In the fascinating world of felines, fiction can sometimes blur fact. Gospel truths are anything but and so-called impossibilities are 100 percent certainties. I’ve surveyed some of the country’s top veterinarians and animal behavior consultants to set the record straight on seven of the most common cat myths.
By Arden Moore for Pet Airways
Myth #1. Cats can’t swim and hate getting wet.
Many cats are water lovers. In fact, the Bengal and the Turkish Van are the feline equivalent of Olympian Michael Phelps. These two breeds eager to step in showers or jump in bathtubs to join their owners.
Marilyn Krieger, is an animal behavior consultant and coordinator of the California Bengal Rescue group. She gleefully tells me that all five of her Bengals would love to join her in the shower if she let them.
As for Turkish Vans, this athletic breed loves to fetch, swim, jump and perform dog-like tricks. Their nickname: swimming cats. Here’s another must-know fact about Vans: This breed tends to like to drop objects in toilets as well as stand on their back legs and use their front paws to push down on the lever to flush the toilet – so keep a lid down and the bathroom door shut when you are home or traveling with your cat and staying at a pet-friendly lodging.
Some cats of mixed lineage like to play in standing water and prefer to drink from dripping faucets. Some behave like raccoons by paw splashing the water insider their drink bowls. All cats use their paw pads to check for dangers in their environment. The paw pad is one of the most sensitive areas on a cat’s body. A cat who scoops water with his paws is likely testing the temperature.
So, if you have a cat drawn to running water or who seems determined to make a splashing mess with the water bowl, consider this option: Replace the water bowl with an inexpensive automatic water dispenser that trickles water continuously. These fountains, readily available at pet supply stores, have charcoal filters to keep the water fresh. The sound of the moving water attracts some cats to drink. That’s important because cats, especially those fed strictly dry-food diets, tend not to drink enough water and are at risk for dehydration.
If you have a cat hankering to join you in the shower or bathtub, whistle a welcome let your cat make a splash, debunking another feline myth.
Myth #2. Poinsettias are deadly for cats.
“The dangers of poinsettias have been greatly exaggerated,” says Jill Richardson, DVM, a veterinarian with an expertise in toxicology in Secaucus, N.J. “The truth is that poinsettias are not dangerous plants. The leaves do contain a thick white sap and if the plant is chewed by your cat, you may see mild signs of stomach upset, but it is not lethal.”
The more startling truth: Lilies rank as the most lethal to cats. Not just the Easter lily variety, but also the tiger lily, Japanese show lily and some species of day lily.
“Ingesting a small amount of the plant can cause severe poisoning in a cat,” warns Dr. Richardson. “Unless you take your cat to a veterinarian for treatment right away, the cat can develop kidney failure in a day or two and die.”
Parting advice: If you love plants in your home, select cat-friendly varieties like catnip, orchids and garden marigolds.
Not sure what’s safe or dangerous? The ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Hotline posts a list of plants on its website (www.aspca.org) and its staff is available 24 hours a day to answer queries by calling 1-888-426-4435. Please note that there is a consultation fee charged.
Myth #3. Cats purr only when they are content and happy.
There is something almost magical and beckoning about a cat purring on one’s lap. But cats purr for other reasons and emotions.
Because newborn kittens are born blind, a mother cat will purr so that the vibrations act as a homing signal to orient the kittens toward her at feeding time. Cats also purr when they are sick or even in the process of dying as a self-calming technique, explains Arnold Plotnick, DVM, board-certified in feline medicine and internal medicine who operates Manhattan Cats Specialists in New York City.
Purring is produced by vibrations in the cat’s larynx or voice box. Here’s a strange-but-true fact: cats are capable of purring when they inhale and exhale – a feat impossible for people.
Myth #4. Cats, especially indoor ones, are risk-free from heartworms.
This long-standing misnomer fooled even some veterinarians – until a major education campaign was launched in 2007 by the American Heartworm Society and the American Association of Feline Practitioners. The campaign is funded by an educational grant from Pfizer Animal Health.
Until the campaign, even some veterinarians didn’t realize that heartworm disease occurs in cats. Each year, cats die needlessly from complications related to this very preventable disease. The educational efforts are striving to reduce those numbers.Keep in mind that heartworm affects cats differently than dogs. Cats typically have fewer worms than dogs, and the life span of the worm is shorter in cats. However, indoor cats are far from being safe. A recent study conducted in North Carolina revealed that 28 percent of cats diagnosed with heartworms never ventured outdoors. A cat contracts heartworm disease when a mosquito carrying the larvae bites a cat. The heartworm larvae then enter into the cat’s tissues through the bite wound.
Here’s another strange-but-true fact: heartworm disease – despite its name – mostly affects the lungs, not just the heart. For your cat’s health and safety, please consult your veterinarian about providing regular heartworm preventive medicine.
Myth #5. Milk is a healthy drink for cats.
Generally speaking, cats should not drink milk. Most cats are lactose intolerant and drinking milk, especially cow’s milk, can cause gastrointestinal disturbances, such as diarrhea and vomiting.
Dr. Plotnick explains that not all cats are lactose intolerant, however and a few cats can handle being given a little milk on occasion as a treat. However, a safer dairy alternative would be giving your cat a little bit of yogurt, which seems to be more gastric friendly than milk.
Myth #6. Cats can be treated like small dogs when it comes to giving them over-the-counter pain relievers or topical parasite products.
Cats differ from other species in their inability to metabolize many drugs. Cats have very low levels of a particular liver enzyme responsible for drug metabolism.
One particular class of dangerous drugs for cats is over-the-counter pain relievers containing acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen – neither should be given to cats under any circumstances.
Topical products to combat fleas and ticks are specifically labeled for dogs and cats. Dogs easily tolerate a class of insecticides called permethrin found in some parasite products. However, concentrated permethrin spot-on products are labeled for use in dogs only because they may cause severe, often fatal toxic levels if applied to cats.
Parting advice to those with dogs and cats sharing your home: read and re-read the labels each month to make sure you give cat-only parasite products to your feline friend.
Myth #7. Cats are loners.
Just because they are not hiding your car keys (like some dogs might) when you plan a trip and leave them home, doesn’t mean that they don’t miss your companionship. Like dogs, some cats can form strong bonds with their favorite people and develop separation anxiety. They may demonstrate anxiety by howling, shredding toilet paper rolls and other destructive actions (out of boredom) and may over groom to the point of plucking out patches of hair. Advice: introduce your feline from the start to cat-friendly people who can come over during your absence to interact with your cat.