Veterinarians debunk some of the biggest myths about cats

Following is a transcript of the video.

Carly Fox: “Pregnant women can’t live with cats.” This is a huge myth. Please don’t get rid of your cat if you are pregnant. “When cats purr, it means they’re happy.” This is definitely a myth.

Ann Hohenhaus: “Cats think their owner is their mother.”

Fox: Obviously your cat doesn’t think that you’re its mother. I’m Dr. Carly Fox. I’m an emergency and critical-care veterinarian at the Animal Medical Center in New York City.

Hohenhaus: And I’m Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, also at the Animal Medical Center, but I’m an internal medicine and oncology specialist.

Fox: Today we’re going to debunk some cat myths.

Myth #1

Fox: “Cats love milk.” I mean, I think this is sort of an image that has been put forth throughout our childhood, like, in storybooks and in movies and on TV, but unfortunately, cats, as they get older, actually are lactose intolerant. So their bodies actually can’t even digest milk. As kittens, they have an enzyme called lactase, which helps them break down milk, because they are supposed to be drinking their mother’s milk.

But as they get older, that enzyme, which is usually very present, goes away. And then they’re unable to digest milk. So if you feed milk to an older cat, or really any cat after they’ve been weaned from their mother, they really can’t digest it. Even though they seem like they’re really enjoying themselves, it actually can cause gastrointestinal upset.

Hohenhaus: You can go to the pet store, though, and buy cat milk. [laughs] And the cat milk has two things that make it special for cats. One is it’s lactose-free, just like the lactose-free milk you can buy in the grocery store. But it also has extra taurine added to it. And cats require taurine in their diet. So it’s just an extra source of that amino acid special for cats.

Fox: I mean, who knew?

Myth #2

Hohenhaus: “Cats are nocturnal.” How can you be nocturnal when you sleep 23 hours a day? [laughs] The typical cat sleeps 23 hours a day. They wake up long enough to kill some prey, eat that prey, and then go back to sleep until the next time they’re hungry.

Fox: They’re actually crepuscular animals.

Hohenhaus: They’re what?

Fox: Crepuscular. That means that they’re active during dusk and dawn, which goes back to what you just said about them hunting. So, that’s how lions hunt. They hunt in the dusk or the dawn, where they can, you know, see prey better, hunt, and kill, and our domestic cats actually evolved from that. So they’re actually supposed to be most active in the morning and in the evening, but not necessarily in the middle of the night. Though some cats obviously are.

Hohenhaus: Well, and they are most active in the morning. Ask any cat owner. At 4 o’clock in the morning, that cat’s walking on your head and running over the bed, trying to get you up, because they don’t have to hunt for breakfast. They just have to get you up.

Myth #3

Fox: “Cats hate water.” Can’t say that every cat hates water, but, I mean, in my experience, most cats definitely dislike water, as in they don’t like being bathed in water. You’re definitely not gonna see most cats go for a swim. I’d say most cats don’t love water, but when cats are feeling unkempt, perhaps they do like water.

Myth #4

Hohenhaus: “Cats think their owner is their mother.” [laughs] I think that they just see you as a source of food and comfort and cleanliness and a safe place to live.

Fox: Yeah, obviously your cat doesn’t think that you’re its mother, but they definitely think that you’re its caretaker and they need you, but, you know, another person could probably fill in that job just as easily for your cat, honestly, so I don’t think that cats think that you’re their mother. But some people definitely think that.

Myth #5

Fox: “Pregnant women can’t live with cats.” This is a huge myth. Please don’t get rid of your cat if you are pregnant. Cats can sometimes be infected with a parasite called toxoplasmosis, which can be shed in your cat’s feces. If picked up by a pregnant woman, this parasite can sometimes cause birth defects or miscarriage, and that’s obviously something we would want to avoid.

Cleaning the litter box daily will help with this. You definitely don’t want to leave the litter box to go for more than one day because that can increase infection. If you do need to clean the litter box, you should just wear gloves. So the best thing that you can do is have someone clean the litter box for you, which is also just great. Who wants to clean their litter box? It’s a break for nine months.

Hohenhaus: So, if you’re concerned about your health or your cat’s health during your pregnancy, be sure to bring up the topic with both your veterinarian and your obstetrician.

Myth #6

Hohenhaus: “Cats can see in complete darkness.” Cats have great night vision. They have, like, a mirror in the back of their eye. And you know that from taking photos of your cat because you see that yellow-green reflection in the camera, and that’s this mirror that’s in the back of the cat’s eye that helps to reflect light around to improve their night vision. And that reflector area is called the tapetum.

Fox: Cats really can’t see in complete darkness. They still need a little bit of light in their eye for it to bounce back and forth within the eye off the tapetum, so complete darkness they cannot see in, but a lot of darkness with a little bit of light, they actually can see.

Myth #7

Hohenhaus: “Human food is bad for cats.” We don’t recommend feeding a human diet to cats, because it doesn’t meet their nutritional needs. Cats are obligate carnivores, and it means they need to eat meat. So your diet is not appropriate for cats.

Myth #8

Fox: “Black cats are bad luck.” I mean, this is obviously a huge myth.

Hohenhaus: I think that black cats are bad luck for themselves, because they don’t get adopted from a shelter as readily as a pretty gray cat or a flashy tricolor cat. So the bad luck is actually for the cat, not for you.

Myth #9

Hohenhaus: “Cats don’t love people or babies.” My mother was so worried about this when I was having a baby, because I had these cats. And she said, “Those cats are gonna climb in the crib and suffocate my grandson.” Nothing like that happened. Babies are unpredictable, and they smell different than people, and they make different movements than people, and they have stinky diapers. So I think this actually might partly be true. It’s not that they don’t like babies. It’s that they’re different than the people they’re used to.

Myth #10

Fox: “Cats always land on their feet.” Well, cats do have an excellent righting reflex, meaning that a lot of the times they actually do land on their feet, and that has to do with their anatomy and their vestibular system. However, unfortunately, I’m an emergency doctor, I live in New York City. I see many, many, many cats not land on their feet. Definitely don’t think that your cat will just be fine if it unfortunately falls out of your third-story window or even from your top of your refrigerator.

Hohenhaus: And when they fall, they’ll land on their chin, and they often fracture their wrists, and then if they belly flop, as opposed to land on their feet, they’ll also get air in their lungs or around their lungs because their lungs get a little tear in it and start leaking. So these injuries are severe and life-threatening for cats. So the answer is get screens or don’t open your windows.

Myth #11

Hohenhaus: “Cats and dogs don’t get along.” I don’t have any idea where this would have come from. There are plenty of houses and households in the United States where there are both dogs and cats and they’re perfectly fine. Just like some people don’t get along, sometimes a dog and cat don’t get along, but sometimes you have two dogs and they don’t get along or two cats and they don’t get along. So I think this is more about the personality of your dog and your cat than it is that they can’t get along.

Fox: They’re not gonna be the next YouTube sensation, but I guess they maintain a working relationship.

Hohenhaus: Yeah, yeah, that’s good. A working relationship. We have to work together to be good pets.

Fox: Yeah. Let’s do that.

Myth #12

Fox: “When cats purr, it means they’re happy.” This is definitely a myth, and I can tell you I’ve been scratched by many a purring cat. You know, I think purring is oftentimes associated with pleasure in cats; however, sometimes cats can purr for other reasons, like they’re very nervous, or it’s a warning actually, or they’re hungry, not necessarily that they’re happy.

Myth #13

Fox: “One human year equals seven cat years.” This is definitely, definitely a myth. I think this is something we more associate with dogs, but if you apply it to cats, I think it’s even more of a myth.

Hohenhaus: Well, and if you look at it on the reverse end of the lifespan, a cat can have kittens when it’s 6 months old. 6-month-old cat would be 3.5 years in human age, and clearly no 3.5-year-old children are having babies of their own.

Fox: I hope not.

Hohenhaus: So, it doesn’t work in cats, no.

Fox: Today we debunked some cat myths. There is a little bit of truth to some of these myths that we talked about today, and I think that’s very fitting, since cats are these very particular, special animals that are a bit of, like, a mixed bag, just like these myths.

Hohenhaus: My son’s first words were “meow.” [laughing]

Producer: That’s crazy.

Hohenhaus: He would look at the cat and go “meow.”

Fox: That’s cute, really? [laughing]

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in March 2020.

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Earthquake experts debunk 13 earthquake and earthquake safety myths

  • Veronica Cedillos and Gerardo Suarez debunk 13 myths about earthquakes and earthquake safety.
  • They explain why doorways aren’t safe, and why the “Triangle of Life” is actually dangerous.
  • They also explain how seismologists and experts work together to prepare for earthquakes.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Gerardo Suárez: “The ground can open up during an earthquake.” Everything disappears in the earth. Earthquakes don’t operate like that. “You should always try to get outside” when an earthquake occurs.

Veronica Cedillos: In the midst of running, you can get seriously injured.

Suárez: “California will fall into the ocean.” Well, the answer is of course not.

Hello, I’m Veronica Cedillos. I am a structural engineer by training. I am currently president at GeoHazards International.

My name is Gerardo Suárez. I am a senior scientist at the Institute of Geophysics at the National University of Mexico. Today, we are debunking myths about earthquakes and earthquake safety.

Suárez: These are myths from social media. “Doorways are a safe place to take cover during an earthquake.” And, Veronica, I think you’re better prepared than I am.

Cedillos: Yeah. This is definitely a myth. Something we’ve heard from, I think, past, very old construction. And that was when the frame around doors was actually part of the skeleton of the building that really kept up the building, so it was a really strong part of the structure. Modern construction does not have that. In fact, the doors are not in any way stronger, so they’re really not helpful or very protective during earthquake shaking. And, in fact, I would say that holding onto a doorframe, if you have a swinging door during strong earthquakes, you can actually get quite injured.

Suárez: There’s no universal recipe to be safe. It depends on how your house, your apartment building is built and where you live, even in what part of the city you live in.

Cedillos: The work has to happen before the earthquake in terms of finding a safe place. Create a safe place. So, trying to figure out, OK, if there was shaking, looking up in your own home and seeing what could fall over or topple that can be heavy.

Suárez: This question is about the “Triangle of Life.” Will it save you?

Cedillos: You can see some of these voids after the shaking has happened, but what you don’t see is what happened in between. And so it may have been that this very dense object, with strong shaking, might’ve moved quite a distance, or those objects can actually topple, and in many cases it can actually be way more dangerous to be there. If you could get under a sturdy table, that would probably be best. Protecting your head and neck are really important.

Suárez: But yes, there may be some cases where people were saved because they accidentally were trapped between a very strong object and perhaps a beam or something that fell down. But I think it is more circumstantial evidence than anything else.

Cedillos: “Earthquake-proof buildings are indestructible.” I want to make a distinction between earthquake-proof and earthquake-resistant. So, in practice, we don’t usually design or build earthquake-proof buildings. So, a similarity might be waterproof versus water-resistant. And I think for a very long time we went from really trying to ensure that our designs were life-safe. So they really were protecting the occupants inside the building. Now, what we’ve learned as we’ve seen earthquakes in other parts of the world, that doesn’t mean that you’re not going to have damage to a building. And so it may be that after an earthquake, your building no longer functions and you can no longer stay in it. And if that happens on a grand scale, all of a sudden you have an entire city that can’t be housed or buildings that can’t be used for businesses. And so it really affects the economy and the community as a whole. And now there’s a big movement to try to move towards designing not just for life safety but actually what’s called “functional recovery,” with the idea that you can recover in a shorter time span.

“Small earthquakes prevent bigger ones from happening.”

Suárez: Well, I bear bad news for people who believe in this, because people do say, “Oh, it’s been very active, lots of small earthquakes, so they’re taking up the energy that’s concentrated on the fault.” And indeed, yes, they’re releasing some energy. And that happens in places that we call subduction zones, where one tectonic plate goes under another one, that there are dozens, literally hundreds of small earthquakes in a certain time frame in a certain place. But, eventually, in these active faults you will have a major earthquake. And by major, I would just say larger than magnitude 7.5. That is required to release the energy that has been accumulated.

Cedillos: I think there’s a misconception that it’s only the very big one that’s going to be the most dangerous. But, in fact, what we see is that even with moderate earthquakes, there can be a lot of actually injuries and death, even. Unreinforced chimneys, we know, are very vulnerable to collapse under very low levels of shaking. And those falling into a household, for example, can be very dangerous.

Suárez: “We are overdue for a major earthquake.” So, when we say “overdue,” we imply that we know the earthquake should have occurred before, and it hasn’t. And this is something that we simply do not know.

Cedillos: Prediction versus forecasting. I think that’s where we get a little bit of a misunderstanding, because we can forecast, usually in probabilities, and say there’s a probability that there’ll be this size of earthquake within this region. And so we really can’t predict specifically where and when an earthquake will occur.

Suárez: Everyone who lives in a seismic area should be aware. Everyone should have a kit at home. You need to have some water, you need to have a lamp light, and so on and so forth.

OK. These are myths from pop culture.

“You should always try to get outside” when an earthquake occurs.

Cedillos: For the most part, this is probably not a very safe practice, to run outside during earthquake shaking, especially because many times things can fall outward. In the midst of running, you can get seriously injured. In the one situation where it is a good idea, and that’s in an adobe, earthen building that is not strengthened or reinforced in some way. Those buildings are particularly dangerous when you have a heavy roof. If you’re on the ground floor of one of these buildings, you do want to try to run out, assuming you’re running out into a space that’s open. But if you’re already outside, stay outside. You want to try to get away from building facades, because there can be bricks falling. You want to be very careful about that.

Suárez: “The ground can open up during an earthquake.” It is a myth that has to be debunked. This myth comes very much from earthquake movies, where you see that during the earthquake, there is a big crack that opens, and it swallows buildings and people and cars. And then it just, boom, it shuts tight, and everything disappears in the earth. And this doesn’t happen. Earthquakes don’t operate like that. In certain types of soils, cracks are formed because of the very strong shaking, but these are relatively shallow cracks. I mean, they wouldn’t swallow, not even a small cat. And probably that image was extrapolated into this fantastic idea of these huge mouths as swallowing everything in its surroundings. So, no. The answer is definitely not.

“In the US, a big enough earthquake on the West Coast could be felt on the East Coast.”

It will be so big that even though it’s happening here in California, you will feel it on the East Coast.

Cedillos: No, that is not what we expect! It’s just a big enough distance that we don’t expect for anyone to feel any significant shaking on the East Coast from a large earthquake on the West Coast. The plates and the type of rock that we have on the East Coast versus the West Coast, they are different. And so what happens is that the type of rock that we have in the East Coast, the earthquake waves, seismic waves can actually travel much further. So what happens is that in the East Coast, you’ll be able to perceive or feel significant shaking actually much further distances from the epicenter, or the origin of where the earthquake shaking started. As opposed to the West Coast, where those seismic waves, actually that energy is absorbed much quicker, and so it doesn’t travel as much of a far distance.

“We are able to predict earthquakes.”

Suárez: This is a very simple answer. It is no. No, we cannot yet predict earthquakes. And I added the word “yet.” I wouldn’t say that now it continues to be the goal of seismology to be able to predict earthquakes. I believe the goal of everyone who works in seismology or in engineering seismology, it is not to predict earthquakes, but to be prepared for major earthquakes, to understand the phenomenon.

Cedillos: There are use of what we call “earthquake scenarios,” and what those are, they’re not predictions, but they’re incredibly useful in the sense that many times we don’t see changes in codes or anything until after there’s an earthquake and we learned everything that went wrong. We use the tool of an earthquake scenario – so, we choose a believable earthquake that could happen in a certain area to try to understand what may be some of the key vulnerabilities around that particular city or area, whether it’s the water system or the housing or the hospitals, to try to get ahead and try to instill safer practices or actions that will help us address those vulnerabilities before an earthquake occurs.

Myths experts hear the most.

Suárez: So, “In tall buildings, it is always safer to be on a lower floor.”

Cedillos: If you’re in a tall building, especially in a place where the codes are usually followed, it’s likely that they’re actually under even higher requirements in terms of design, and so, as long as the building is safe, it doesn’t matter too much where you are. That being said, if there is more movement, that’s when it is really, really important to make sure that the contents within your house, or whatever, your office building, are secured and that they can’t fall over and topple over and hurt you.

Suárez: “California will fall into the ocean.” Well, the answer is of course not. You know, California would not fall into the ocean. Part of California, the westernmost sliver of California, it sits on the Pacific Plate, whereas the rest of California sits on the North American Plate. And these two plates move one relative to one another at a rate of about 5 to 6 centimeters per year. So, yes, when people say Los Angeles is going to end up near Anchorage, well, yes, eventually, but in many millions of years.

OK. “There’s such thing as earthquake weather.” But no. There is no season for earthquakes, there is no weather for earthquakes, and there’s no specific time for earthquakes. You might be thinking of a very convenient time that an earthquake would happen. It might be very inconvenient.

Cedillos: When you think about earthquake shaking, you have to think about different times of the year and different times of the day. You might be sleeping, or it might be winter. It might be raining. And so the danger is that you’re not thinking of all these scenarios.

“Bigger earthquakes happen under full moons.”

Suárez: People connect that to the pull of tides. And it’s true. We are very used to the ocean being deformed and the water level changing due to the tides depending on the cycles of the moon. And this also happens in the earth. The earth itself, the continents themselves are deformed because of this rotation of the moon. The deformation is not large enough to produce earthquakes. And people have looked at statistics to see, and there has been absolutely no correlation at all.

Cedillos: A lot of the actions that you need to take to really protect communities and protect people need to be taken years before the earthquake actually arrives.

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