The Myths, Mistakes and Misconceptions My Mother Made About Cats

When I was a kid, my mother taught me everything she knew about cats, and after I grew up, I realized she got some of it wrong. Here are some of the myths and misconceptions my mom told me about cats.

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"Let's let her have babies!"

We were that family back in the 70's who had a cat that had kittens, over and over again. My childhood cat was a friendly Siamese. I don't remember her ever being in heat, but I do remember he having kittens. We would pop popcorn and sit around her birthing area, and watch the births happen. It really was fascinating, and it helped me to make the connection with how this happens with humans, but looking back on it, we weren't being responsible: she had a whole bunch of kittens. We eventually spayed her, but I have no idea why we waited so long. 

Only Get One Cat Because....

Two cats in a Cat Canoe cat bed. Photo by @crazycatmish on InstagramMy mom told me, "Only get one cat at a time, because if you get two cats, they will love each other more than they love you." I can see how and why she felt this way, but I think she was totally wrong. Yes, those two cats might spend time together, but they aren't going to ignore you. In fact, they are probably going to compete to get your attention, after all, you control the food. 

Cats Are Solitary Animals...

Actually, no. This is not true. They are territorial animals, but this does not mean they are solitary. Cats have a mysterious society that may not be immediately obvious to you, but you are likely to see it over time. It's called "spatio-temporal dominance hierarchy", and it's a flexible hierarchical system where the animals take turns using the resources within their environment. If you notice that Fluffy is the king of the cat tree in the mornings, but Mittens always dominates that tower in the afternoon sun, you are seeing an example of this social system. There is a chance that YOU are also a resource in their domain, and that the cats might actually be splitting their time over you. 

"Just put them together. They will figure it out"

This is a common misconception about getting a new cat, the thought that you can just add a new cat and the two will figure things out. Remember my argument above that cats are territorial? You've got to keep this in mind when introducing a new kitty, and for best results, you need to keep cat instincts and behaviors in mind when introducing a new cat to the household. Mom didn't know about this, and we had a big disaster as a result. 

There are effective methods for introducing a new cat into the home, and one resource I suggest is Pam Johnson-Bennett of Cat Behavior Associates. Pam has written a number of books, and her website is full of helpful materials. 

I Was Convinced She Was Lying To Me

Not long after mom told me she was pregnant, she announced to me that I would need to clean the litter box from now on, citing some disease that could affect the embryo. I recall something to the effect of, "There is a disease that pregnant women can get from cat poop, and the disease can be transferred to the unborn baby."

It's not that I disbelieved her germ theory. I was nine or ten and I has read about Louis Pasteur, and I knew that she was sharing potentially sound science. No, I simply suspected her intentions. I was quite certain that she concocted a ruse, a clever way to delegate the poop-collecting job to me, a capable enough pre-teen who just had important kid stuff to do. I felt so certain of this that I accused her of making it up, "You're just telling this to me so that you don't have to do it any more." 

Turns out mom was right, and I'm sure you've heard of the Toxoplasma gondii parasite by now. Yes, cats are a vector, and cleaning the cat poop really can cause an infection. Actually anyone who is immune compromised, such as people recovering from cancer treatments, are also advised to stay away from animal poop. 

The Things Mom Did Right

There were some things mom did right! 

Our Cats Had Claws

Maybe you've already heard about the tragedies that can result from the painful practice (now outlawed in many countries) of amputating a cat's toes. No, this is not simply removing the claws: the toes are actually snipped off with a tool similar to pliers, or burned off with a laser, and the cat permanently looses the bones that he once walked on. Did that make you feel uncomfortable inside? Read more at The Paw Project, and be sure to watch the documentary by Paw Project founder, Jennifer Conrad, DVM.

Kids, Cats and Dogs

We were a multiple species household, and had both pets and livestock. Our parents taught us how to care for the animals and expected us to help. We learned to love and respect animals. Thank you mom: I wouldn't have it any other way. 

Five common myths about cats


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