek mythology, Zeus’s wife Hera once transformed her servant, Galinthias, into a black cat as punishment for impeding the birth of Hercules. Galinthias went on to become an assistant to Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft. This aligned black cats with witches and witchcraft.
This superstition, however, is mainly western. In many other parts of the world, black cats are seen as good luck. The belief being so strongly held is harmful to black cats in many ways. Feral black cats are often targets, especially on Halloween, for abuse or even to be killed. And black cats are notoriously difficult to adopt into good homes from shelters.
There are some scientific studies though, that show black cats tend to actually live longer than other cats. Why is uncertain. Their fur pigmentation shouldn't have an effect on their overall health. But it does tend to be the trend.
It's not because they're witches or evil omens. That much is for sure.
Black cats, in my personal experience, are actually the sweetest cats. Much like Pit Bulls, their reputation is unjustly earned and speaks nothing of their personalities. Don't be a cat racist!
Cats Like Milk.
The vast majority of cats are actually lactose intolerant. If they're not young kittens drinking cat milk, cat's should not have milk or milk products at all.
They do tend to enjoy things with a creamy texture and there are specific cat treats tailored to this (Inaba Churu is a good one) but they're not milk based.
Giving milk to a cat is likely to lead to vomiting and diarrhea, so even if it appears that they want it, don't give it to them.
A Purring Cat Is A Happy Cat.
Not always. Cats absolutely do purr when they are content and enjoying a nice petting session with their chosen human. But this is neither the only time nor the only reason that cats purr.
The vibration of a cat's purr is actually equal to that of healing frequencies in therapeutic treatments for humans. So cats will purr when they are sick or injured to promote healing. They've even been known, when living in a clowder (group of cats) to lean against an injured cat and purr to soothe them.
Cats purr to self-soothe as well. If they are frightened or anxious, they will purr to calm themselves down. Cats have been known to purr while dying or being put to sleep. Their purring has the same calming effect on humans. If you have a cat that lays on you when you're upset, you already know this. But the sensation of a cat purring is very soothing.
Side note: It's also really cool to hear on a stethoscope... though it makes examination a lot harder. They purr louder than their heartbeats and their breath sounds.
Personally, I think the coolest thing about a cat's purr is that science has no idea how they do it. It's this huge mystery that no one can figure out. There's been a lot of research on the subject and the current belief is that the noise comes from the muscles within the cat’s larynx. As they move, they dilate and constrict the glottis – the part of the larynx that surrounds the vocal chords – and the air vibrates every time the cat breathes in or out. The result of that vibration is a purr. But this is just the latest in a long string of theories and has yet to be conclusively proven.
Peeing Outside Their Litter Box Is A Behavioral Issue.
This is one of the main reasons that cats get returned to shelters or dumped at shelters. And nine times out of ten the issue is medical, not behavioral.
There are many reasons that a cat could choose not to use a litter box but cats are innately clean animals. They groom themselves incessantly. They don't want their mess around their home any more than you do. If a cat is urinating outside of their litter box, your first step should be to take them to a vet. Not a shelter. If there is no medical issue to be found (common ones include urinary tract infections, bladder stones and kidney disease) then try changing the type of litter you're using.
Cats can be picky. If they don't like it, they won't use it.
They also won't use a filthy litter box. So if the litter box isn't kept clean for them, you can expect to find them using cleaner parts of your home to do their business. Would you want to use a dirty toilet?
Neither does your cat.
Cats Hate Water.
Cats generally do not enjoy being bathed, but they don't hate water. Actually if you leave a faucet running, they're likely to drink from it and even play in it.
Certain breeds like water more than others. Specialty breeds like Ocicats, Bengals and Maus are known to enjoy playing in water. And if you look at big cats like tigers, they actually enjoy swimming and can swim for great distances.
Cats are fascinated by water. They like to watch it move, splash around in it and play with it. The reason that cats are so adverse to bath time isn't the water. It's because they groom themselves so thoroughly that their fur is very free of oils which means they get cold quickly in the water. So if you absolutely have to bathe them, make it warm, make it quick and wrap them in a nice warm towel as soon as you're done. Cats do hate to be cold.
Cats Always Land On Their Feet.
So, cats have some pretty cool internal features that make this myth partially true. They have an internal balancing system known as the righting reflex which combined with their very flexible back bones enables them to twist themselves mid-air. They also have a vestibular apparatus in their inner ear that means they can discern up from down. Put them together and you have an animal that knows they're facing the wrong way and is able to course correct.
However, these systems are not foolproof. It only takes seconds for them to kick in but a cat will require at least two and a half to three feet of falling distance to achieve the twist. So if a cat falls from a short distance, that cat will not land on their feet.
It also doesn't mean they're impervious to injury. Though the height from which they get injured is where things start to get weird. Cats who fall from a height of 7 stories up or less, are actually more likely to be injured than cats who fall from heights greater than 7 stories. The study which determined this, which I really don't want to think about being performed (do not throw cats out of buildings to see if they get hurt please) is highly biased though and some argue it's validity as instant fatalities from falls were not included. But overall, it is believed that 90% of cats that fall from between 2 to 36 stories, will survive the fall.
And then there's High Rise Syndrome. Cats have a natural fondness for heights. They're predators, they like to be up high so that they can see everything around them and they feel safe there. Cats that live in upper stories of tall apartment buildings will often snooze in the windows. If those windows are open and that cat falls asleep leaning on the screen, the screen will not hold them, and the cat will fall. This is High Rise Syndrome. And it's nearly always fatal.
All Cats Love Catnip.
Actually only about 50% of cats experience any effects from catnip at all. Sensitivity to the essential oil catnip, called nepetalactone, is actually an inherited trait.
That percentage doesn't hold true in my house. Of my five cats, only one of them doesn't get excited over catnip. But my mom's cat has no interest in it at all.
While we're on the subject of catnip, a lot of people think that the effect of catnip is similar to the effect of pot on humans. It kinda looks like pot, so I guess I see the association. But it has the opposite effect. It doesn't make them calm and sleepy. Cats that are sensitive to catnip will go totally playful bonkers. They'll roll all around in it and then make mad dashes around your house.
Cats Don't Need Heartworm Prevention.
Cat bodies don't make for a great host to a heartworm, this is true. So they get the disease far more rarely than dogs do. However, rare does not mean never.
Heartworms come from mosquitoes so even indoor-only cats are susceptible to infection if a mosquito gets into your home. While their body might kill the worm off before it has a chance to become a problem, if it doesn't, the consequences are severe.
Heartworm disease in cats is nearly always fatal. Not because it can't be treated, but because cats, unlike dogs, will not display ANY symptoms. Even as the disease is progressively getting worse. The cat will appear perfectly healthy one day and die the next. That's blunt, I know, but I'm being blunt for a reason. It's not worth the risk. Rare. Doesn't. Mean. Never.
Cats Are Nocturnal.
In the wild, a cats prey would be most active at dusk and dawn so that would be the time they'd hunt and eat. This makes cats naturally crepuscular. They are most active at dusk and dawn and have periods of both sleep and awake throughout the day and night.
However, in a home setting where meals are scheduled at specific times, a cat will actually alter themselves to be on your schedule. They may wake up in the night and run sprints across your house at 3:00 A.M. for absolutely no reason whatsoever, and during the day they will find nice sunny spots to nap in, but their natural internal clock will set itself around the times that they eat. Cats who are allowed to free feed (have food out all the time) will set their own schedule. If you want them on your schedule, set feeding times and stick to them. This is also a lot healthier for them and will help them maintain a healthy weight.
Pregnant Women Can't Have Cats.
Please don't give your cat away if you get pregnant. Cats are not harmful to pregnant women nor their unborn children.
It's the litter box that pregnant women need to avoid. Not the cat. Toxoplasmosis is a disease that is carried by cats and spread through the feces and in turn, their litter. So no cleaning litter boxes while preggers!
But petting cats, snuggling cats, owning cats... totally safe.
Cats Swish Their Tails When Happy.
Cats actually have very little control over what their tail is doing. While a cat is laying down and even while they're sleeping, their tail will move around.
When a cats tail movements are purposeful, watch out. They most commonly use it to warn you that you're making them angry and they're about to make you bleed.
When a cat is angry, their tail will puff up and swat wildly from side to side. A happy tail is a dancing tail. Cat tails that appear to be vibrating and are standing straight up and are not poofy, are attached to happy cats that want your attention.
Most of the time though, cats are totally unaware of what their tail is doing.
Cats Don't Need To See The Vet As Often As Dogs.
Cats should have a veterinary check up twice a year every year and a professional dental cleaning once a year after the age of three. The exact same as dogs.
Cats are apex predators and will not show weakness. So cat illnesses and injuries often go unnoticed for long periods of time. Cats that are suddenly hiding a lot, have a change in their eating/drinking habits or a change to their urination/defecation should be seen by a vet outside of their regular check ups. These are signs of illness that your cat is trying to hide from you. But it is precisely because they hide it, that those biannual check ups are important.
Cats Can See Perfectly In Total Darkness.
Cat eyes can definitely see better in the dark than human eyes, however a little bit of light is required.
That little bit of light is intensified through a membrane at the back of a cat's eye called a tapetum. This membrane is also what causes cat eyes to glow in photographs. They absorb the flash of the camera and it appears to glow. So while a cat can see in extremely little light, a type of dark that a human would be useless within, that little light is important.
Without it, they're as blind as we are.
Declawing A Cat Is Harmless.
It's actually completely, totally, 100% the opposite. It's downright cruel.
Declawing a cat is equivalent to amputating your fingers at the first knuckle. It has both psychological and physiological impacts on the cat that lasts for the rest of its life.
A declawed cat will never again walk without pain. They won't show it, as stated previously, cats hide pain, and they do it well. But their paws hurt for the rest of their lives. We know this because declawed cats always have a higher level of cortisol in their systems, which is developed as a natural pain response.
It takes away their dexterity and ability to properly climb which hinders their very nature. It makes them more aggressive because they're miserable. A cat's first defense is always their claws, as opposed to dogs who will bite. Take away their first line of defense and the cat will resort to biting. A cat bite is far more dangerous to a human than a scratch.
Declawed cats are more prone to health issues, such as chronic back pain because declawing them alters the weight distribution on their paws while they walk. Botched procedures can leave bone fragments behind which cause constant infections when they bury their waste in litter. Botched declawings are actually more common than "successful" (I use that term loosely) ones because it's such a difficult procedure to perform properly.
Declawing cats is so cruel that it's already been banned in several places and is (hopefully) on the verge of being banned everywhere. Many veterinarians will refuse the procedure even if it's not banned because they deem it unethical (which it is). It's unnecessary and harmful.
If you're more worried about your furniture than the health of your pet, do not get a cat. Cats can be trained not to claw furniture. They're incredibly smart animals. My mother's cat has all of his claws and her furniture is pristine and scratch free. Get them scratching posts and teach them where they're allowed to scratch, a natural instinctual activity for them, and leave their claws alone.
Or amputate your fingertips at the same time. Fair is fair.