Pets: Ten cat myths, debunked

Pets: Ten cat myths, debunked
There is a popular superstition that black cats at bad luck. (File Photo)

By Sarah Liu

Have you heard any of these 10 cat myths? In the spirit of Halloween, let’s break down some popular beliefs and superstitions about cats:

Black cats are bad luck.

The popular superstition equating black cats with bad luck may have sprung from medieval Europe. One example from 16th-century Italy predicted imminent death if a black cat was found sleeping on your bed. While these beliefs seem outdated, shelter staff and rescue volunteers still experience attitudes of bias in adopting or working with black cats. Conversely, black cats in Egypt were held in higher esteem because they most closely resembled the goddess Bastet, and in Japan, black cats are associated with finding luck in love.

Purring means a cat is happy.

Sometimes it does. Most of us associate the rumbling vibrations of purring with a happy and content cat. However, cats may also purr as a self-soothing technique when scared, in pain, in labor or even dying. Some cats will even purr as a defense mechanism, to relieve tension with another cat or diffuse a potentially aggressive interaction.

Milk is good for cats.

Decades of art dedicated to little girls giving milk to cats have built this association, and milk remains a common “treat” well-meaning owners will offer their cats. However, while a mother cat’s milk is good for her kittens, most cats are intolerant to other types of dairy. Lacking the proper enzymes for digestion, consuming milk can lead to stomach upset, vomiting and diarrhea.

Declawing is painless.

It is not painless. Declawing a cat requires the amputation of toe bones via scalpel or laser. The procedure is equivalent to cutting off a human’s fingers at the last knuckle. The cat will experience significant pain in recovery as well as long term residual discomfort from nerve damage, problems walking and potential bone spurs. Cats who have been declawed are also more likely to house-soil, bite and exhibit other serious behavioral problems.

Cats are nocturnal.

If you’re used to a cat walking across your face at 3 a.m., you may believe that cats are nocturnal. But cats are actually crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dusk and dawn. This makes sense considering most of their natural prey is on the move in the early morning or evening. If Fluffy’s nighttime rampages are disturbing your sleep, try setting her supper time closer to your bedtime and engage her in vigorous late evening play sessions.

Cats are low maintenance.

It’s true that cats don’t require daily walks and are mostly self-cleaning, but many people underestimate the levels of attention and maintenance they do require. Apart from litter box management and scheduled feedings, domestic cats are highly social creatures and need regular interaction and enrichment to live their best lives. Put simply, your cat wants to play with you, wants to cuddle with you – or at least sit nearby – and thrives when you make them a priority.

Cats hate dogs.

Relationships between cats and dogs are much like relationships between people: Some of them get along and some just don’t. Also like people, compatibility varies based on personality types and preferences, and it can be impacted by past experiences. Generally speaking, though, both dogs and cats enjoy companionship and benefit from social bonding. So, with proper introductions and training, cats and dogs can become great friends. In fact, a cat who is used to living solo often adjusts to a new dog faster and easier than a new cat.

Cats always land on their feet.

Cats frequently land on their feet because they have what’s called a “righting reflex,” made up of a vestibular apparatus in the inner ear and a very flexible back bone. These tools allow a cat to quickly determine up from down and correct in-air body position to land on its feet. However, the system isn’t fool proof: Shorter falls don’t allow time to correct and longer falls may result in injury, regardless of landing.

This breed/color/type of cat is hypoallergenic.

Sorry friends, but there is no 100% guaranteed hypoallergenic cat. This popular misconception often springs from association with a cat’s fur texture or length. Therefore, hairless or thin coated breeds such as sphynx or cornish rex may be marketed and perceived as hypoallergenic. In reality, the allergens in question are typically related to the cat’s skin and saliva rather than fur. Therefore, when a hairless sphynx cleans himself, allergens are still present in drying saliva and can still cause allergic reactions.

A female cat should have a litter before she is spayed.

Proponents of this belief predict giving birth to at least one litter before spaying improves a cat’s health and results in a friendlier, more content disposition. Conversely, scientific studies show medical benefits to early sterilization, including significant reduction in certain types of cancer, tumors and infections. Moreover, failure to spay or neuter usually results in undesirable behavioral issues like calling, marking, spraying and aggression. Finally, early sterilization of both males and females reduces the crisis of homeless unwanted kittens.

The writer is a longtime volunteer with King Street Cats. She lives and works in Alexandria. For more information about King Street Cats, go to www.