5 Myths about cat behaviour

5 myths about cat behaviour

Magnificent Kitty. Photo: Elaine Fuller

Cats are ‘aloof’. They ‘don’t listen’ and ‘cannot be trained.’ Cats are ‘destructive.’ I am ‘notacatperson.’  There are a plethora of reasons that people determine not to like cats…but are any of these reasons valid?  Moreover, do cats live up to the reputation that some have ascribed to them?

Carolyn Kocman is a graduate student in companion animal behaviour analysis  and counselling at the American College of Applied Science.  Carolyn investigates whether there is any truth in the oft held belief that cats are ‘unfriendly’ and cites the many reasons for dispelling the myth. She uncovers the 5 myths about cat behaviour. 

Domesticated cats display as many personality characteristics as people do. While there are cats that are more independent and less likely to ‘listen’, there are many that will cuddle up on their owners’ laps and enjoy the attention.

It’s time to dispel the 5 myths about cat behaviour.  In an effort to understand the feline better, it is essential to separate fact from fiction. Some of the myths surrounding cats need to be dispelled and replaced with a correct understanding of feline behaviour.

Myth #1: Cats Are ‘Unfriendly’ and ‘Aloof’

The domesticated feline carries the traits of its ancestors.  Cats maintain the need to hide and to view their surroundings from above.  These behaviours are not an effort to be aloof or unfriendly, but rather are instinctual.  Being in a high position or in a place of hiding provides a comfort level for the cat and is not only natural, but healthy for the cat.

Contrary to this myth, many cats enjoy the company of their humans.  The cat that is left alone may be a cat that exhibits signs of stress.  Interacting with a cat on a regular basis is actually essential for her well-being.  Feeding, playing, cuddling, and walking are all essential components to connecting with your cat.

Myth #2: Cats Are ‘Mean’ (aggressive)

If your cat is playful and you find that you are suddenly being shredded, you may be misunderstanding cat play.  Cats are predators.  Cats will mimic hunting behaviours in play.  Play behaviours are necessary for kittens to learn how to catch prey.  Thus, it is important to use actual toys in play – as opposed to your hands.

If your cat cannot take much petting from you without an ‘attack’, it is not about being mean, per se.  Know your cat’s limits and don’t exceed them. It’s not that he wants to be mean.  It’s just about having sensory overload.

Myth #3: Cats ‘Cannot Be Trained’

There is nothing farther from the truth.  Most indoor domesticated cats begin their life with humans teaching them to eliminate in a litter box. Of course they can be trained!

Like dogs, the best way to train a cat is through positive reinforcement.  If your cat is not responding to your calling her name, pair the call with the sound of the can opening for her dinner. Using a treat to reinforce sitting behaviours for a cat will result in a cat being able to sit on command.

Myth #4: Cats Are ‘Destructive’

Well…cats can be destructive, that is true.  However, scratching is a behaviour issue that is very natural and can be controlled for and corrected.  Cats scratch for several reasons.  Cats use their claws to deposit scent.  This means that when a cat feels the need to define his territory, he will seek upright areas on which to deposit his scent through scratching.  Cats also need to groom their claws.  This involves scratching as well.  Thus, scratching posts and emery scratchers are essential in the cat friendly home.

Destruction is often the term given to a cat that eliminates outside of the litter box.  While there are a variety of reasons for litter box problems, including stress or anxiety, it is important to understand that cats are clean animals. The importance of keeping a litter box clean cannot be overstated.

Myth #5: Cats Don’t Get Along With…(other cats, dogs, kids, etc.)

The truth here is that cats need to make positive associations with other creatures – human, feline, canine, or other. Positive associations can always be encouraged with food and play. Cats need to feel safe.  Give a cat plenty of space to get above the situation and observe from afar.  Make sure the cat has plenty of territory to explore and enjoy without threat and you will have a cat that is well-adjusted.

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5 myths about cat behaviour is from the article (Notacatperson – Carolyn Kocman investigates whether there is any truth in the oft held belief that cats are ‘unfriendly’ and cites the many reasons for dispelling the myth) was first published in BARKS from the Guild, the official trade publication of the Pet Professional Guild, on September/2016 (pages 44-46).