“Cats are sneaky,” “Cats are conniving,” “You can’t trust cats.” I once recorded a video where we literally stopped random people on the street and asked them their views on cats, and those were the most common answers among those who disliked cats. (Of course, on the other hand, millions dote on their purring pals.) A part of the problem is that some people don’t quite “get” cats. And they’re misunderstood, as exemplified by the myriad of mistaken notions some people have. Mistaken or not, people believe them.
Let’s tackle some of the most common cat misconceptions.
1 Cats are dirty
Arguably cleaner than we are, cats often give themselves baths several times daily.
2 Ugh, hairballs: Puking pets are never fun
What gets me aren’t the hairballs themselves but that telltale gagging sound, “Uuuuggggh, uuuugggh,” preceding the hairball coming up. Of course, cats aren’t alone. It’s not like dogs never heave. Really, both species are blessed with the ability to splot our carpeting with equal gusto, and, arguably, hairballs are easier to clean up.
3 Litter boxes stink
True enough, but our toilets would stink as well if we didn’t flush. This issue isn’t about the cats but instead the cat caretaker for not scooping at least once daily. Since dogs do their business outdoors, some people are grossed out by the idea of an animal going indoors. But unless you depend on an outhouse, you do the same. And the truth is that for all living things, what goes in one end goes out the other — from pet birds to hamsters.
4 Cats are sneaky
As predators, cats are hardwired to hide behind objects, like a table, and then pounce. In domestic cats, this is a form of play. Many people and animals, like dogs and pet ferrets, do the same. When those species do it, it’s entertaining, but somehow when cats do it, they’re being sneaky.
5 Cats are conniving
Really? The moment cat caretakers leave for the office, cats jump onto a Facebook group called “The Connivers” and conspire to rip the curtains or poop on a caretaker’s bed.
Not really. If a cat is ripping curtains, it results from boredom, not the great cat conspiracy to get back at the person for not offering tuna. It’s up to the cat’s caretaker to provide engaging toys, cat furniture, perches, etc. Cats don’t conspire to get back at us using feces as a tool. It’s strange that so many people truly believe this. Let’s state this again: Cat poop and pee is not an intentional weapon deployed to tick off humans.
6 You can’t trust cats
Loyalty in dogs is legendary. But despite their independence, domestic cats are a social species. And there are lots of stories of cats saving lives, even if it means placing their own lives in jeopardy. An individual cat’s bond with her humans can be every bit as substantial as any dog.
7 They are skittish and shy
I hate it when people say, “Oh, your cats are happy and outgoing; they’re acting like dogs.” That’s total — what you scoop.
The truth is that lots and lots of cats greet their people at the door and express joy to see them, or even rub against the pant legs and purr at total strangers. The truth is that millions of dogs aren’t Lassie or Benji. Their caretakers put them into another room because they’re so fearful of strangers they act aggressively. While cats that greet people are very definitely outgoing and confident cats, they’re not acting like dogs.
It’s adaptive and appropriate for cats to sometimes be more uncomfortable and less secure with new people or new situations. However, with positive early socialization, a genetic predisposition for boldness and positive reinforcement, many and likely most, cats are actually quite friendly.
In cat language it’s rude to attempt to become instant friends. Dogs and people are different. You meet someone, shake hands, and discover you once worked for the same boss or you are both baseball fans. Two dogs sniff one another’s rearends at the dog park, a tennis ball appears, and for 10 minutes they play together having the time of
8 Cats get a perverse pleasure in approaching people who don’t like cats
Cats are discerning of who they will become instant chums with. And maybe there’s something to be said for this approach. In truth, some people and lots of dogs are also more careful about making friends. In fact, sometimes dogs and people can never be friends with individuals of their own kind; this isn’t only “a cat thing.”
In any case, that’s why when you host a party at your home, Aunt Matilda is the only person who the cats approach. They surround her, rubbing against every part of her they can get to and purring in her ears. The only problem is that Aunt Matilda wants nothing to do with the cats; she’s terrified. All the other guests love cats and push themselves onto the reluctant felines. When the cats realize Matilda is very politely ignoring them, they are actually giddy about meeting her. This doesn’t happen because the cats want to terrify Matilda.
Maybe cats being misunderstood is all just a matter of time. We’ve lived with dogs for around 40,000 years, even co-evolving with them. Cats have only been domesticated for around five to eight thousand years. And, how smart are cats?! Clearly, they understand us better than we understand them. Hopefully, we’re catching on.