Would Your Cat Choose You Over Its Food?

The stereotype of cats as aloof and indifferent is among many feline myths.

By Liz Langley
Published 20 May 2018, 10:00 BST
A saucer of milk is not a good choice for your kitty's diet, experts say.
A saucer of milk is not a good choice for your kitty's diet, experts say.
Photograph by Al Petteway and Amy White, National Geographic Creative

Cats are huge internet celebrities, so of course there are rumours about them.

Today we’re debunking the feline mystique, from their notorious independence to their tendency to go outside the box.

Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet?

Nope. Cats can definitely get injured from falls, but there’s a literal twist that may be what gives them this reputation.

When cats fall, a mechanism in their inner ear causes their head, neck, and backbone to rotate into a position that will help them land on their feet.

Should They Drink a Saucer of Milk?

Cats may love cream, but cream doesn’t love cats.

“They are really carnivores, and don’t break down lactose” very well, says Kelly Ballyntyne, clinical assistant professor at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine.

A little cheese or yogurt is okay if you're training your kitty, but it’s better to “focus on cooked meat.” Speaking of...

Can You Train a Cat?

You can. You just have to find the right bribe.

Your cat’s preference for “a food treat, favourite toy, or human interaction” as a reward is key, says Kristyn Vitale, doctoral candidate at Oregon State University.

After all, if we “got paid in corn, we would stop going to work pretty fast,” Vitale quips.

Ballyntine suggests keeping training sessions short—less than a minute at first. As the pets start to have more fun, they may want to engage longer.

Fixed Cats Don’t Spray … Right?

Spaying and neutering can reduce spraying by almost 90 percent, but even if fixed, cats of both sexes can spray.

"Urine marking is a normal feline behaviour,” Terry Curtis, a clinical behaviourist at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Are They Mad If They Pee Outside the Litter Box?

Peeing outside the box is, no pun intended, the number one behaviour that causes owners to relinquish cats to shelters.

The good news is that usually "house soiling in cats is very responsive to treatment,” Ballyntine says.

See How Cats Revived this Ex-Coal Town's Economy

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First rule out a medical issue with your vet. If the animal is physically fine, it could be the litter box itself, such as its cleanliness, location, or association with an upsetting event.

Whatever the reason, the behaviour stems more from fright than spite, and it may take some patience to figure out the problem.

Do Cats Want to be Alone?

Calling all cats aloof is too broad an assumption, says Vitale.

Like us, some felines are very social, and some aren’t. There's also a fluidity between these states depending on the animal's environment and upbringing.

“If you do not think your cat is social, you may not interact with your cat very much, and this may in turn make the cat less social, because it is never given the opportunity to interact.”

In a 2017 study, for instance, Vitale and colleagues found that most cats “preferred interacting with an unfamiliar human over eating their favourite treat, playing with their favourite toy, or smelling their favourite scent.”

Not to mention many cats suffer from an unfair but inescapable comparison—who doesn’t look aloof next to the family dog?

Have a question about the weird and wild world? Tweet me or find me on Facebook. Weird Animal Question of the Week answers your questions every Saturday.

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