Cat myths and misconceptions

Common Myths About Cats

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If a cat urinates/defecates in the wrong spot, rub his nose in it

Misguided owners think they are teaching the cat a lesson by rubbing a cat’s nose in his or her urine/feces and then placing the cat in the litter tray. This has the opposite result; a cat will start to associate punishment with the litter tray and avoid it even more as well as become fearful towards you.

Always seek veterinary care if a cat starts to go to the toilet outside the litter tray as there may be an underlying medical reason. Once the cat has a clean bill of health, then you will have to try and work out what is preventing your cat from using his tray. Some possible causes are:

  • The tray is too dirty, easily solved by cleaning the tray out more often.
  • Another cat is ambushing your cat while he’s on the toilet.
  • Your cat doesn’t like hooded trays, or your cat doesn’t like open boxes.
  • The location of the litter tray is not right. A common problem occurs when the tray has been placed in a busy area. Cats like privacy when they’re on the loo. Because cats are vulnerable when they are going to the toilet, they like to ensure they have an escape route; therefore some (but not all) cats will refuse to use a tray for this reason.
  • There are not enough litter trays. Each cat should have one tray, plus one extra.

Adult cats should drink milk

While a lot of cats love to drink cow’s milk, it is not recommended. Many cats are lactose intolerant and giving them milk will result in them getting an upset tummy. This is especially dangerous in kittens who can dehydrate quickly. An adult cat doesn’t need to drink milk at all. If you must give your cat milk, it is recommended you purchase special cat milk which has been specifically formulated for cats to drink.

Put butter on a cat’s paws when you move house

Putting butter on your cat’s paws won’t stop him from getting lost when it moves to a new home. The safest way is to keep your cat either exclusively indoors or allow him to go out in a purpose-built cat enclosure.

If you do plan to let your cat outside, hold off for 2-3 weeks. Before letting him out, ensure he has a microchip, and the details are current. You can also buy some Feliway (available from your veterinarian) and spray this around the house. Feliway is a synthetic pheromone which helps calm anxious cats.

My cat will get fat and lazy if it is desexed

By desexing your cat, you are preventing it from contributing to the very serious overpopulation of kittens and cats. Entire male cats run the risk of testicular cancer, abscesses caused by fighting, being hit by a car while roaming, FIV (Feline Aids) and FeLV.

Entire female cats have a greater risk of breast cancer and can develop pyometra (infection of the uterus), plus she can contract FIV and FeLV from an infected male, car accidents. Some entire females will often go off their food when they are in heat, which happens several times a year.

Entire males roam their territory looking for a female to mate with. Both of these can cause weight loss. When your cat has been desexed, his or her mind is no longer on finding a partner. So, while a desexed cat won’t gain weight as a result of the operation, an entire cat may lose weight because he or she has other things on their mind.

If you find your cat is putting on weight, speak to your veterinarian. NEVER put your cat on a diet without veterinary supervision as this can lead to a life-threatening condition called Hepatic Lipidosis. Regular exercise will also ensure your cat doesn’t become overweight.

A female cat should have one litter before she is spayed

Not at all, in fact, it is better to have her spayed before 6 months of age to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.

Cats must be six months before they can be desexed

With modern anesthetics, cats can now be safely desexed as young as eight weeks of age.

Cats always land on their feet

Do cats always land on their feet? Well…it depends if the cat falls a very short distance from the ground it doesn’t have enough time to right itself. A cat will be seriously injured and quite possibly killed if it falls from a great height. There is a new term coined by American veterinarians called high-rise syndrome. Due to the ever-increasing human population, high rise apartments are becoming more the norm and vets are seeing many cats who have been injured falling out of high-rise apartments.

Declawing won’t hurt my cat

Declawing is more than simply removing the cat’s claws; the last bone on the cat’s claw is amputated. This is an excruciatingly painful procedure and one which not all cats will fully recover from.

Many declawed cats are surrendered to shelters because of behavioural problems they developed after being declawed including biting and refusal to use their litter tray.

Cats by nature walk on their toes, so after they’ve been declawed, walking often becomes extremely painful to them. If you are worried about your cat scratching the furniture (or your family), you can try trimming your cat’s claws, or you could put Soft Paws on it.

Can I feed my cat dog food?

Dog food is missing the essential nutrients taurine and arachidonic acid. Taurine deficiency can lead to blindness, and arachidonic acid can lead to dry, scaly skin. Cats require a higher protein and fat content in their diet.

Cat fur causes allergies

The primary cause of allergic reactions to cats is caused by allergens found in the cat sebaceous glands in the cat’s skin, such as the allergenic glycoprotein called Fel D1 (short for Felis domesticus), it is also secreted via saliva and urine in lesser quantities. When cats lick themselves, they spread this protein, which is rather sticky, and glues itself onto dust particles, the home, your clothing and their fur, whether it’s long, short, straight, curly, or absent.

As all cats have sebaceous glands, all cat breeds can potentially cause allergies. Allergic allergens are also found in the feces, serum, urine, mucous, dander, and hair roots of the cat.

Cats purr when they are happy

This is true, but cats also purr when they are in pain. Cats have been known to purr when they are giving birth and they will sometimes purr when they are dying. Purring is a defence mechanism and a way to keep the cat calm in stressful situations.

Cats will not mate with their siblings/parents/offspring

Cats do not share the same taboos about incest as humans do. If left entire, closely related cats including brother and sister, parent to offspring will mate. It is advisable to desex your cats before six months to prevent this from happening.

All calico and tortie cats are female

Most calico and tortie cats are female, the incidence of male calico or tortie is reported to be 1/3000. However, virtually all of these males are sterile. The calico colour is sex-linked; a cat to be calico, it must have two X chromosomes ergo the cat is female. In rare instances, however, a male calico will be produced. This usually happens because the cat has an extra chromosome. So, instead of him being XY, he is XXY. These cats are known as Klinefelter males. Approximately 1-3,000 calicoes are male, and out of those, only 1-10,000 are fertile.

Calico males are worth a lot of money

While it is true that calico males are rare, they are not valuable in financial terms.

All orange cats are male

No, it is possible to have an orange female. Unlike the orange male, who only needs one copy of the O gene to produce an orange coat, the female requires the O to be on both chromosomes. If she has only one O, the resulting coat colour will be calico.

All male cats spray

Not all male cats spray. Entire male cats are much more likely to spray than desexed ones, which is another good reason to desex your cats. Female cats (especially entire ones) can also spray, although it’s less common for an entire female to spray than an entire male.

You can’t turn an indoor/outdoor cat into an indoor-only cat

Yes, you can, and my cats are a great example of this. They were all indoor/outdoor but reverted to indoor-only (with access to an outdoor enclosure) with very little difficulty. It is easy to do as long as you ensure the cat(s) have enough mental stimulation.

Cats are independent and the ideal pet for somebody with a busy lifestyle

This is entirely dependant on the individual cat. Some cats are more independent than others but generally, ALL cats need some companionship. If you lead a busy lifestyle and spend long hours working it is advisable you have two cats, so they can keep each other company while you are out.

Indoor cats can’t get parasites or diseases

It is true that indoors are at less risk of parasites and diseases but they can still acquire them. Parasites can be transported into the house on clothing or transport hosts.

Fomites (inanimate objects) or people who have been in contact with an infected cat are a source of infection for several cat diseases.

Use garlic to treat fleas on cats

Garlic is toxic to cats and can lead to life-threatening anemia. There are many safe and effective products available for cats which will treat fleas.

Most of these can’t be used until kittens are between 4-8 weeks of age. In the meantime, treat the queen (mother cat) with a flea product and carefully remove fleas from newborn kittens with a flea comb. Tea tree oil is also commonly recommended as an alternative to flea products. This is toxic to cats unless diluted to .01%.

Devon Rexes, Cornish Rexes, and breeds of hairless cat are hypoallergenic

In truth, a rex cat is no different from any other cat and produces allergen like all other cats. They are not hypoallergenic by any means, as claimed by some. Then why do some people seem to have no allergic reaction to rex cats? There is no simple answer to this question at this time, and more research is required to get the answers needed. One possible explanation is that as rex cats have less hair to shed, they simply deposit less allergen-laced hair around the home. But, whatever the reasons some allergic people seem to tolerate them. From personal studies and observations by Margaret Lawrence in the UK, she found that around 10% of people allergic to cats tolerate rex cats.

Please, before you race out and look for a rex cat, remember you should always test your allergies by visiting home or catteries that only own rex cats, and test continuously over several weeks or months. As you don’t want the poor little kitten to be re-homed if you find out you are allergic to him or her. Don’t let your new cat become another statistic at a shelter.

A pregnant woman should rehome her cat

If a woman hasn’t had prior exposure to Toxoplasmosis and becomes infected during pregnancy, it can harm her unborn baby. Cats are the natural host for Toxoplasmosis, however, Toxoplasmosis can also be acquired from eating undercooked meat, improperly washed vegetables or gardening. I was tested for Toxoplasmosis throughout my recent pregnancy and remained negative even though I was living with 9 cats, one of whom had tested positive for Toxoplasmosis.

Pregnant women should take precautions such as avoiding cleaning the litter tray, ensuring their meat is thoroughly cooked, washing vegetables properly and wearing gloves while gardening. There is no need to get rid of your cat just because you’re pregnant.

Cats will steal the breath of a baby

Cats can’t and don’t steal the breath of a baby, it’s not physically possible.

Cats will smother the baby

Some cats will be attracted to a warm, sleeping baby, physical barriers such as screen doors or cot nests as well as adequate supervision will prevent this from happening.

Putting bells on a cat’s collar will stop it catching mice and birds

It can be of help, but many cats are still able to hunt even with bells on their collar.

All cats hate water

Most cats don’t like water but not all. Turkish Van’s and Bengals are both are known for their love of water.

Siamese cats are mean

This myth came about in part from the movie The Lady and the Tramp. Temperament is a result of genetics and socialisation. The chances are that cats raised in a loving environment from kittenhood will grow into well adjusted and loving pets. If the myth were true that Siamese cats are mean, they wouldn’t be one of the world’s most popular breeds of cat.

Hand sanitiser contains the same ingredient as antifreeze

A rumour circulating social media that hand sanitiser contains antifreeze (ethylene glycol) which is a known toxin to cats. Hand sanitisers contain ethyl alcohol (ethanol), which is the same type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages. Ethyl alcohol is toxic if cats ingest it, so don’t share your bloody Mary with the cat. After applying hand sanitiser, once your hands are dry, the ethyl alcohol has evaporated and contact with your cat is not a risk.



Julia Wilson is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care.Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. She enjoys photography, gardening and running in her spare time.Full author bio Contact Julia