Recently Psychology Today had an article about cat myths…and the truth that exposes these stereotypes. It’s really good — except that it explains things from a human perspective. Here are those same myths, examined from a feline perspective, with a few added thoughts.
Myth: Cats Are Not Social With Each Other
Although this is false, in my human’s experience this has actually been the case! Most of the time when she’s had more than one cat, they were not particularly attached to each other. A couple of times, they even actively disliked each other. But the truth is that cats are as diverse as people when it comes to how social they are with their own species. It really does depend on circumstances and background.
If a cat grew up with a family of other kittens and a mom, they are more likely to be social. The least social cats my human had (Binga, and Harlot, her heart cat from her days as a music journalist) were found as single kittens and became more attached to people than other cats. As for me, I actually don’t like other cats unless they are family. Which is why I like the peach kitty and would probably be friendly with his siblings, if they were friendly back. They grew up right outside my back door so they are family! And of course the peach kitty is quite social to other cats because he’s used to being around a colony of them.
So the truth is that every cat needs to be assessed on their own to see how social they are with other cats. Some need a pal or they will get into trouble. Some would loathe having another cat on their territory!
Myth: Cats Do Not Need to Interact Much With People
People who expect cats to slavishly beg for human company the way dogs do will naturally believe that cats are unemotional and aloof. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Think of your cat as that quiet friend. The one who never says much, but is always there when you need them. The ones who don’t make a big deal about their loyalty. A friend who never asks for anything, but actually needs you there for them too.
Of course there are the loud ones too — the talkative ones who constantly want you to know they are there. And the needy ones who stick to you like glue. But most cats don’t demand attention very often. Even when they love the people they live with. But the need is there, and the signals are way more subtle than anything you’d get from a dog.
Cats actually need lots of interaction with their humans. If they don’t get it, they become bored and depressed. Sometimes they will act out and become destructive. A lot of what is perceived as bad cat behavior is caused by being love starved and ignored.
Myth: Cats Are Low Maintenance Pets
This is possibly the cruelest myth of all. Anyone who assumes that you just bring a cat home, fill their bowl with dry food, and set a litter box in a convenient (to humans) out of the way place, is doing a huge disservice to the living creature who is now sharing their home.
A cat needs an environment that supports them to thrive and be happy. That environment should include:
- Perches to give them privacy, space, and a large view of their surroundings.
- Scratching surfaces to fulfill their need to stretch, exercise their paws and limbs, and mark their territory with their paws and claws.
- Play sessions that stimulate their prey instinct and let them interact with their human companions.
- Comfy and quiet spots to nap. Some of these should include window views.
- Litter boxes that are in spots that are safe and easy for them to access.
- A quality diet that keeps them healthy and fit.
All that’s just a start. Layer on things like harness and leash training, fun sessions teaching them to do tricks, and making sure they are part of the family. Those are all necessities too. Does this sound low maintenance? Nope! Does it sound rewarding? Yep!
Myth: Cats Don’t Need Socialization
The whole reason people think cats are stand offish and don’t like people is precisely because nobody paid attention to their socialization!
Think about dogs, and how much attention is paid to their socialization. The investment in time to teach them how to walk on a leash and taking them to dog parks so they can run free. The money investment of doggy daycare and classes. What if the dog doesn’t get any of this? They develop all sorts of bad behaviors and make problematic pets.
You can’t expect cats to socialize themselves either. Cat socialization is more complicated than dogs, partly because no standards have been developed, and partly because each cat’s needs are so unique.
The more that we cats are studied, the more researchers learn that early encounters with humans, other cats, and changing surroundings will make them better companions. My human didn’t need researchers to tell her this. I’m proof. I learned early on to be handled by lots of different people, to be groomed and have my claws clipped, and to accept new situations away from home. This started before she even met me. While not all cats wind up being as outgoing as me, this type of socialization still helps them have happier lives with the families that adopt them. And a few of us, with the right people, can be therapy cats!
Myth: Cats Can’t Be Trained
That is a big laugh! I know a lot of tricks, and I love my training sessions. So does my human. It’s part of our fun bonding time, and I usually purr through the whole session.
Training cats is different from training dogs. Sessions need to be short and frequent, and while you use both treats and praise, cats generally like the treat part a little (or a lot!) better. While humans have more control over dogs, cats need to be trained on their own terms completely. You can’t make a cat do things. Find their strengths and lean into those for the tricks they’ll learn the best.
You know who is hard to train? Humans! They get impatient and give up quickly. So sometimes they aren’t very good at training cats (or dogs either). So if you want to train a kitty, be persistent, develop some patience, and remember it’s always supposed to be fun, even if everything goes wrong. The pleasure is in the process, and the time spent with your cat is its own reward.
While I bet lots of you knew these were myths already, I hope you got a little something extra out of my explanations! If you have anything to add, let me know in the comments.
Here is more useful information about living with cats:
- Are Cats Low Maintenance? The Truth
- Why Cats Are More Social Than You May Think
- Scientists Finally Figure Out Cats Respond to Slow Blinking (Plus Tips)