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If you’ve never had a cat, you may have some misconceptions about the feline species. Here are eight myths you may have heard about cats, along with the real scoop on what they’re like.
1. Cats Are Standoffish
One of the most common beliefs about cats is that they are independent and aloof, preferring their own company to that of people. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s true that cats in general are less “needy” than dogs, but most cats love spending time with their people, whether they’re playing with toys or just sitting in a lap motor-purring. Know that being a lap cat is genetically influenced. Feline behaviorists used to think you could turn any cat into a lap cat, but it’s not so. When cat lovers understand that sitting within eighteen inches is being friendly enough for some cats, they’ll feel better about not having a full‑on lap cat and accept their pets as they are.
2. Cats Are Not Affectionate and Don’t Need Attention This is another common misconception about cats. Cats are great companions for people who are away from home during the day, and it’s true that cats are more able than dogs to stay on their own if you must be away overnight, but don’t assume that they can get by with little or no attention. On the whole, they like it better when you’re around. It’s not unusual for cats to follow their people around like little shadows and to hop into a lap just as soon as one is available. Cats can even develop separation anxiety if they are left alone too frequently or for long periods. But don’t expect all cats to enjoy prolonged stroking and petting—sometimes it overstimulates them. Massaging often works better than endlessly stroking the fur.
3. Cats Require Access to the Outdoors to Be Happy
Cats love the outdoors, no doubt about it, but it’s full of dangers for them: speeding cars, marauding dogs, crazy cat attacks, parasites, and poisons set out for pests, to name just a few. But with the right environmental enrichment and regular playtime and exercise, indoor cats can live happily and never miss the great outdoors. 4. Cats Can’t Get Along with Dogs We tend to think of them as dire enemies or cartoon warriors, but more often than not, cats and dogs can be fast friends. It’s not unusual to see them curled up together for a nap, grooming one another, or playing a game of tag. Foster interspecies friendships by introducing cats and dogs at an early age, while they are still open to new experiences. Even older cats and dogs can become best buds, though, with proper introductions. Don’t just throw them together like you would two stepchildren from polar opposite parts of the world. That can be stressful and dangerous for all involved. Planning and patience win the day.
If you have a dog and are planning to add a cat to your household, start by confining the cat to a small area such as a guest bath or bedroom. He’ll feel safe there, but he will still be able to hear and smell your dog. Spend lots of time with him in his safe room so he doesn’t feel isolated.
In a couple of days, your cat will be feeling more comfortable in his new home, and you can schedule a first meeting with the dog. Put the dog on leash and open the door to the cat’s room. Put the dog in a sit-stay or down-stay position, and don’t let him lunge at the cat. Let the cat decide whether or how closely to approach the dog. Don’t feed them that day before this exercise and give tasty treats to both animals for good behavior.
For the next couple of weeks, keep the dog on leash when the cat is present, and make sure the cat always has an escape route if he doesn’t want to be near the dog. Increase the amount of time they spend together, and keep giving plenty of rewards and praise for behaving nicely toward each other. When they’re calm around each other, you can take off the leash and let them begin what may well become a lifelong friendship.
5. Cats Can’t Be Trained
Surprise! With the right motivation, which for most felines means rewards for correct behavior, cats are highly trainable. You can teach a cat just about anything you want to teach him, as long as it doesn’t require opposable thumbs or barking for a treat. The benefit of training is that it is an interspecies communication system. Once you learn how to train your cat, there’s almost no behavior problem you can’t overcome. 6. Cats Spread Toxoplasmosis and Women Who Are Pregnant Should Get Rid of Their Cats to Protect the Fetus Not true at all! Do you think that female veterinarians and veterinary technicians stop working with cats during the nine months of their pregnancy? No way. In fact, they have no higher levels of exposure to toxoplasma than the general population. With certain easy precautions, the risk of infection to the developing fetus is virtually nil.
There’s more on this in Chapter 9, but the important takeaway is this: No matter what well-meaning relatives and friends (and even some doctors) tell you, you don’t have to get rid of your cat when you’re expecting.
Have someone else clean the litter box, and if that’s not possible, wear gloves when you do so. Cook meat well, and wash your hands thoroughly after handling meat. The risk of getting toxoplasmosis from gardening is much greater, and you should always wash vegetables well, and wear gloves when gardening. These precautions will minimize risk, and your cat can stay to help raise your child. (Pets are good for children, you know.)
7. Cats Will Harm Babies by Sucking Their Breath or Lying on Them and Smothering Them
If you didn’t follow the advice for dumping your cat during pregnancy, chances are someone will insist you need to do so when you have an infant in the house. This mistaken fairy tale of killer cats probably began because cats enjoyed curling up near babies and sharing their warm, soft bedding. When the babies died from other causes, the cats got the blame for the death. The truth is that women, babies, and cats have lived together safely for thousands of years. Of course, you should always supervise your baby and cat when they are together, and it’s best that they don’t share a bassinet, but you don’t have to worry that your cat has it in for your baby. 8. Cats Eat Grass and Other Plants Because They’re Sick Nope, they’re just connoisseurs of the green stuff. Cats love the taste and texture of grass, young shoots sprinkled with dew or rainwater. Grass also provides roughage that helps to work food through the system, so eating grass needn’t be discouraged. In fact, if you have an indoor cat, you should plant grass for him or her.
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