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Cats: The Domestic Animal People Love To Hate

Yes cat-lovers, you read that right – people hate cats.

I’d intended for my next blog post to be about cat behavior which, I will get to, but first wanted to discuss the subject of humans love-hate relationship with cats. This post, which was intended but not yet ready to be written was perfectly prompted and put into action by a comment on facebook today in which the author mentioned he hates cats. An image of my gentle, sweet, harmless, overly affectionate, cuddly, purring cats (all 4 of them) came to mind as I heard myself blurt out “Hate?? What could possibly make someone HATE cats?”

Okay cat lovers, let’s give those haters a break. Some people, including some friends of mine are severely allergic to cats. So much so that exposure to them can land them in the hospital or on heavy medication for weeks until they feel better. Some people have just had bad experiences with them. I myself was scratched and bitten by one of the first cats I met as a child. And some people have never actually met enough cats to know them but hate them based on the stereotypes of cats.

I was never a “cat person” per se. I didn’t hate them but just didn’t know them or understand them. I had heard the typical anti-cat-isms about how cats were independent, snobby, nasty, mean, had minds of their own, never listened, didn’t come when called and the superstitious comments about cats being bad luck. Having never had cats of my own or developed any relationships with any, I hadn’t yet formed my own opinion of them. Until seven years ago.

I’ve spent my life with cats now for many years. I’ve gotten to know them. I’ve gotten to understand them and I’ve made a point of learning about their behavior just as I have about my dogs. I find it only fair that living with animals I do my best to understand them as animals so as not to misinterpret their behavior from a perspective of human behavior. I now know the reason that cat scratched and bit me long ago. I was, as children often unknowingly do, agitating him with my poking and prodding and not taking the cues from him that he wanted me to stop. Don’t you tell someone when enough is enough? Fortunately for humans we have speech. Unfortunately for animals they only have body language and species appropriate vocalizations that most humans can’t understand unless we make it a point to learn about them – and unfortunately for animals, we often don’t.

Cats seem to illicit more negative feelings than any other furry pet. I rarely hear the average person say they hate dogs. But why is it people feel this strongly about cats? I asked a few people and amongst the answers were allergies, disease transmission, indifferent cat personalities and some thought cats were downright nasty. The statistics show that there are  10 million more cats kept as pets than dogs in the United States so there are quite a lot of people loving cats as well. So is the hatred justified?

Cat Transmitted Diseases

The statistics also show that there aren’t a whole lot of people dropping off due to toxoplasmosis and cat scratch fever. Somehow, us crazy cat-lovers seem to be surviving despite our cohabitation with these dangerous creatures. According to the Center for Disease Control and the Humane Society of the US: “Current evidence supports the fact that pet cats pose a minimal zoonotic risk to their human companions. Cats kept indoors are exposed to fewer diseases that can be transmitted to humans. Your risk may be slightly higher if you have a compromised immune system from disease or medications”

Toxoplasmosis The reason indoor cats pose even less of a threat is because “cats acquire Toxoplasmosis by eating rodents, undercooked meat, the feces of other cats, or contaminated soil. Cats can acquire the infection easily if they are allowed to hunt or are fed raw or undercooked meat.” Interestingly and not often realized is that up to 80% of the urban population is exposed to toxoplasmosis but most of us have become naturally immune – especially if we have or are exposed to cats on a regular basis. So pregnant moms – don’t be scared into giving up your cat – you’ve already got the antibodies and if push comes to shove you can ask your spouse or other family member to take care of the litterbox!

Cat Scratch Fever Cat scratch fever sounds pretty scary. The irony is that it isn’t actually a disease caused by cats but rather by fleas, which outdoor cats are most likely to carry. According to The Marvista Animal Medical Center “Most people still know very little about this infection other than it involves a fever spread by cat scratches. In fact, it involves infection by a bacterium called “Bartonella henselae” which is spread by fleas. Classically, cats transmit the organism when they are parasitized by fleas, scratch themselves, and get infected flea dirt (digested host’s blood excreted by fleas) in their claws, and scratch a person (or another cat) with their dirty claws.”

Allergies If you’re allergic –  aversion and avoidance are completely understandable. Some may choose to avoid them altogether. However, I’ve known quite a few people allergic both to cats and dogs whose desire to live with them overrules their allergic symptoms. Through a system of management they are able to coexist comfortably. So to help those of you who may be exposed to or would like to be able to interact with the wonderful feline species here are some helpful tips for both cat and dog allergies that can help to create a more harmonious world between animals and allergic humans:

The Cat Personality Cat personalities vary as much as those of humans. Some, who have not been handled or socialized may be unfriendly and others who have been well socialized and loved can be incredibly affectionate and friendly. Breed can determine to some degree what kind of personality a cat will have as some breeds tend to be more affectionate than others. Breed, however, is certainly not the rule for every cat and there are many exceptions. Cats can be more independent in the sense that they may not require as much caretaking or attention as other companion animals. Some cats can also be more content on their own than other animals but this by no means makes the entire species anti-social introverts. In fact, many are quite the opposite.

In my personal experience caring for cats – both mine and other people’s cats – I have experienced some cats that are solitary or bonded only to their particular humans. Some are unfriendly or don’t want to be pet but this is usually out of fear or apprehension and sometimes there are cats who just prefer to keep to themselves. The majority, however, have been quite the opposite of their stereotype – including the 4 I have shared my life with. My first cat shocked me by breaking the stereotype I’d heard of cats all my life. He walked into my home, nuzzled my dogs the instant he met them, snuggled up on my lap and in my arms, slept right beside me purring every night. He came when I called him, answered me when I spoke to him and greeted my by the door whenever I came home. He was a gem, but he certainly wasn’t unique. I’ve had other cats since who have also shared his affection for humans and our company. Many of my clients cats who don’t know me well even greet me at the door and solicit affection when I visit. One or two cats have scratched or bitten me out of fear or nervousness and this occurrence is rare given how many cats I care for. Some were afraid when I had to medicate them, some give “love bites” during play or bit me because I wasn’t giving them food fast enough. None of these resulted in any disease or severe injuries though one cat gave me a pretty good scratch years ago that I can still see on my left hand – I was, however, bathing him at the time.

The concept many people have about cats being intentionally mean or spiteful is factually impossible since animals do not possess malice. That is something our species has the market cornered on. Animals act out as they do as a result of fear, intimidation, anxiety, stress, pain or negative associations. Animals are not human and will therefore always behave as animals, so it behooves those of us who share our lives with them to understand them for who and what they are. Projecting our images and assumptions upon them only serves to hurt them and damage our relationship with them.

Cat Behavior There are some interesting cat behaviors you may not have been aware of even as a cat owner. The list is incredibly long and too much to explain here but for more reference, one of my favorite books that helped me learn about my cats is How To Talk To Your Cat by Claire Bessant. In it, the author explains some of the following:

"Whiskers and hairs on the cats body help provide detailed information on the cat’s surroundingsCats have extreme sound sensitivity even higher than dogsCats use their sense of smell to read the scents of other animals and humans but not for huntingWhen you pet a cat and it stands on it’s hind toes and lifts it’s tail into the air, it is an effort to raise their scent glands as an invitation to investigate themCats rub their faces on things to leave the scent from their facial scent glandsEyes, ears and tails are indicators of how a cat is feeling – dilated pupils can indicate fear or excitement, flattened ears can indicate fear while ears turned back can indicate annoyance, tail high and relaxed almost in a question mark shape is a sign of a friendly greeting while a fast swishing tail can be a sign of annoyance or anger.Purring is a friendly sound that indicates comfort, security and reassurance but can also be heard in cats that are in pain to self soothe.There are a variety of “meows” a cat produces and each vocalization means something differentWhen cats “knead” our laps or something they are sitting on they are reverting to a behavior that goes back to the kitten’s suckling period when kneading on their mother stimulated milk flow during nursing. It is a behavior that indicates in adult cats that they are sufficiently secure and content to relax and become kittens on our laps."

To those of you who love cats – there is so much to learn about them and undoubtedly you already know the benefits of living with a feline companion. The joy I have derived from their company is boundless. I have heartwarming memories of my first cat and enjoy immensely, the company of those I live with now as they run to greet me when I come to the door, speak to me when I come in, look for affection and petting and knead their paws on my lap or make happy sounds at my presence. Though those unaware may be blind to their gestures of love – I am well in tune with and fortunate enough to enjoy what I now understand about my cats.

To those of you who have an aversion to cats as a result of your inexperience or perhaps misinformation about them – give them a chance. You’d be hard pressed to hold back your laughter at their antics, your desire to pet them when they want nothing but to mush all over you and have a hard time not feeling the relaxation and lowering of blood pressure that a purring cat cuddled up against you can bring. Animals are a different species and therefore speak a very different language – when you get to know them, understand their language you may find that what you thought was indifference was actually curiosity and what you understood through human eyes as unfriendliness was actually a ploy for your attention, your affection and your friendship. =^..^=

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