Here are a lot of urban (and suburban) myths about cats that throw off people’s understanding regarding feline behavior. In some cases, they can lead to owner care practices that are unhealthful, and even unsafe. Here’s a rundown of seven of the more common ones.
Myth: All cats love catnip.
Fact: An estimated 25 to 50 percent of cats do not respond to catnip. Your cat is not a “dud” if catnip doesn’t get her acting all hyper. If your cat does respond to catnip, you do not have to worry that you are turning her into an addict or otherwise causing her any harm. Catnip’s active ingredient — a volatile oil called nepetalactone — is non-addictive and completely harmless. In fact, a cat’s reaction to catnip will last only about 10 minutes, after which she will become completely oblivious to the substance for about a half hour.
Myth: Cat lovers who are allergic to cats can bring home a cat that is hypoallergenic.
Fact: Some people assume that if a cat has short hair or is hairless, it won’t cause problems for allergy sufferers. That’s why it is often thought that the Sphinx, a virtually hairless breed, is a safe bet. But there’s no such thing as a sure bet for an allergic ailurophile (lover of cats). That’s because it’s a protein in dander — dead skin cells that slough off — which causes allergic reactions, not fur. And all cats shed dander. The same protein is also in cats’ saliva.
The only thing you can do if you have a cat that makes your eyes watery, your nose run, or your throat itchy is to clean your home more frequently, wash your hands immediately after petting your cat, consider adding an air cleaner with a HEPA filter to your heating and air conditioning units, and talk to your doctor about allergy medications or perhaps allergy shots.
A note of hope: Some people build up immunity to their cats over time.
Myth: Purring always means a cat is happy.
Fact: It’s not always okay when a cat purrs; you have to consider the context. A cat may purr when she’s afraid or in pain, for example, during labor or when experiencing physical trauma. The low frequency of the vibrations inside her body can ease breathing.
Note: Cats who roar can’t purr, and cats who purr can’t roar.
Myth: You can get away with feeding a cat dog food.
Fact: No you can’t, at least not on a regular basis. Cats need two to three times the protein that dogs do, and more niacin — a B vitamin — as well as taurine. A cat with a diet too low in taurine can go blind in addition to developing heart problems. Additionally, while dogs can meet their needs for vitamins A and D with plant foods, cats cannot; they need animal foods for those nutrients.
Bottom line: You could sooner get away with feeding a dog cat food than feeding a cat dog food. (But if you have a dog, give her food designated for her own species.)
Myth: Bad breath goes along with being a cat.
Fact: Bad breath often means the cat has a health issue that needs tending. Most often that problem is gum disease, but there are other culprits. They include an infection or tumor in the nasal or sinus passages; kidney disease (especially if the breath smells like ammonia or urine); or liver disease. If your cat has bad breath, take her to the doctor to see what might be wrong.
Myth: It is necessary to brush your cat’s teeth once every day.
Fact: It is necessary to brush your cat’s teeth once every other day. Once each day is best, but it takes two days for soft, sticky plaque to harden into tartar that brushing won’t be able to remove and ultimately requires a cleaning under anesthesia. Thus, you can get away with every 48 hours. If the plaque is not removed, it can lead not only to severe gum disease but also diseases of vital organs in distant parts of the body. Bacteria in unremoved plaque that turns to tartar can cause problems by making their way through the bloodstream.
Myth: House cats don’t have to have ID collars.
Fact: Forty percent of lost cats are indoor-only cats, according to at least one study. Cats make great escape artists. That’s why the Humane Society of the United States advises people to keep visible identification on their cats at all times. A stretchy elastic collar with the cat’s name and your phone number is better than a metal tag, which can come off. Microchipping is a good backup, but only immediately visible ID alerts people that a cat belongs to someone and keeps a pet from the risk of getting lost in the shelter system.