FELINE FACTS AND FALLACIES
In ancient Egypt cats were worshipped. In Mediaeval Europe, they were persecuted. In Victorian England, cats were portrayed in human clothing doing human activities and drowned kittens were made into toys or ornaments. Today, cats are popular pets. They do not take up a great deal of room or need to be taken for walks and are not greatly expensive to keep. Despite their popularity, their basic needs are often obscured by common fallacies, leading to neglect or cruelty.
GENERAL CAT CARE MYTHS & MISCONCEPTIONS
'Cats fend for themselves'.
Some cats are good hunters and virtually self-sufficient. Others are clueless; their instincts blunted by domestication and selective breeding. Some cats have difficulty hunting because of their physique (e.g. the flattened face and small mouth of a Persian). Made to fend for themselves, cats may scavenge and eat bone splinters or stray a considerable distance seeking food. Strays picked up by animal control may be destroyed if unclaimed or unadopted after a period of time. If you choose to own a cat, you must be committed to providing food and care.
'Hungry cats hunt better'.
Some cats are kept as mousers and their owners believe that cats become 'soft' if fed. A hungry farm-cat hunts only enough to feed itself, while one that receives food hunts for 'sport' and catches prey more frequently. Many cats are hopeless hunters, hungry or not. If you don't want the cat to be a hunter, redirect its instincts into play. If you are choosing a kitten, choose one where the mother cat doesn't hunt - the kitten will probably inherit her non-hunting tendencies.
'Cats can live on dog food'.
Dog food doesn't contain the right vitamins for cats. Feeding a cat exclusively on dog food will eventually lead to ill-health, blindness and death. Cats may enjoy robbing the dog's bowl, but this should never form their staple diet.
'Cats can be vegetarian'.
Cats need the nutrients provided by meat. Dogs and humans can digest carbohydrates; cats get their nourishment from proteins. Feeding it vegetables will lead to stunted growth, blindness and death. There are commercially prepared 'balanced' vegetarian diets for cats, but it is cruel to impose human morals on cats. If you are not prepared to give your cat a meat-based diet you are denying its basic rights and a cat is not the right pet for you (get a house-rabbit instead - similar size, can be housetrained and is vegetarian).
'Cats need milk'.
After weaning, kittens may lose the ability to digest milk. Adult cats on a balanced diet don't need milk and it can cause diarrhoea. There are lactose-reduced 'Cat Milks' available, but most cats are content to drink water.
'Cats only feel cupboard love'.
Cats aren't always as demonstrative as dogs when it comes to showing their affections. Some do give cuddles a higher priority than the contents of their food bowl- proof that they do indeed love their owners and not just their owners' cupboards.
'Cats should be put outdoors at night'.
Nowadays it may not be safe to put cats out at night. Late night motorists may not see the cat or may deliberately harm it. It may fall victim to cat-snatchers. Even in areas not subject to a curfew, it may be safer for cat and wildlife to keep Puss in at night. Although cats are almost nocturnal, they often adopt a diurnal lifestyle to match that of their owners (cats are not truly nocturnal - they are mostly active at dusk and dawn; the term for this is crepuscular).
Countries that ban declawing, such as Britain and Australia, do so due to animal rights activists trying to decrease pet ownership or because cats are kept as barn cats.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Declawing is banned because it is unacceptable to the vast majority of cat owners. The cats maybe indoor-outdoor cats (needing claws as their main form of defence and for tree-climbing) or wholly indoor cats. Cat owners in these countries find it hard to comprehend how a "cosmetic" mutilation for the sake of the furniture can be considered humane in countries that permit it. Animal rights activists do not play any part in the anti-declaw sentiments. There is no strong lobby trying to decrease pet ownership in Britain where declawing is anathema to cat lovers. Indoor-outdoor cats are household pets, not barn-cats.
MYTHS & MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT SEX & REPRODUCTION
Cats breed through instinct not because they enjoy raising kittens. Unlike human parents, they don't sit down and plan pregnancies, nor do they carry prophylactics. With so many cats and kittens destroyed annually simply because there aren't enough homes to go round yet too many owners cling to the 'just one litter myth'.
'Having a litter will settle her down'.
There is no truth in the myth that a cat will be more settled or more fulfilled through having kittens. Ask harassed human mothers whether having children has settled them down. A spayed cat will be a more playful, people-oriented pet and won't miss what she has never had.
'She's not strong enough to be spayed'.
If the cat isn't strong enough to be operated on then she certainly isn't healthy enough to have kittens.
'I'd like the children to see her have kittens'.
Such owners should then take the children to animal shelters or vet surgeries to see unwanted kittens being destroyed. Out of every 5 kittens born, probably only one is likely to find a permanent home. If the children want to see kittens, get them to help at an animal shelter where they can learn the true facts of life.
'I always find good homes for all the kittens'.
Every kitten born means one less home for a cat. How many of those 'good homes' still have the cat 3 or 4 years later? How many are genuine good homes - or are the kittens destined for laboratory use, the fur trade or abuse?
'I can sell the kittens and use the money to pay for spaying'
It is more expensive to care for a pregnant cat and her kittens up to rehoming age than to pay for spay surgery. Pregnant and nursing cats need additional food. Kittens eat more than you may realise because they are growing fast. Moggy kittens are not profitable because they can be obtained for free from rescue shelters or as strays.
'There is profit in breeding cats'
Cat breeders make little or no profit. Most don't even cover their costs. Those $500 kittens may seem profitable, but the consider the how much is spent on getting the female tested (for disease), finding a suitable male cat, raising the kittens, registering the kittens with the breed society and screening potential buyers. Responsible breeding of purebred cats is an expensive hobby. Moggy kittens can be obtained free of charge from many sources.
'I don't want to spoil their fun'.
Mating is short and painful, not fun. It's no fun producing up to 20 kittens a year. Constant kittening is debilitating and can shorten her life. Nor is it fun to fight for the right to mate; tomcats risk catching killer diseases such Feline Leukaemia or Feline AIDS through bite wounds. Wandering tomcats may be injured or killed on the roads as instinct, not fun, sends them in search of a mate.
'I enjoy my sex life s/he enjoys hers/his'
Sex = kittens. Cats do not have recreational sex. Cats don't have voluntary contraception. Stop being anthropomorphic. Hundreds of thousands of healthy cats and kittens are destroyed each year because they can't find homes. Population control by birth prevention is better than population control by disease, starvation or destruction of healthy animals.
'Altered/desexed cats get fat and lazy'.
Altering/desexing may keep cats from wandering far afield, but only bored, overfed cats get fat and lazy.
'Kittens make delightful gifts'.
Kittens are not toys that can be forgotten when the novelty wears off. Most were never truly wanted by the recipient in the first place. Hundreds of ill-considered gift kittens are put out with the trash each year. A cat should be a companion, not a gift machine.
'Males are friendlier'.
If the cat is desexed, its gender makes no difference. It's how you treat a cat that makes the difference. Some are naturally friendlier than others, regardless of gender.
'My pedigree cat has mismated, she's ruined forever'.
Litter-mates may have different fathers and this is sometimes noticeable. The Victorians believed that mismated females would produce mongrel offspring forever after, despite mating with a pedigree stud for her later litters. If you have a breeding pedigree female, it is irresponsible to let her roam while calling. Mongrel kittens may be hard to home. If your pedigree cat was sold with an agreement to neuter the cat, honour that agreement. If you are truly interested in breeding cats, join the breed society and find out all about breeding and breeding stock before you start.
'Tortoiseshell cats are always female and ginger cats are always male.'
Tortoiseshell cats are mostly female. Ginger female cats are not as common as ginger males, but they are by no means rare. Tortoiseshell males are rare, but are not valuable in terms of money. Most, but not all, tortoiseshell males are sterile (See Mosaicism)
MYTHS AND FALLACIES ABOUT CATS & HUMAN HEALTH
The cat is often blamed for health problems - they cause Toxoplasmosis, smother babies, attack children and cause allergies. While cats are not entirely blameless, such tales are fuel for those who try to perpetuate a dislike of cats.
'Cats give you Toxoplasmosis'.
European studies suggest that more people get Toxoplasmosis from undercooked meat, unpasteurised milk and garden dirt than from their cats. Precautions are simple - wear rubber gloves when handling soiled cat litter or when gardening, cook meat well, wash vegetables thoroughly and keep cats off of kitchen worksurfaces. Cases of babies affected by Toxoplasmosis during pregnancy get media coverage because, like serial murderers, they are rare. If you've had a cat most of your life, you've probably already had Toxoplasmosis without knowing it and should be immune.
"My baby is due so the cat must go".
Despite tales of cats smothering babies, cats dislike the smell of human breath and will generally stay away from a baby's face. In spite of all the myths, there is only one verified case of a cat smothering a baby - far fewer than the number of babies murdered by their parents. Cats see cots as cosy beds and babies as warm things to snuggle against. Sometimes a cat becomes quite protective of its human's 'kitten'! To keep the cat out of the cot or pram, fit a net cover (a fly-shield). Later on, move the cat's food bowl and its litter tray to places where the baby or toddler can't get to them.
'It's vicious - it scratched the toddler'.
What did the child do to provoke the cat? Cats usually ignore young children (people-kittens!) and tolerate a certain amount of being pulled about, but will scratch in self-defence if continually mauled. Most children get the message. Punishing the cat teaches children that it's okay for them to annoy it. When my niece complained that the cat scratched her, she was sent to her room 'for annoying the cat'. She is now grown up with cats - and children - of her own! (See Cats and Babies Can Coexist).
'You can get AIDS from cats'.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV or FAIDS) is spread from cat to cat by close contact such as biting and possibly mutual grooming if there is broken skin. The virus needs to get directly into the bloodstream to cause infection. Humans can't catch it any more than they can get Cat Flu. FIV has been cultivated in human cells in the laboratory - but it needed the help of scientists to do this. People who have HIV or poor immune systems are sometimes recommended not to keep cats or dogs because of other infection risks.
'I must be allergic to the cat'.
A surprising number of people (and their doctors) jump to this conclusion, rehoming the cat only to find that they are allergic to something else entirely. If possible, have tests to see if the cat really is the culprit. In the US, owners of indoor only cats can reduce their allergic reaction by giving the cat a monthly bath in distilled water to remove allergens from its coat. There are products available which can reduce allergic reaction if sprayed on the cat's coat.
'Asthma sufferers can't have cats'.
Severe asthma may be a barrier to cat ownership, though many sufferers of mild asthma own cats. Rather than using their inhaler when an asthma attack starts, they use the inhaler to prevent an attack. They also find it helpful to keep the cat out of the bedroom. Many children with childhood asthma will grow out of it because exposure to the cat strengthens their immune systems. Be careful of being over-protective of children, it causes problems in later life due to poor immune response.
MYTHS AND MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT PARTICULAR CAT BREEDS
'Bengal Cats are a cross between a cat and a leopard.'
Bengal cats are a cross between domestic cats and the Asian Leopard Cat (F bengalensis) which is a small spotted cat. Domestic cats and leopards cannot breed together (even through artificial insemination) because of their different sizes and different gestation (pregnancy) periods. Cats cannot be crossed with cougars, lions or tigers either.
Bengal Cats Have Extra Vertebrae
Cats can have varying numbers of caudal vertebrae based on breed due to varying tail lengths. It is claimed – but not proven by widespread studies – that Bengal cats have 1 or 2 extra thoracic vertebrae because some wild Asian leopard cats have extra vertebrae. This supposedly makes the Bengal cat longer than other housecats. In mammals, the number of vertebrae is not necessarily the cause of a longer body; this can be due to the length of the vertebrae (as seen in the giraffe’s neck). There are no statistics on the frequency of extra thoracic vertebrae in cats. Extra thoracic vertebrae don't cause problems and cats don't have routine chest screening x-rays so any extras will go unnoticed. To determine whether Bengal cats have the alleged extra vertebrae any more often than other cats it would be necessary to x-ray or MRI scan hundreds of cats, both purebred and randombred, and compare the count of thoracic vertebrae. X-ray screening could be done during spay/neuter surgery but most vets would consider it an additional task that isn’t strictly necessary. Without screening, the oft-repeated rumour of Bengal cats having extra vertebrae cannot be proved or disproved and, therefore, remains breed folklore, not breed fact.
In humans approximately 2-3% of the adult population (depending on the race) have a 13th thoracic vertebrae. Humans and pigs seem to be the only mammals where there is reliable data. Form is affected in terms of thorax length – long-bodied pigs yield more bacon – while function appears unaffected. In pigs it is controlled by numerous genes including HOX genes, which affect how often body segments are repeated, but in most mammals genetic variation in this regulatory system is not tolerated and is suppressed. In snakes, which are the most extreme example of extra vertebrae in the animal kingdom, it is controlled by the Oct4 gene. This gene is also present in mammals and has been artificially manipulated in mice to create extra vertebrae.
'Hairless cats are hypo-allergenic.'
Relatively few people are allergic to cat hair itself. Most allergies are caused by proteins in cat dander (dandruff) which is made up of skin flakes and dried saliva from where a cat washes itself. Hairless cats and Rex cats (curly-haired cats) still produce dander which can trigger an allergic reaction. Some people have less symptoms with hairless cats or shorter haired cats (e.g. Siamese) because bare skin or short fur means less surface for dander to form on. Many other people are just as allergic to hairless or Rex cats as they are to cats with ordinary fur. Some people who are strongly allergic to longhaired cats but only mildly allergic to shorthaired cats because longhair traps more dander. Occasionally people are allergic to all cats except for one particular individual cat - either because that cat produces a different type of dander without the usual allergen or because the person has become desensitized to that particular cat's dander.
'Polydactyl Cats are a breed of cat and are only found in America'
Polydactyly (extra toes) is found around the world in non-pedigree cats and is fairly common in Britain. It can also occur in breeds and non-pedigree cats as random mutation. There are some breeds which feature polydactyly as a characteristic (e.g. PixieBob, American Polydactyl) but there is no single breed called "Polydactyl". They are found all over the world and come in all shapes and sizes. Polydactyl Cats
'Twisty Cats are bred from polydactyl cats.'
Twisty Cats are bred from cats with a condition called Radial Hypoplasia (RH). RH ranges from mild to severe; in the mild form it resembles polydactyly but in the severe form it causes major deformities of the paws and forelegs. Normal polydactyl cats have a harmless dominant mutation, but do not produce deformed (Twisty) kittens. The confusion occurs because mild RH resembles polydactyly. See Polydactyl Cats and Kangaroo Cats and Squittens Revealed for more information.
'Tabby cats are a breed.'
False: Tabby is a colour pattern and is seen in many different cat breeds and in non-pedigree cats (Striped and Spotted Cats). It is not a breed in its own right.
'Friends say my cat is half-Siamese and half-tortie.'
It is a common misconception that Siamese is a colour and tortie (tortoiseshell) is a breed. Tortie is a colour/pattern where red or cream is intermingled with black, grey or brown. A cat cannot be half-tortie - it either is tortie pattern or it isn't tortie pattern. The tortie pattern is found in breeds ranging from Persian to Burmese. Siamese is a breed of cat characterised by a long svelte body, long narrow face, large wide-set ears, blue eyes and a body paler than the face, tail and legs. The colour pattern of Siamese cats is called colourpoint. A random-bred cat with the colourpoint pattern is not necessarily half-Siamese. It may have inherited its colourpoint genes from any of the colourpoint breeds several generations back. To be half-Siamese, one of its parents would have to be a purebred Siamese.
'Miniature cats will stay like kittens all their life.'
Although miniature cats may stay the size of a large kitten, their body shape and behaviour will be that of a full-sized adult cat. In this respect they are the same as small-statured humans. Many miniature cats are larger than kitten-sized, but smaller (half to three quarters size) than normal sized domestic cats Dwarf and Midget Cats .
'Cabbits are a breed made from a cross between a cat and a rabbit.'
'Squittens are a cross between cats and squirrels.'
'Maine Coon cats are a cross between cats and racoons.'
Cats and rabbits are genetically very different and cannot produce offspring together. Animals identified as "cabbits" are often Manx cats, American Bobtail or Japanese Bobtail cats or even cats with spinal and leg deformities. See Cabbits - What are They? for a complete explanation. For the same reason, Squittens are not a cross between a cat and a squirrel Kangaroo Cats and Squittens Revealed and Maine Coons are not hybrids between cats and racoons Fanciful Feline Hybrids . Domestic cats can be hybridized with other small wild species of cat as these are genetically similar enough to give rise to offspring, but they can't be hybridised with other species of animal.
'Ancient Egyptians worshipped cats.'
Although cats were important because they protected granaries against mice, later on, the Egyptians worshipped them in more unpleasant ways. Most people are familiar with the grief when a family cat died or with people being punished for accidentally killing a cat, but fewer people are familiar with the cat-killing cult.
Some ancient Egyptians worshipped a cat goddess called Bastet or Pasht (Pakhet); this was a local cult, not a widespread religion. Priests raised hundred of cats in temples. When a person wanted to make an offering to the goddess, the person paid the priests to kill and mummify a cat. The hapless cat or, for those who couldn't afford much, the kitten, was killed by wringing its neck. Thousands of cats were bred solely to be used as sacrifices to the goddess. X-rays of the mummies show broken necks. Some are consistent with the cat being straightened out after death into an unnatural position, but other breaks are more consistent with being the cause of death. Regardless of whether they were all killed deliberately, so many cats were mummified that tons of cat mummies exported from Egypt ended up being ground up and used as fertilizer or even as fuel. To meet ancient mass market demand, many animal mummies, when x-rayed have turned out to be fakes, made of bones and twigs wrapped to resemble the animal.