Introduction: I have specified “domestic cats” in the title for a reason. Domestic cats have different characters to their wildcat ancestors. Although there is an overlap and great similarities, with respect to the topics in this article there are differences which you can pick up in the 10-point list below.
- Domestic cats are solitary animals. The domestic cat’s wildcat ancestor (N. African wildcat) is pretty solitary, I agree. But the domestic cat has learned to be quite sociable for the obvious reason that he or she lives in a human home where, often, there’s lots going on and where there may be other cats and dogs. It’s a question of adapting to the environment. Cats are good at that. In over 10,000 years of domestication, I think we can call them quite sociable given the opportunity. And breeders create sociable cats. It is their job. It is called socialisation.
- Domestic cats don’t like other cats. This is complete baloney, of course, because we very often see domestic cats being friendly with other cats. There can be ‘chemistry’ between cats and cats and people. It’s part of the sociability of the domestic cat and their socialisation. Although, the domestic cat still has his or her home territory and if a strange cat encroaches upon it, they might chase them away. There may be a fight. So, like people, domestic cats can have friends and they can have perceived enemies. As for the wild cats, we see lion prides in which there is cooperation but we also see solitary wild cat species, which are more typical, such as the jungle cat or the clouded leopard et cetera.
- You should give your cat milk. By “milk” people normally refer to cows’ milk. Domestic cats, to varying degrees, are lactose intolerant as are many people. This means they can’t digest cows’ milk. It can cause diarrhoea in some cats. In people it can cause bloating and sometimes it causes sinusitis in people. The point is that you shouldn’t give your cat cows’ milk. Give him or her water or one of those specialist commercially manufactured milks.
- Domestic cats are nocturnal. Domestic cats tend to want to hunt during the early morning and at dusk at night (crepuscular activity) because that’s when prey animals are active. But domestic cats can be active in the daytime and throughout the night as well. It is hard to describe them as nocturnal. They are not in my opinion. My cat is certainly active throughout the night and also during the daytime but he would regard the hours between about 10 AM and 5 PM in the summer as his time to sleep. In human terms this is his nighttime.
- Cats can see in complete darkness. Cats cannot see in complete darkness and that applies to both domestic and wild cats as there is no light whatsoever. They can see better than humans in subdued light and near darkness because they have a reflective layer (Tapetum lucidum), as you know, behind the retina which boosts the amount of light impinging on the retina. That’s why their eyes glow brightly when you shine a torch or a car headlamp into their eyes at 90° (perpendicular to the eye). The light is reflected directly back out through the lens and cornea and it normally looks green.
- Cats only purr when they are happy. We know now that this is not true. Cats do purr when they are happy but they also purr when they need reassurance and the desire to be comforted because they are in a stressful situation, even a situation that will prove fatal such as on a veterinarian’s consultation table about to be euthanised. It is hard to find a universal reason for purring but it might be a signal indicating a need for friendship and a thank you for friendship given.
- Cats have 9 lives. Cats have no more lives than any other animal i.e. 1! But many years ago, people were amazed by the ability of the domestic cat to survive. People still are amazed and they are still great survivors. This gave the impression that they had 9 lives or many lives. The number 9 in that saying is said to come from the belief that in ancient times the number 9 was a particularly lucky number. This is because it was a “trinity of trinities’ and therefore ideally suited to the ‘lucky cat’.
- Cats are aloof and unloving. Completely wrong I am afraid! Of course, it depends on who is living with them but in the right relationship in which the cat and human have a close bond, cats are incredibly loving. They are also far more reliable, consistent and persistent than people!
- Cats hate water. The tiger loves water as does the jaguar. The lion is less keen on water. The domestic cat does not hate water. This is an individual cat thing. Some cats dislike water more than others. Indeed, some purebred cats such as the Savannah and the Bengal cat are said to actually like water and join their owners in the shower. This is a reflection of their wild cat hybrid character. In general, the wild cat species like water because a lot of prey animals are found in and around water. The fishing cat, for example, does what it says on the tin: they wade into water to pull fish out. The flat-headed cat has a similar liking of water. Domestic cats tend to stay indoors when it’s raining. But not always. My cat goes out in the light rain sometimes.
- Black cats are unlucky. This is, as we know, a superstition which goes back a long way perhaps to the era of witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Black cats were seen as the incarnation of the devil and they used to live with witches as their familiars. misogynistically witches were always women. It is all a lot of mumbo jumbo. Unfortunately, this form of mumbo-jumbo is believed, even today, in certain countries. Many citizens of Africa still have a highly superstitious attitude towards cats both black and with other coats. A lot of people in the West and in developed countries are also still inherently very superstitious and the domestic and unhomed cat seems to be the brunt of this superstition. Ignore it completely as it is pure, mischievous rubbish. It leads to a lot of cat abuse.
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