Setting the Facts Straight: Common Myths About Your Cat
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People have always been fascinated with cats' often mysterious disposition. It's not easy to figure out what they're thinking or feeling, but there are a variety of folktales and cat myths in need of busting. Here are a few feline stereotypes to count out.
1. Cats Always Land on Their Feet
Nope, not always. Cats are very agile creatures, but the truth is they can really hurt themselves if they fall the wrong way. As the Animal Medical Center notes, veterinarians use the term "high-rise syndrome" to describe cat injuries sustained from falls—that includes sprains, bone fractures, and even respiratory issues. Contrary to popular belief, cats are more apt to be injured from low heights than high because they don't have time to turn or twist their bodies into the necessary position for a safe landing. To keep yours safe, ensure that your windows screens are intact and free of holes, and make your shelves and tabletops unappealing platforms for people-watching.
2. Female Cats Should Give Birth before Being Spayed
According to The Humane Society, the opposite is true. Making the decision to spay your furry friend is a big one, but it's a good idea to do so before she becomes a mom. Organizations such as The Human Society and ASPCA encourage pet parents to make this appointment to prevent cat overpopulation, which overcrowds shelters and puts individual cats (and their kittens) at risk for neglect.
3. Cats Cannot Be Trained
When you think of pets performing tricks, cats aren't the first animal to pop into your head, but guess what: Cats can be trained! Teaching your cat to do certain things can ultimately strengthen the bond between her and your family. There's even a cat named Tuna who plays instruments in a band and tours the US (she just doesn't sing lead vocals). Training isn't always recreation, though, as positive reinforcement is crucial when learning traditional behaviors such as litter box use. Local animal shelters sometimes offer a free training session for pet parents, but feel free to ask your vet for tips as well. With a little patience and determination, you and your cat could be on stage in no time!
4. It's OK for Cats to Eat a Little Chocolate
Just like canines, warns Trupanion, you should never give your cat any amount of chocolate. Chocolate contains theobromine, an alkaloid that is toxic to both cats and dogs. Dark chocolate is even more dangerous than the milk variety because it contains higher levels of theobromine—the chemical is also found in cocoa—so don't let you kitty sip your hot chocolate, either. In addition, cats aren't able to digest dairy comfortably, which can lead to bowel issues such as diarrhea. The bottom line is, save the sweet treats for the human family members and keep your kitty healthy.
5. Indoor Cats Cannot Get Diseases
Just because your little prowler spends her days and nights indoors doesn't mean she's not susceptible to diseases. The reality is all cats can contract illnesses, even if they never set paw outside. Experts at the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) point out that indoor cats are most exposed to the airborne germs that travel through the air or come in on a cat owner's clothing. If you have a dog who thrives on the outdoors, he can bring in unwelcome organisms, too. Keep in mind cats can get sick from ingesting insects that carry similar diseases, so talk to your vet about preventative treatments that keep your feline family members safe. And think about taking off your shoes at the front door!
6. Cats Will Steal the Breath of a Baby
Of all the cat myths out there, this one borders on superstition, but it's a real concern for families with babies and small children. The good news? It's been blown out of proportion, as Live Science confirms, however much cats love to snuggle up and press against warm bodies—the basis of this myth. Nonetheless, because many cats will curl up near their owner's head, neck, or chest, it's important to keep yours away from the kiddos during naptime, and wait until your child is older before you allow her to sleep in the same room.
7. Brushing a cat's teeth is silly. Give me a break.
Well actually, your cat will have the last laugh when his breath makes your eyes water. Routinely brushing your cat's teeth not only freshens breath, it also limits the risk of oral disease and gives you a chance to notice anything unusual happening to teeth and gums. Seriously, don't brush off brushing. It can make your cat more pleasant to be around and help prevent an array of serious health problems down the road. Ask your veterinarian for help getting started.
8. Cats Have Nine Lives… Do They Really Need Regular Check-ups?
Of course, cats have only one life. So it’s important to schedule regular veterinary visits to ensure your cat has a long, healthy and happy one. Going to the veterinarian shouldn't only be for when your cat is sick. Your cat needs annual wellness check-ups, vaccines, dental exams and nutritional consultations… just like we do. You might also think because of the 9 lives myth that cats might be immune to rabies, but this is also a myth. Cats can carry rabies and should be vaccinated regularly according to local laws. Vaccinations are effective in keeping your cat clear of infection.
9. Table Scraps are Okay for My Cat
Did you know that a piece of cheese for a 10lb cat is like eating almost three full chocolate bars? Table scraps are empty calories for cats. They need precisely balanced nutrition for their specific life stage and special needs to remain healthy. A cat food like Hill’s Science Diet is great because it gives cats exactly what they need without any excess nutrients that might be harmful.
10. My Cat Flicks Her Tail, She Must Be Happy
Maybe…you never really know with cats. Typically, cats will wag or flick their tail when they are upset or thinking. Cats communicate via complex body language and vocal expressions like humans. Learning to read what your cat is telling you will go a long way in helping build your relationship.
11. I Don’t Need to Exercise My Cat
You can and should exercise your cat. Cats need mental stimulation as well as physical activity. Cats should be kept indoors for their safety but there are plenty of games and toys to keep them active and at a healthy weight.
12. Pregnant Women Avoid Cats Due to Possible Disease Infection (Toxoplasmosis)?
Expectant mothers can interact with cats; it's the litter box that's a no-no. Toxoplasmosis is spread through feces and litter. As long as pregnant women avoid contact with the litter box and have someone else clean the litter box area, there should be no problems. So feel free to continue mothering your cat while you're waiting for your baby.
13. Without Whiskers, Does a Cat Lose All Sense of Balance?
It's hard to imagine how an idea like this got started! Cats use their whiskers as "feelers," but not to maintain balance. How a cat positions its whiskers can also be an indication of mood. Whatever you do, don't cut a cat's whiskers or pull on them. Whiskers are rooted deep in the skin where nerve endings are abundant.
14. Got Milk? Got Cats? Can Your Cats Have Milk?
A cute cat quietly lapping at a saucer of milk. What could be more natural? The truth is milk packs a lot of punch for such a small animal. Many cats get diarrhea from milk and too much milk can quickly add up to an obesity problem. Your best bet is sticking with well-balanced nutrition formulated specifically for cats. Save the milk for your cereal.
15. If a Cat is Eating Grass, It Means She is Sick
While several theories about animal grass consumption exist, veterinarians have no proven answers. However, research indicates an amazing possibility: animals may just like to eat grass. So don't panic if your cat nibbles at the lawn from time to time. If the nibbling turns into a daily feast, talk to your veterinarian.
16. If You Put Garlic on Your Cat's Food, It Will Help Get Rid of Her Worms
While putting garlic on your cat's food may give your cat the impression you are a gourmet Italian chef, garlic may cause anemia in cats and should be avoided.
Once you separate fact from fiction, you can help your feline family member live an active, healthy life. And don't worry about cats losing their mystery—they'll always be adorably peculiar! As long as you know where her real challenges are, you'll never fail to entertain each other.
Christine O'Brien is a writer and long-time cat mom. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @brovelliobrien.