Halloween is coming soon. Along with all the little ghosts and goblins are the witches with their black cats. Even after Halloween is long gone, there will still be fairy tales and folklore about cats and other cat myths.
Let's take a moment to separate fact from fiction so that we can better understand our feline friends.
Cats Always Land on Their Feet
“When you land on your head, do you land on your feet?” is a question posed in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats. There's also the famous buttered cat paradox. If you butter a cat's back and drop it, which end will it land on? (More on buttering cats later and why you shouldn't.)
It's assumed that cats always land on their feet. Nine times out of ten they will, but there's always that unfortunate one in ten. Cats do have a “righting reflex“ that helps them orient themselves while falling.
If the fall is high enough that they have time to, a falling cat may spread their legs outward to create drag and are sometimes able to survive a fall that would likely kill a human. (Though Kitty won't be completely unscathed.)
Overweight cats, elderly cats and cats with ear problems have trouble with their righting reflex. Prevent your cat from falling out of windows by installing window guards.
Cats Have Nine Lives
This goes back to Ancient Egypt when cats were seen as practically divine. The Ancient Egyptian pantheon consisted of nine major gods and goddesses. In many occidental societies, three is considered a magical number. Three cubed is nine.
The finely honed natural reflexes of cats mean they have a tendency to survive incidents that would kill other creatures. What numbers are considered magical or lucky differs by culture. If something were true, it would be true no matter the culture.
Therefore, “lucky” numbers are a myth. As for reincarnation, there is no scientific basis for this idea. It is not luck but evolution that makes a cat able to survive dangerous situations. There is no set number of how many disasters a cat can live through.
Black cats are unlucky
Once again, this is something based solely in cultural perception. For the longest time, black cats were associated with devils and witchcraft.
Many pagan gods were said to have the ability to shape shift into cats. In England, it's believed that if a woman has a black cat she will have many suitors. (A hint that such a woman was bewitching in more than one way?) In Scotland, being visited by a black cat is lucky.
In many places, it's unlucky if a black cat crosses your path but in Germany, it's only unlucky if going right to left and lucky if walking the other way. Sailors, anarchists and the Japanese all see the black cat as lucky.
In real life, a black cat named Oscar was unlucky enough to lose his back feet to a combine but lucky enough to have people who would fit him with prosthetics. How lucky or unlucky any animal is boiled down to perspective.
Cats Will Steal the Breath of a Baby
Cats have no ability to do this. However, cats do like the smell of milk, something a baby's breath often smells of. A cat may get too close to a baby's face trying to find where the milk smell is coming from.
A fluffy cat so close to a baby's face can cause suffocation. The cat is not purposely trying to steal the baby's breath. That said, you should still not leave an animal alone with a baby or very small child.
Supervise their interaction to make sure neither is hurting the other. Also, grown cats are lactose intolerant. If your grown cat has milk cravings you can satisfy them with plain yogurt or milk substitute.
They Work For The Devil
Well, who doesn't? Little joke there for anyone who's ever had a bad boss. No, even if there was a Devil, a cat would probably treat him with the same contempt she does anyone who thinks they can boss her around.
This rumor got started in the Twelfth Century when the Church really started cracking down on heretics. The Albigensians were one such persecuted group. It was rumored that they worshipped Satan, who took the form of a black cat.
Before long, any woman with a black cat was accused of witchcraft. This soon extended to cats of all colors. For example, the First Witch in Shakespeare's Macbeth speaks of her two cats; one named Graymalkin (a name given to gray cats) and one described as brindled.
There is no Devil and cats are too independent to work for one if there was.
They Caused The Black Death
Actually, they could've stopped it from spreading if certain superstitious people in charge of Europe
in the mid 1300's hadn't gone around blaming innocent creatures.
The bubonic plague was spread by fleas. The fleas bit rats that carried the disease then they bit humans. Had cats been left alone and not burned alive as witches' familiars they might've killed the rats that were spreading the disease.
A good sixty percent of the population of Europe died due to superstition, persecution and poor hygiene. Not by demons, witches or cats.
Cats can see in complete darkness
Not in complete darkness. Cats can see better in dim light that humans can, but not total darkness. Cats do have something called a tapetum, which is an ultra reflective layer of tissue that reflects light back towards the retina.
This layer of reflective tissue then bounces the light directly back to the sensory cells which allow the retina to get more than fifty percent of the light available.
This is what makes cat eyes appear to glow in very dim light. Actually, it's more like a safety reflector.
Cats are nocturnal
Crepuscular would be the better word. Cats prefer to be active around dawn and dusk hours. It's not too bright, not too dark and the temperature is just right. This is why they're such great pets for people who are at work or school most of the day.
They'll just take a nice long nap while you're gone and be ready to play in the evening. Don't be surprised, though, if Kitty wakes you at the crack of dawn wanting to be fed.
All cats hate water
Let's revisit Shakespeare's Macbeth. In one scene, Lady Macbeth tauntingly compares her husband to “the poor cat i’ the adage”. The adage she refers to is “The cat loves fish, but does not like to wet her paws.” This is true for some cats.
Many of them. But hardly all. What the cat really hates is being cold and being wet leads to that. Some cats have an odd habit of drinking by using the paw as a sponge and licking the water off. And some cats actually love water!
A Maine Coon may sit in a bath tub and chirp until someone runs a bath for him. Ragdolls need to be watched around water to make sure they don't jump in and drown.
Island bred cats like the Manx and Japanese bobtail particularly have no qualms about getting their paws a little wet, particularly if it means getting fish.
Cats only purr when they are happy
This is where cats can be like people. It is assumed that if a person is smiling, they must be happy. Actually, many people smile because they want you to think they're happy or at least friendly.
Like with a person's smile, a purr could mean something other than happiness. Such as covering up guilt, (Now, how could you accuse cute little me of shredding your curtains?) fear, (I'm really nice! Please don't hurt me!) wanting something, (Look at this cute little kitty! Don't you just wanna snuggle him and stuff him with treats?) trying to comfort frightened kittens (Everything is fine, sweetie.) or self soothing while in immense pain. (Everything is fine…everything is fine…everything is fine….)
Cats are known to purr while in labor. This is akin to a woman with the mindset of “Wow! I can't wait to meet my baby! OH, HOLY %$#@ THAT HURTS!” People who smile for reasons other than happiness are often called Stepford Smilers after Ira Levin's novel The Stepford Wives. Is your cat a Stepford purrer?
They Can Predict The Weather
Cats are sensitive to changes in the air. Their fur is sensitive to humidity, their stomach is sensitive to barometric pressure and they just really hate the cold. Your cat will react to any dip in temperature by trying to get warm.
If she's eating grass, barometric pressure may be giving her a tummy ache. If she's grooming even more than usual, particularly her ears, the humidity may be messing with her fur and she's trying to fix it.
That said, they have no mystical connection to predicting let alone causing weather. Their sneezes are not connected to weather. (Though perhaps to pollen count.)
Baptizing a cat with mineral water will not end a drought. You will just have a wet and angry cat. Being mean to a cat will not bring rain to your funeral. (Be nice to cats anyway.)
My Cat Flicks Her Tail, She Must Be Happy
Ever read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carol? There's a section in the book where Alice meets the Cheshire Cat. The Cheshire Cat tells her “We're all mad here.” Alice asks the cat how he knows he's mad. The cat's explanation is “you see, a dog growls when it's angry, and wags its tail when it's pleased.
Now I growl when I'm pleased, and wag my tail when I'm angry. Therefore I'm mad.” Alice comments that she calls the rumbling sound of a happy cat purring, but Cheshire doesn't seem to think it makes any difference and changed the subject to the Queen's croquet game.
Dogs wag their tails when happy, but body language is quite different for a cat. If she's wagging her tail she's probably feeling irritated or indecisive at the very least. A slight flick may just mean she's bored or running thin on patience. You may notice fighting cats lash their tails very sharply.
They’re Basically Living Urns For Human Souls
In some Buddhist sects of the ancient kingdoms of Burma and Siam it was believed that the souls of the holy would be transferred to a cat for safekeeping.
Before a coronation, a Siamese cat would be decked in gold so that the former king could watch his successor take the throne. Once the cat died, the holy soul was ready for Nirvana. (Not the grunge rock band.) There is no empirical evidence for reincarnation, afterlife or souls in general.
Female Cats Should Give Birth before Being Spayed
Your cat does not really need kittens and neither do you. In fact, it's best to get her spayed before her first heat cycle in order to reap the full health benefits.
It will decrease her chances of developing mammary cancer and spare her hormone related stress. There are enough unwanted kittens in the world so please don't add more. Want your kids to learn about the “miracle” of birth? Get them a book.
Robie Harris and Michael Emberley have a series of age appropriate books that are highly recommended.
Indoor Cats Cannot Get Diseases
Are you planning to live in a bubble too? An indoor cat may be safer than an outdoor cat but viruses can still come into the house. Get your cat vaccinated.
If a Cat is Eating Grass, It Means She is Sick
Not quite. Cats go for grass the same reason people go for a laxative or an antacid. Cats that chase down and eat prey will sometimes have feathers, fur and bits of bone in their stomach and a bit of roughage may help to move things along.
Changes in barometric pressure may irritate a small, sensitive stomach and cause Kitty to nibble grass until that icky tummy feeling goes away. If your cat is eating grass she's not really sick, but her stomach doesn't feel like it's sitting right.
Cats Are Cold and Aloof
This a stereotype akin to assuming all blacks are good dancers and Scotts are all cheapskates. It may have a basis in truth. After all, a cat wants to know if you are worthy of her company first.
Once a cat has decided someone is worth their company, they'll be te sweetest, cuddliest thing around. It's not so much that they're aloof, just particular. How much a cat has been handled as a kitten has much to do with their attitude towards people. A cat is more likely to attach themselves to people if they have more positive experiences with people growing up.
Will rubbing butter on a cat's paws help her find her way home?
HA HA HA HA HA!!!! No. All you will have is a cat with butter on her paws. Good luck buttering your cat's paws to start with!
Even if she does sit still for such indignity, it will be likely so that she can lick the butter off the paw you just buttered. By the time you've got that fourth paw buttered, she's licked one paw clean and is starting on the next.
Incidentally, butter is very high in fat and isn't good for a cat to eat much of. The non-superstitious reasoning is that if a cat is brought to a new home, buttering her feet and letting her lick them will get her acclimated to the new place.
The real solution is going to take more patience and vigilance than that.
Cats Are Low-Maintenance
Pfft…who told you that? They need veterinary care, grooming, affection, attention, stimulation, food, water and a dozen or so other things.
Guess who cleans the litter box? Guess who trims their nails? Guess who turns on the laser pointer for them to chase? Look in the mirror.
Are cats a sign of good luck?
Some people think that cats are a sign of good luck. Black cats are actually considered lucky in the UK and by sailors who like to have one on board. Actually, a cat of any color is good to have on a ship because they catch mice and other vermin.
Black cats are considered lucky in the UK because there are so few of them due to their persecution in the Middle Ages and the UK being an island. In Japan, calicos are considered lucky, particularly in financial matters. Businesses will often put a maneki-neko near the entrance for luck.
The Korat cat of Thailand is said to bring prosperity and is often given as a wedding gift. In truth, all any “lucky charm”, living or otherwise, can do is give the owner a sense of confidence.
Will cats protect their owners?
Cats, unlike dogs, will not protect their owners in most cases and are more inclined to flee rather than fight when there's danger. However, a cat will protect what's theirs. There have been cases where cats whipped out the claws to protect their favorite people.
Cats are more sensitive to smells, sounds and slight movements that people might not notice. A cat might sense a gas leak or on coming earthquake before you can. The trouble is, they can't tell you what the problem is in words. If your cat is acting bizarre, she may be trying to warn you of some danger.
Can cats see different dimensions?
The existence of the universe having more than three dimensions (four if you count time) is very theoretical and strongly in the realm of science fiction. According to string theory, if different dimensions exist they are very small. Cats may have bizarre reactions, acting relaxed one moment and frightened the next.
Do recall that they have a stronger sense of hearing than you do. You may not hear a Rottweiler barking ten blacks away but your cat might and decided to find a hiding space before Killer finds him.
Are cats social animals?
Cats are social animals but there is a lot to be said about this. Do you want your cat to be social? While wild cats (save lions) prefer to live and hunt alone, house cats are meant for families. They depend on humans.
They tend to get along better with other cats if they've known them since they were young. They're not fond of sharing so make sure there are plenty of resources to go around. Show your cat affection and she will respond in kind, albeit on her terms.
Can a house cat kill a human?
House cat can not kill a human except maybe if you tripped over one and fell downstairs. They may bring in infections that can kill people, so get your cat immunized and don't handle their waste if you have a compromised immune system.
But, those claws and teeth, sharp as they are, aren't stronger to bring down anything larger than a fat rat. Domestication has made cats see people as a source of food and comfort, so it is unlikely one will even really want to kill a person.
Debunking cat myths is crucial for responsible cat ownership. These myths can lead to misunderstandings and potentially harm cats. By relying on accurate information and understanding their true needs, we can provide better care and build stronger bonds with our feline companions, ultimately ensuring their well-being and happiness.
Don't believe everything you've heard about cats. Of course, don't disbelieve all of it either. Some of these myths have a basis in fact, but many of them are simply grade A hokum.
- 12 common cat myths debunked at bluecross.org.uk
- Legends About Cats From Around the World at mentalfloss.com
- Debunking 8 Common Dog and Cat Myths at wellspringah.com
- Myths about cats that you need to stop believing at insider.com
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