Cat Care Information

Common Misconceptions About Cats

Misconception #1: Cats are low-maintenance pets.

Unlike dogs, cats do not need to be taken out for daily walks; however they are by no means low-maintenance, either in the amount of interaction they require or in the financial responsibility they represent.

Taking on a pet of any kind is a large commitment in terms of both time and money. Cats are social animals who want and need interaction with their owners. Feeding, grooming and litter box cleaning are necessary daily activities. As with any animal, cats cannot communicate verbally with their owners, so it is the owner’s responsibility to be constantly watchful of the animal’s behavior and alert to any abnormalities. An owner who believes that cats can take care of themselves will be unaware of subtle behavior changes that can be signs of the onset of serious illness or injury.

In terms of financial commitment, cat owners should plan to spend between $800 to $1,000 per year per cat on the basics–food, litter and regular vet care. These costs, of course, increase dramatically should an illness or injury occur that would require additional vet care and/or hospitalization.

Misconception #2: Cats can be left alone for a few days at a time and will take care of themselves.

Not true at all! If an owner is going to be gone for more than 12-14 hours, someone else should be assigned, or hired, to look in on and take care of the cat. Cats who are left alone for long periods of time can get into all sorts of trouble, become depressed, and even get sick. For example, a cat who develops a urinary tract infection can become critically ill in less than 24 hours. Therefore, if you are even planning just a short weekend getaway, a pet sitter or a friend should be looking in on the cat at least twice per day. This person should plan to stay for a minimum of one hour, so he or she can observe the cat and make note of any behavioral abnormalities. Ideally, it should be someone who knows the cat fairly well in order to better notice if something seems different. Of course, the caregiver should be provided with contact information for the owner, as well as the phone number of the nearest emergency veterinary clinic and copies of all the cat’s medical record.

Misconception #3: Cats need to go outdoors and hunt in order to be happy–this is natural for them.

In today’s world, letting your cat outdoors for any reason or any length of time is akin to playing Russian roulette. Outdoor cats are at risk for injury or death as a result of disease, other animals, cars, foul weather, poison, sadistic people, animal “bunchers” who collect strays and outdoor pets to sell to laboratories, and a host of other dangers.

Outdoor cats have an average life span of five to seven years, as opposed to their indoor counterparts, who frequently live to be 15 years or older. We have domesticated our pets, and we have a responsibility to take care of them and look out for their well-being. Your cat may look longingly out the window as though he wants to go out, but the bottom line is that it is generally not safe. Creating a stimulating environment for him inside your home with trees, toys, etc., and giving your cat lots of attention and exercise will ensure that he has a full and enriching life, while remaining safely indoors.

Misconception #4: Pregnant women cannot live safely with a cat.

Many physicians mistakenly inform their patients that they must get rid of their cat or cats in order to ensure the safety of their unborn child. This misconception is based on fear of a parasitic disease called toxoplasmosis, which can be transmitted from a variety of sources to a pregnant woman and can be dangerous for her fetus.

Cats are exposed to this parasite through the ingestion of live prey (for example, mice) and it can then be passed by the cats to humans through handling the cat’s feces, which most commonly occurs during litter box cleaning. However, assuming the cats are indoor animals (not catching live prey), there is no danger that a pregnant women or her unborn baby will contract the parasite from the cat. In fact, pregnant women run more risk of exposing their baby to toxoplasmosis by handling raw or undercooked meat in their kitchens than by handling their indoor cat.

That said, as a precaution, it is best for another family member to be responsible for litter box cleaning during the pregnancy (and good practice, since after the baby is born, Mom is certain to have her hands full and this task may need to be permanently reassigned). Alternatively, the mother-to-be should wear gloves and wash her hands thoroughly after cleaning the box if she must do it herself. Pregnant women should also use caution when gardening in outdoor areas, which may have been used by strays as an open-air litter box.

Misconception #5: A declawed cat is safer for a home with small children than one that has claws.

In fact, exactly the opposite is true. A declawed cat, feeling as though its first line of defense is missing, is much more likely to be a biter. Children often do things that may irritate a cat, such as pulling its ears or tail, and the animal’s natural reaction is to defend itself. Because a declawed cat does not have the option of scratching the child as a deterrent, it is likely to bite first, ask questions later. And while a scratch tends to be superficial and heal easily, bites are puncture wounds and are serious injuries for anyone, especially a young child.

Expectant or new parents who declaw their cats hoping that it will protect their children are, therefore, actually exposing them to much more serious injury. Children should be taught as early on as possible how to appropriately interact with the family cat, thus minimizing the occasions in which the cat may need to defend itself. It goes without saying that for the safety of both the child and the animal, young children should never be left unsupervised for any length of time with any kind of pet. Feline Network recommends that a family who decides to adopt a cat wait until the child is six years of age or older before doing so.

Misconception #6: My older cat needs a kitten to liven him up!

In general, adopting a kitten (6 months or younger) as a companion for an older cat (5 years or older) is not a good idea. A youngster has boundless energy, wants to play and run constantly, and requires very high amounts of interaction, all of which may overwhelm and irritate an older cat. Likewise, a kitten is apt to be frustrated that its companion does not have the same energy level as itself. This can lead to two very unhappy cats. Behavior problems such as litter box avoidance or destructive scratching can occur as one or both cats act out their frustrations on their surroundings. It is likely that the two will never have a close, bonded relationship, even after the kitten matures, since their experiences with one another from the beginning of the relationship may be negative. An older cat is better matched with a cat of its own age, that has a similar temperament. Likewise, kittens as a rule need other young cats to play with in order to be happy. If you insist on adding a kitten to a household that already has an older cat, at least get two. This way they will entertain one another and the older cat can participate, or not, depending on its mood.