Cats have had a bumpy ride throughout history and have often been maligned. Here are 8 myths about cats -- and the real truth.
TRUTH: Most people believe that a little catnip will turn a bored house cat into a drug-crazed feline, but it turns out that only 50 percent of all cats are susceptible to catnip's charms. The active ingredient in catnip is an essential oil called nepetalactone, which is found in the leaves and stems of the plant. When a cat sniffs the leaves of the plant, the animal experiences a hallucinogenic "high" that can last for 10 minutes. Interestingly, if the cat swallows the catnip, it acts as a sedative, making the cat sleepy and calm. But remember, being attracted to catnip is an inherited trait, so there's an even chance your cat won't react to the plant.
TRUTH: One of the most common misconceptions about cats is that they should be given milk. The fact is that many cats are lactose-intolerant and giving them a warm saucer of milk will likely cause your cat to have terrible diarrhea. Cats only require milk from their mother while they are nursing. Once they are weaned, water should replace milk as their liquid nourishment. If you need to feed a tiny, orphaned kitty, always use specially prepared kitten formula from your veterinarian.
TRUTH: This myth could be partly true. The truth is, no one really knows why cats purr, but because they frequently purr during times of stress -- often as they are dying -- it is likely there is another reason other than contentment. Some researchers have found that the pattern and frequency of purring might actually help improve bone density and promote healing. It is also believed to be a method of communication between cats as well as between cats and their owners.
TRUTH: Most calico and tortoiseshell cats are indeed female. That's because the tricolor coat pattern is carried by the X chromosome, which greatly reduces the possibility of a male calico being born. However, male calico cats do occur in very small numbers (1 in 3,000 kittens) and are usually sterile. Calico cats, often nicknamed "money cats," are also believed to bring good luck to their owners.
TRUTH: Due to cats' flexible backbones and skeletons, they can usually right themselves if they happen to fall or jump from high places. However, if they are dropped short distances (under 12 feet), they often cannot right themselves before hitting the ground. And, if a cat falls from a really tall building, the chances are that even if the cat does right itself, the fall will hurt or kill the animal.
TRUTH: Pet cats, if allowed to roam free, eagerly kill and eat songbirds and small wild creatures. For many cat owners, the solution has been to put a bell on their kitty's collar to alert the prey that a cat is coming. However, it has been discovered that belled cats can actually become more effective hunters as they improve their stalking behavior to avoid detection. The best way to protect backyard birds is to keep your cat indoors.
TRUTH: Sadly, you often see classified ads offering "Free Cat, Baby on the Way." The truth is that pregnant mothers can still love and enjoy their feline friends as long as they take precautions emptying the litter box. Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease spread through cat feces and litter. It can cause serious neurologic diseases. While a woman is pregnant, it's best to have someone else empty the litter box. Or, if that's not possible, the pregnant owner should always use disposable latex gloves when changing the litter. It's also smart to wash hands thoroughly after changing the litter as an extra precaution.
Learn more about toxoplasmosis.
TRUTH: Too often, animal shelter workers receive loving pets from expectant parents because they fear their beloved cat will be dangerous to have around a new infant and will smother the baby in its sleep. This old wives' tale probably got its start in the Middle Ages when people believed that a cat could steal a baby's soul. Rest assured: There has never been a recorded death of a newborn being smothered by a cat. In fact, most cats steer clear of loud, crying infants. However, as with all pets, cats should be introduced to a new baby gradually and never be left unattended with the child.