I am on a personal mission to dispel common myths about cats and cat lovers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say cats are not social or that they cannot be trained. And cat people? They are mentally unstable introverts who eschew the company of dogs – didn’t you know!
Common Myths About Cats
Myth: Cats purr because they are happy.
Truth: Cats purr when they are happy, this is true. But is not the only time they purr. They also purr when they are frightened, injured, or sick. Mother cats and kittens communicate with each other through purring. You may be asking yourself why a cat would purr when injured or sick. The frequency at which cats purr can actually help mend muscle, bones and increase bone density! (Scientific American, January 2003)
Myth: Cats always land on their feet.
Truth: It is true that cats have reflex that allows them to twist around quickly when they fall. In addition, they have extremely flexibly backbones and a keen sense of balance. However, if you have cats like mine, you know that cats can still be quite clumsy, despite their physical advantages. There is no guarantee a cat will land on their feet and if they’ve fallen from a great height, they may still sustain life threatening injuries. Be sure and check that windows and screens are secure to ensure your cat’s safety.
Myth: Cats are antisocial.
Truth: Cats in the wild do tend to be solitary creatures, although feral colonies made up of many cats also exist. However, domesticated house cats living with humans can be quite social. Certain breeds, like Exotic Shorthair Cats, are known for their outgoing personalities.
Cats, much like humans, exist on a continuum of sociability. Some cats are shy and reserved, while others, like my Fergie, run to the door to great visitors. A cat’s early exposure to different people and pets can increase their tolerance and desire to be social.
Also, a cat that is initially shy when adopted as an adult, may gain confidence as they become comfortable in their new home and become more social as time goes on. Duffy used to hide from everyone, including me, but after a year of consistent love and attention, he became more confident and now prefers to hang out where the humans are even when new people visit.
There are cats that are naturally less social. They tend to have a single human they share a strong bond with. But the myth that cats are antisocial is simply not true.
Myth: Cats are nocturnal.
Truth: I have personally experienced the shenanigans that a kitty can get up to in the middle of the night, so I understand why some might believe cats are nocturnal. They are actually “crepuscular” and are most active at dusk and dawn, allowing them to take advantage of the lack of full light to hunt potential prey. If your fur friend is keeping you up at night, they may need a more strenuous play regimen during the day to work off excess energy.
Myth: Cats do not like other cats.
Truth: I have seen this myth slowly lose steam over the last few years as people from the Cats of Instagram community attend meet ups with their cats. It just depends on the cat! As previously noted, some cats are more inclined to be social or have been socialized at a young age to accept different humans and animals in their lives. Age also matters. The older the cat, the less likely they are to want to meet a new cat, especially if they’ve been the only cat in the household. If you are introducing a new cat into your home, there are territorial issues to consider, so take it slowly and allow the cats to get used to each other’s scent before introducing them. While cats are not pack animals like dogs, they are capable of developing friendship and can even form close bonds with fellow felines and other animals.
Myth: Cats are independent, so I can leave them for several days and not worry.
Truth: Some cats are more independent than others. Fergie and Duffy are not independent at all. My first cat Squish was very independent, but I would never leave her for more than 24 hours without having someone check in on her. There are several reasons for this. First, cats must have access to fresh water and food every day. If you are gone for long weekend and your cat accidentally gets stuck in the bathroom with no access to food or water, there could be dire consequences.
Also, a cat’s health can change rapidly and they often hide the first signs of illness or pain. Cat guardian’s may see changes in daily eating or litter box habits before they see any sign of illness. If you are gone for three days and there is no one to check on your cat, you could miss important clues about your cat’s health.
Finally, most cats have grown used to daily human companionship and will grow lonely and depressed if left alone for too long. Keep your cat happy and set your mind at ease by asking a friend to stop in an check on them. You could also hire a pet sitter or board your cat if you will be gone longer than 24 hours.
Myth: Black cats are unlucky.
Truth: This myth is particularly distasteful to me, as I adore Duffy and have had several black cats over my lifetime. Folklore and legends about black cats exist in many cultures around the world. In the United States, black cats have been historically associated with witches and Halloween and having a black cat cross your path was thought to be a sign of bad luck. In other countries, like Japan, black cats are considered lucky. The myth that bad cats are unlucky results in fewer black cats being adopted and leaves black cats more vulnerable to abuse, especially at Halloween time. Fortunately, fewer and fewer people believe this myth as time goes on. Remember, if you see a black cat crossing your path, count yourself lucky because cats of any color are awesome!
Myth: Cats cannot be trained.
Truth: With a little patience, consistency, and determination cats CAN be trained. I know cats that have been trained to fetch, go to the bathroom on the toilet, and sit back on their hind feet like a meerkat to ask for a treat. To encourage positive behaviors or to teach your cat tricks, use positive reinforcement in the form of treats, love, or play. To reduce negative behaviors, like aggression or furniture scratching, you can use redirection with a toy or a scratching pole. To extinguish behaviors like meowing, do not respond to your cat in any way, positively or negatively, until the behavior subsides. Once the cat stops the behavior, reward them with attention, praise, treats, or the meal they they were meowing for in the first place. Consistency is the key with training any animal (Including humans!). If you are not consistent and you sometimes give into the behavior you are trying to extinguish, you have just taught your cat that if they do the behavior long enough, eventually you’ll give in. With behaviors like meowing, you may see an increase in the behavior at first, before it is finally extinguished. Hang in there and remember to reinforce positive behaviors with the leverage that works best with your cat – food, love, or play. I’ll give you some examples:
- Duffy was an incessant yodeler when I first adopted him. To reduce this behavior, I would avoid giving any attention or food to Duffy if he was meowing. When he stopped, he would get tons of love and possibly a treat or meal. He is still a vocal cat, but knows that meowing won’t get him what he wants. This works especially well for cats who crave human attention and companionship.
- Fergie is not a fan of wearing costumes, so I don’t make her. But I have taught her to associate wearing bows and getting her picture taking with getting Ciao treats. Now I show her the treat, put a bow on her, and snap some pictures and she happily complies, knowing a reward is coming. This method works especially well for cats that are food motivated.
- My first cat, Squish, used to get hissy with Duff when he first arrived. Consistent distraction with her favorite toy redirected that energy and she would forget that she was even mad at the poor guy. Eventually, she grew to accept him. Redirection is a wonderful tool for cats that fight with other cats or animals in the household.
Common Myths About Cat People.
Myth: All cat people are introverts.
Truth: Some cat people are introverts, but I have met some of the most extroverted people in my life through the online cat community. I suspect this myth began because cat people don’t walk their cats or meet at cat parks….yet! More and more, cat guardians are finding that their felines enjoy going on adventures with them. Fergie even walked the carpet at movie premiere in 2016!
There are no cat parks that I know of, but Cat Café’s are very popular in Japan and are catching on here in the United States. A Cat Café allows adoptable cats to feel more at home in their environment and thus more likely to make a connection with a potential adopter. Did you know Los Angeles is home to the CatCafe Lounge? It is the first local, nonprofit cat cafe in LA (click on icon below):
Myth: Girls like cats and boys like dogs.
Truth: If you could hear the internal screaming in my head, you would know how frustrating I find this myth. From the day they are born, girls are socialized to think kitties are cute, while boys are taught that dogs are the animal for them. Just try finding a single baby boy outfit at a place like Target with cats on it. If you are able to find something gender neutral featuring cats, I bet it’s a lovely shade of gray.
Most guys, when giving the opportunity, will bond with a kitten as easily as they would a puppy. Some are even surprised to find they prefer cats to dogs! I am lucky to know quite a lot of cad dads, and can attest to the true bond of love and affection that can be formed between man and feline. If I were a single guy who liked cats and girls, volunteering at a cat rescue or joining an online cat community would certainly increase my odds of meeting someone.
Myth: A woman who likes cats is a “Crazy Cat Lady.”
Truth: Does this picture from the tv sitcom The Simpson’s look familiar? The myth of the older, single, slightly batty woman who owns multiple cats persists in our society. I’m sure that woman exists somewhere, but the majority of cat lover’s I’ve met are in their 20’s and 30’s, of various genders, well educated, and as mentally stable as any one of us can claim to be in this day and age. Some are single, some are not. Cat people do not fit into neat little boxes, so let’s leave the boxes for the cats – where they will be truly appreciated.
Myth: You are either a cat person or a dog person.
Truth: This may shock you, but growing up, I thought I was a dog person! My best fur friend was an AKC registered collie that I went through 4H with and took to dog shows. I had a love for all animals from a young age (my pets included a Scarlet Macaw parrot, finches, parakeets, cats, horses, a donkey, chickens, llamas, peacocks, goats, guinea pigs, hamsters and dogs), but it wasn’t until I got my first cat Squish as an an adult that my deep affection for felines bloomed. I still love dogs and will have one (or more?) again someday, when room and finances allow. If I win the lottery, I would love to have a whole menagerie of rescue animals! Growing up, my dogs and cats coexisted quite peacefully, so the idea that we would have to pick one over the other seems a bit silly.