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Cat Myths: Are Cats as Self-Sufficient as We Think?


A brown tabby cat sitting on a wooden chair.

In all my years of loving cats, one thing has always been clear: cats are deeply misunderstood. For self-proclaimed “cat haters,” the myth has always been that cats are cold. They prefer dogs’ over-the-top affection to the more subtle displays of cats. Even cat lovers fall victim to the common myth of cats being easy, low-maintenance pets who don’t need more than a perpetually full bowl of food, water, and a litter box. 


There are so many myths about cats, and the common thread often comes down to their independence. Either they’re perceived as cold or they’re seen as low-responsibility alternatives to dogs. The myth of cats’ self-sufficiency can sometimes lead to unintended neglect when owners underestimate the work it takes to create an environment where their cats can thrive. So let’s talk about some common cat myths and how we can unlearn them. 


Myth 1: Grooming

How often do you groom your cat? While it’s true that most short-haired cats require less coat care than dogs, all cats still need regular grooming and nail trims. Setting aside regular time to groom your cats’ fur and trim their nails is important to maintain their health, your furniture, and your relationship. 


Grooming

Regular grooming gives you an opportunity to spend quality time with your cat while keeping you aware of their health status. For most short-haired cats, you should only need to groom their coat 2-4 times per month. Longer-haired cats, however, require everyday grooming to prevent knots and matting. While you’re grooming your cat, be sure to look out for signs of health issues, like:


  • Sore patches

  • Wounds

  • Matted fur

  • Coat changes


Grooming sessions should be short, and lots of praise and treats should help your cat to form a positive association with grooming time. Similar to clicker training, grooming sessions should always end on a positive note


Grooming Tools

When choosing the tools for grooming your cat, it’s important to consider your cat’s unique needs. There are certain tools that work better for some fur types than others, so be sure to do some research and consider your cat’s coat. Some of the grooming brushes you might consider include:


  • Slicker Brushes: These are good for long coats, as they’re proficient in pulling out dead hair and breaking down mats. 

  • Grooming Mitts: These are good for shorter coats. They’re less heavy-duty than a slicker brush, but they still help to remove dead fur in shorter fur. 

  • Soft Bristle and Pin Brushes: These brush types are good for maintaining the condition of your cat’s coat by helping to distribute natural oils throughout their fur. 

  • De-matting Combs: These are specialized combs to be used in the case of matting. Instead of reaching for the scissors, which could risk cutting your cat’s skin, reach for these instead.


Nail Care

Many people think that cats are able to maintain their nails themselves by scratching on things, like scratching posts, but that’s not necessarily the case. Indoor cats, especially those who are older, run the risk of overgrown nails snagging on clothes, furniture, or even people! Some indoor cats’ nails can sometimes become so overgrown that they curl back and pierce the paw pads, causing infections. 


How Often Should You Trim Your Cat’s Nails?

Nail trim frequency depends on a number of factors, including age, activity level, and individual personality. Younger cats who use scratching posts frequently only need to have their nails trimmed every month or so, whereas older cats who aren’t as active may need their nails trimmed every 2-4 weeks. 


It’s best to get cats accustomed to nail trimmings as kittens, as this will make the process less foreign. However, if you’ve never trimmed your older cat’s nails, you can still acclimate them gradually. Begin by handling their paws regularly to get them used to the sensation, then conduct nail trimmings in short sessions. Similarly to grooming, treats and praise will be your best friend during this process. 


Myth 2: Free Feeding

Another low-maintenance cat myth is that cats should be free fed. Sure, you technically can just leave a bowl of food out for your cat to graze on throughout the day. But is this the best option for your cat’s mental and physical health? 


Cats are mesopredators, meaning they have both predator and prey instincts. In the wild, cats would naturally hunt for their food, but the cushy domesticated life doesn’t allow cats to perform many of their instinctual behaviors. So, the best we can do is to imitate through regular enrichment, and feeding is a big part of that.


While free feeding may be convenient, it does nothing to stimulate your cats’ natural instincts. What’s more, dry food has far less moisture than wet food, which leaves cats vulnerable to dehydration and kidney issues. To combat both of these issues, we recommend feeding cats a mixture of wet food meals interspersed with small dry food snacks throughout the day to simulate the way your cats would eat in the wild. You can use food puzzles and automatic feeders to make this process more convenient and enriching for your cat. 


Myth 3: alone time

Do cats like their personal space? Sure! Cats are a bit more independent than dogs. They don’t need humans to take them to potty, are content to spend time alone, and prefer interactions to be on their terms. It can be easy to make the leap that cats don’t really need tons of interaction to thrive, but this isn’t necessarily the case. 


It’s tempting to make the jump that, because cats are more independent than dogs, you’ve got the green light to leave your cat alone for a long weekend as long as they have food, water, and litter. However, extended periods without interaction can have serious implications on a cat’s mental, physical, and behavioral health. 


Despite popular notions, cats are highly social creatures who miss their owners when they’re gone. Their mental and physical health depends on enrichment and stimuli that largely comes from interactions with their favorite humans. Cats are also very dependent on consistent routine, and extended absences can be very disruptive to this essential need. Cats who spend frequent periods alone may develop depression, behavioral problems, or suffer health consequences from stress. 


With this in mind, be sure to book a pet sitter or enlist a close friend or family member the next time you have to leave your cat at home for an extended period. When leaving cats alone for shorter periods, make sure there is plenty of water, clean litter, and interactive toys available while you’re gone.


Wondering What Else You Might Have Missed?

There are lots of common myths about cats, and there’s plenty more to learn! If you’re interested in learning how to improve your cat’s life, you’ve found the right place. 


Jessica Bartlett is a UW-Certified animal behaviorist who offers virtual consultation services that are tailored to the unique needs of the clients she works with. Drawing on her certification in advanced feline training, Jessica helps her clients to speak their cat’s language, leading to more fulfilling cat-human relationships.


Check out Cat Lovers’ Academy to learn more about Jessica, meet her kitty family, take a look at her free purr-fessional resources, and access her cat behavior consulting services.

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