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Debunking 5 Common Myths About Cats and Their Care

Debunking 5 Common Myths About Cats and Their Care

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Myth 1. Cats are solitary animals

Cats are able to survive and are most commonly seen hunting on their own, but in order to thrive, they need companionship from members of their own species. Some people think it is perfectly alright to own one single cat and keep him or her locked up in the house, with only human interaction. If you live in a residential and safe area, where cats can meet outside their homes, and you allow your cat to go outside, it is better than having one lonely and isolated cat. It’s even better if you can keep not one, but at least two cats together so they can build trust and friendship over time.

The phrase “the more, the merrier” is taken a bit too literally by cat hoarders, who lose track of how many cats they take in. They forget that each cat has needs which one human or a couple of humans need substantial amounts of time and money to fulfill.

Caring for a cat does not only mean providing a roof over his head and some kibble. It means veterinary care, vaccinations and other health-related costs, a good and complete nutrition, meaningful interaction like stroking and brushing, playtime, solutions for when you are forced to be away, emergency evacuation plans, a safe environment where each cat feels at ease and not constantly challenged…

Generally, the sensible rule is: the number of cats you can own under ideal conditions is the number of the rooms in your home. So if you have a 2-room apartment, you should own no more than two cats. The explanation for this is that each cat has a minimum range territory and there needs to be a common safe zone where they can meet and solve conflicts, as well as private spaces where each cat can retreat when they feel the need to do so.

Myth 2. Black cats are bad luck and/or emissaries of the devil.

In the era of smartphones, the internet, science classes being mandatory in school and vampires being sparkly and benign, it is almost surreal to think that some of us choose to believe that a genetic trait is evil.

Moreover, some people these days are even more fanatical than the Medieval Inquisition. In the old days, black cats who had a few white hairs were considered “redeemed” because the white hairs were seen as the mark of God, which thus saved the animals from the horrible tortures which were the entertainment of crowds back then, in the same way we now enjoy 3D cinematography. I have personally known people with academic degrees who believed a cat with any amount of black in its fur pattern was evil.

Until very recently, the French used to burn a sack of cats “for good luck”. Gratuitous violence against cats continues even in our times, sadly, and is perpetrated by people who consider themselves otherwise balanced and reliable members of society. Behavioural studies show that people who are able to torture and kill animals will, if not given proper treatment and therapy, move on to abusing humans. However, this should not be the only reason for us to teach our children empathy and compassion for every living being.

Myth 3. If you’re pregnant, you have to give away your cats

The theory here is that cats carry a parasite called toxoplasma gondii which, if passed onto the pregnant woman, can cause serious developmental problems to the future baby.

Toxoplasma is a parasitic protozoan which can only reproduce in the cat’s intestinal tract. Here is the bad news for us humans: you can get infected with toxoplasma oocysts in several ways: by eating undercooked meat, by drinking infested and insufficiently purified water, consuming plants which carry oocysts and by handling the feces of a parasite-carrying cat.

Also, many human physicians do not stop to distinguish between toxoplasma (an intracellular parasite) and toxocara (a worm also found in dogs, sheep and other animals) and recommend the removal of cats from around a pregnant woman, when in fact it suffices to thoroughly wash and cook your meat and veggies and simply ask someone to take over the litter disposal duties for the duration of the pregnancy. Also, don’t skip washing your hands after cleaning the litterbox! I know that’s common sense, but lately there seems to be a dire shortage thereof in our world.

The effects of toxoplasma infestation in humans are subtle behavioural changes which make the host more outgoing and more eager to reach out and connect with others. Women carrying toxoplasma parasites are more preoccupied with looking good and going out more often. I don’t know about you, but those are no downsides in my book.

Myth 4. Cats smother babies in their sleep

This is another misconception that assigns human attributes to animals. Cats are incapable of being evil and trying to pass the responsibility of watching over a baby to a cat is more telltale of the humans’ (in)competence than of anything else. Accidents might happen, but only if no one is there to prevent them. Small children and animals should only be allowed to interact under responsible adult supervision.

The arrival of a baby in the family is a stressful event for the cat, who does not understand what the fuss is all about and why suddenly everyone is irritable and has no time for cuddles. Cats like their routine and they need to be shown that any change in the humans’ lives will not affect them in a bad way.

So, if you are welcoming a new baby, allow your cat or cats to be part of the change by letting them inspect the baby’s room, supervise the assembly of new furniture and most importantly, spend time with your cat and let them know they are not being pushed aside and abandoned and their place in the family is not threatened.

I often read confessions from new mothers who are also cat owners, who say that, after giving birth, they realize that they loved their cats only as a sort of practice for becoming a real mother. Personally, I find this to be a very inconsiderate and immature approach.

First of all, adopting an animal is not a whim; it is a commitment you freely accept. You promise to love and care for an animal for as long as they live.

Secondly, pets should not be used as substitutes for other things which you temporarily cannot obtain. Imagine entering a relationship with a random person simply because the one you really love is not available to you. Can that be named love? I’d say not, and until your selfish inner voice admits that, your partner who perhaps loves you sincerely will suffer immensely.

Thirdly, love is not a currency in a finite amount and it is not a favour you can only grant to one person at a time. At any given moment, you can very well love your husband, your wife, your parents, your children and your pets and any intention to rank these persons in your heart shows emotional immaturity.

As humans, we are capable of a lot of love, but often we take the selfish approach and use our feelings as a way to blackmail and keep our loved ones in check. Pets do not have any control over this dynamic and if you decide that you can only love someone who is very cute and shares your DNA (which is a rotten way to look at things, but many people actually admit to it with no remorse), your pets will end up at the very bottom of your list of favourite people and things.

Myth 5. Cats are unpredictably aggressive towards children

This myth is based on the observation of what happens when children and cats are left to play together unsupervised. Small children have no moral compass, since it has not developed yet, and do not have the ability to empathize, which, coupled with their curiosity, can lead to their trying to bite the cat, hurt the cat or touch it in ways that make the animal feel cornered and compelled to defend itself.

As I have said before, cats are incapable of being evil and might only appear so if we, as humans, invest them with human traits. If you are a responsible adult, you will know that small children and animals of any kind should be introduced to one another gradually and under your direct supervision. Also, it is everyone’s duty as a parent to teach their children compassion and empathy, as well as respect for all life.