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Common Cat Health Myths -- Debunked!

By Elizabeth Wasserman

Common Cat Health Myths -- Debunked!

Lots of fibs have been told about felines through the ages. For example, consider the popular notion that it’s supposedly healthy for cats to drink cow’s milk.

The truth is that most cats are lactose intolerant and can’t break down the sugars in milk, says Joseph Wakshlag, DMV, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Kittens will -- and should -- drink the milk from mother cats. But once they are weaned, other milks, such as cow’s milk, are not recommended for feline diets. “Much like (some) humans, cats don’t have the enzymes to break down lactose,” Dr. Wakshlag says. “Evolutionarily, it’s not part of what cats need in terms of nutrition.” Furthermore, he adds, it can add fuel to the fire if a cat already has an upset stomach. “It’s the last thing you want to give a cat with a GI disturbance,” he says.

As with most popular myths, there’s usually some grain of truth. Over the years, farmers would sometimes put out saucers of milk for kittens. However, it would be a supplement to a meat-and-tissue diet, since the cats would catch mice in the barn, Dr. Wakshlag points out.

The spreading of myths about feline health is akin to a game of “telephone” in which someone says something and others pass it on and on. “They’re just like urban legends,” says Arden Moore, author of The Cat Behavior Answer Book (Storey 2007) and editor of Catnip magazine. “No one bothers to figure out if it’s fact or fiction,” Moore says. “They figure, ‘I’ve heard that. It must be true.’”

Sometimes the myths are harmless, such as the common belief that cats are aloof creatures -- perpetuated by such fictional characters as the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. But sometimes the tall tales can cause harm. When the myths deal with feline health and nutrition, owners like you need to take extra steps to verify what you might have read on the Internet or heard from your grandparents.

Fact or Fiction?
Here are common assumptions to help you test your cat-telligence:

Cats Always Land on Their Feet
Fact: Cats do have a “superior righting reflex” and a flexible spine. They can instinctively fall feet first, but they may also end up with broken bones from a fall, says Moore. She advises owners to check screens on windows and ledges to prevent cats from falling from high buildings.

Spaying or Neutering Will Cause a Cat to Gain Weight
Fiction: There is little scientific evidence tying the act of spaying or neutering to weight gain. The primary reason that cats gain weight is inactivity, which is more prevalent in housebound felines, Wakshlag says. However, the fact that Tomcat is no longer on the prowl -- looking for love, so to speak -- may reduce its overall activity level.

Pregnant Women Shouldn’t Own Cats
Fact: It is true that some cats are infected with a disease called toxoplasmosis. It’s possible for this disease to spread to humans through contact with cat litter boxes, thereby harming unborn babies. However, says Wakshlag, pregnant mothers can avoid handling cat litter. They can make sure to wash their hands thoroughly and keep them away from their mouth if they come into contact with cat waste.

Cats are Nocturnal
Fiction: Even though they have keen eyesight, cats cannot see in total darkness, according to Moore. The truth is that cats are most active in the early morning or early evening. “In the wild, cats did most of their hunting at dawn and dusk,” Moore says.

Garlic on Food Will Keep Fleas and Worms Away
Fiction: Garlic and onion have the potential to cause anemic conditions in cats, says Wakshlag. To date, no one has ever been able to prove that garlic will keep worms or fleas away.

Debunking Cat Myths
Your best bet is to exercise caution before trying out old wives’ tales on kitty. Ask your veterinarian about any myths that you’ve heard, or check out reputable cat health and research websites, such as the ones run by the Morris Animal Foundation or the Winn Feline Foundation. There is also a website run by the American Association of Feline Practitioners for veterinarians with a specialty in feline medicine. Catnip magazine, sponsored and reviewed by experts at Tufts University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, also has content available online.

Few, however, have addressed what is perhaps the most common cat myth query of all time -- do felines have nine lives?

“They have but one, although they seem to be able to get themselves out of trouble quite often,” Moore says. “We only wish that they had nine lives.”

Elizabeth Wassermana Washington, D.C., area-based freelancer, has been writing about pets, among other topics, for more than 15 years. Her love of dogs, in particular, was handed down through the generations from her great-grandfather, Eric Knight, who wrote the book Lassie Come Home in the 1930s.


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Posted on April 2, 2008

bill force says: Five years ago, my wife and I have took in a feral cat family. Mom,3 babies (Now grown.) They live with us, love each other and are devoted to their mom. We live in rural Charleston, Illinois, and every day I call them to go out, and they come running, but never stray from the property. And I never leave them alone. I tell them when it's time to come in, and they come running to the front door. Rachel's got my ear as I write giving it a combination of head buts and ticklish kisses. They're a joy to have around. Bill Force

Posted on May 4, 2008

Fran says: Everyone in my family has always had cats, even when pregnant. I have 5 sisters all with children of their own, with cats, cousins and other realtic=ves and friends who have always had cats. I think pregnant woman should just be warned of the litter box issues, not told to not have cats! With all the homeless put to death each day, we owe them that! With the right precautions, cleaning litter boxes while pregnant is no problem.

Posted on July 11, 2008

Lisa says: hello,have you ever heard of a cat leaving their home before they pass away and going somewhere else to die?

Posted on July 21, 2008

Rob H says: The primary causes of lactointolerance are commercially raised dairy cows, combined with pasteurization /homogenation. Lactointolerant people (like myself) or pets have little to no trouble with organic raw milk.

Posted on July 21, 2008

Rob H Vitality Science says: The primary cause is lack of proper nutrition. Lazy cat owners who began supplementing their cats diet with SBOs report that their cat is frisky again. When the GI tract does not get a steady supply of SBOs, overtime its ability to assimilate digested food (where energy comes from) is compromised. The lack of nutrient uptake causes the cat to conserve energy.

Posted on December 21, 2011

fern says: I've had cats since birth. I have a pic of me at 6 months in my crib lauging my head off with my cat Michie sittingg on top of me (he probably wasn't too thrilled with the new occupant). I hate that cat people are thought of as spinster, hoarding, whack jobs.

Posted on March 22, 2008

Pat says: Hello, We would like to have permission to print some of the "Daily Cat" articles in our Newsletter "Pet Tails" which we send to our adopters quarterly. Thanks for a great website with a lot of helpful information about cats! Pat Ferrucci Secretary P.A.L.S. Pet Adoption & Lifecare Society Animal Rescue in the Greater Philadelphia Area 610-586-7257 All volunteer / No-Kill

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