Why do people hate cats? Let’s begin with just one example. In the mid-1300s, the Black Death was responsible for up to about 25 million deaths in Europe. Many people, including political and religious officials of the day, blamed cats for the plague. As a result, cats were annihilated. This turned out to be a costly mistake. Medical officials finally figured it out: The plague was transmitted to humans from Oriental rat fleas that live on black rats.
Unfortunately, that’s how it’s been for cats through the ages. As the great world philosopher, cat lover and pop-and-country music artist Taylor Swift has said, “Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play; And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.”
The players of the day finally embraced the cats, who killed the rats, and deaths as a result of the plague, of course, quickly declined.
However, the cat haters continued assailing cats. So, why do people hate cats? Let’s look at some reasons.
Ethologically speaking, we’re closer to dogs. We co-evolved with that more slobbery species. Cro-Magnon men and women blossomed when relatives of today’s wolves began the domestication process into dogs. Perhaps we’re still hardwired to like dogs.
While some cultures on the planet consider dogs dirty, in the United States and the Western world, most people say they like dogs, even if they don’t have one. The exceptions to that are people who are allergic or who have had bad experiences.
Another answer to “Why do people hate cats?” is that domestic kitties as we know them haven’t been around for too long. Unlike dogs, who we domesticated, cats pretty much domesticated themselves. Of course, they lived with us on their own terms. Cats took advantage of our grains that attracted vermin dinner and thus, over time, people and cats realized the benefits.
Today’s domestic cat has experienced about 5,000 to 8,000 years of living with humans, a relative blip in evolutionary history, and far less than going back circa 40,000 years when dogs lived side-by-side with Cro-Magnon humans. If you’re over 60 years old, you remember when most cats in the United States lived both indoors and outdoors, a very different lifestyle than the vast majority of today’s cats.
Unlike dogs, which for some can do no wrong, cats sometimes can’t win. And most humans don’t feel ambivalent about cats; they either love them so much that they can barely only have one or they scorn them. It’s amazing how the human brain works.
People who hate mustard, for example, and really just can’t tolerate the taste also typically can’t tolerate the smell. And sometimes even a TV commercial for mustard causes an aversive response. Cats are like mustard. For example, people with extreme allergies learn to dislike them so much that even TV commercials with cats may make them uncomfortable. Their disgust is unreasonable to cat lovers but is cemented into the amygdala in their brains. And it’s real.
An unfortunately popular answer to “Why do people hate cats?” is misinformation. Spread rumors about dogs, and they have little traction. Unsubstantiated reports about cats are another story. And to Taylor Swift’s point, “cat haters” just gonna hate and fan the flames. With the advent of social media, it’s become an inferno but without substantiation.
Here are just two examples:
Community cats wiping out birds: Some reports from bird conservation groups have suggested outdoor cats are responsible for the destruction of 3.7 billion birds in the United States. According to data from Anne Beall’s book Community Cats: A Journey into the World of Feral Cats, 32 percent of what outdoor cats kill are birds, but most cats don’t kill birds or at least not very often. Community cats have been around for a long time, and in the United States there may actually be fewer community cats.
Scientists not involved on either side of the argument agree that habitat destruction, light and air pollution, and climate change are the biggest ones to blame — and the issue is global because many songbird species migrate.
Toxoplasmosis: Reports of schizophrenia occurring in adults, and particularly in children, as a result of cats carrying toxoplasmosis keep popping up. Sadly, some consider these reports credible despite the lack of documentation in a peer-reviewed journal. Or even careful reading. For example, one study noted children with schizophrenia are more likely to have cats. But even the study’s researchers conceded they were not in any way suggesting a link to cause/effect.
The real truth is that a specific series of events must occur in order for any person to contract toxo from a kitty. The cat must be infected in the first place, and most cats (in the United States) are not infected with the organism, especially as most U.S. cats live indoors (71 percent in 2016 according to the 2017-1018 American Pet Products Association’s Pet Owners Survey). Cats can only pass the disease seven to 14 days their entire lives (when there’s an acute infection and the organism is in what is called the oocyst stage).
If the cat is shedding the organism (one of those seven to 14 days), all you need to do is to scoop daily because it takes at least a day and typically several days for the virus to become infectious to people.
Now, if that does happen to someone who is pregnant, it’s very true that an infected unborn baby can suffer severe harm during the first trimester of pregnancy. Of course, avoiding this even remote possibility makes sense, but this is as simple as scooping promptly with gloves and hand washing, or having another household member scoop. (See the Center for Disease Control and Preventions FAQ on toxoplasmosis at cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis.)
Why do people hate cats? A part of the problem is that we understand and therefore trust dogs. Maybe we’re “born that way,” as another philosopher and music artist Lady Gaga suggests. Cats are less understood, and we don’t like all their habits — like those darn hairballs or their fondness for cozying up to the one person at the party who is most disgusted by cats. Are they really conniving? Or is it just miscommunications with humans. I suggest it’s our problem, more than the cats.
Thumbnail: Photography by fotostok_pdv/Thinkstock.
Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior consultant who’s authored several books, including the e-book Good Cat, and has contributed to many, including The Cat: Clinical Medicine and Management, edited by Dr. Susan Little. He hosts two national radio shows and is heard on WGN Radio, Chicago, and seen on syndicated HouseSmartsTV.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Catster magazine. Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.