- Veterinarians debunk the most common myths about cats.
- Myths include that cats always land on their feet and that pregnant women can’t live with cats.
- They explain myths around whether cats can eat human food and if they can actually see in the dark.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.