Cats have been domesticated for thousands of years, but there are many popular myths that can hinder the care of these animals. In many cultures, including those of Russia, Japan and ancient Egypt, cats have been revered, or seen as all-knowing and good luck. Unfortunately, this reverence has led to modern beliefs that cats can take care of themselves, groom themselves and even prefer to be left alone. Several local professionals who care for cats say these beliefs could not be further from the truth.
Dr. Minta Keyes, DVM, the owner of Cat Hospital of Tucson, says that some cat owners believe that their pets don’t need regular veterinary care because cats will often appear healthy even when they aren’t. “Cats, by nature, are little carnivores. They have evolved to not look weak or sickly, which allows illnesses to build up over time,” explains Keyes. “Owners may think that their cat is just getting old and losing weight, but they might actually have diabetes or hyperthyroidism, or a variety of other diseases.” Regular veterinary care can also prevent rabies, via vaccinations, and help owners remedy any issues that cats may be having with elimination outside of the litter box.
Another common misconception regarding cats is that they are capable of cleaning themselves. Gabi Tiefenbrunn, owner of Gabi Kat Grooming, is a feline master groomer certified by the National Cat Groomers Institute of America, whose mobile grooming business exposes her to a variety of cat hygiene issues.
“Cats lick themselves,” says Tiefenbrunn. “If you lick your hair, you don’t get it clean. Cats are very greasy, and the grease is heavy, like Crisco.” Removing the grease gets rid of the underlying cause of tangles, matting and pelting, as well as removing dust and litter. Contrary to the belief that cats don’t like baths, Tiefenbrunn has found that many of her furry clients love to be touched and massaged and they are happier when they are clean. Regular grooming has also allowed Tiefenbrunn to find lesions and abrasions that owners may not have seen, which they can then bring to the attention of their veterinarian.
Believing that cats can fend for themselves in nature has led to the mistaken belief that cats seen wandering through neighborhoods either have a home or don’t need one. In the desert, wandering cats can become prey to animals such as coyotes, be bitten by snakes, become malnourished, contract salmonella from eating lizards, or simply procreate and exacerbate the feral cat problem. Stray cats are lost or abandoned pets, while feral cats are “wild” cats that have had little or no contact with humans.
Misguided good Samaritans may put out food and water for loose cats, but according to Petra Gearhart, board president of PAWSitively Cats No-Kill Shelter, and Lee Bucyk, executive director of Hermitage Cat Shelter, using a humane trap and taking the cats to a veterinary office to be neutered is imperative to ending the epidemic of feral felines. “There is a nationwide movement to trap, neuter, vaccinate, and return [feral] cats to where they were found,” says Gearhart. “Community cats used to be trapped and turned over to local county shelters, and then they would be euthanized because they weren’t adoptable, social cats.” While both PAWSitively Cats and Hermitage are no-kill shelters where non-adoptable cats are allowed to live out their lives, they also have cats available for adoption.
“Many people think cats can’t be trained, or they won’t be affectionate, or that they are aloof and like to be alone,” says Bucyk. “Cats can be loving and cuddly and make wonderful companions.”
For more information:
Minta Keyes, DVM, owner of Cat Hospital of Tucson — www.catvettucson.com, 546-2086
Gabi Tiefenbrunn, owner of Gabi Kat Grooming, LLC — www.gabikat.com, 403-5910
PAWSitively Cats No-Kill Shelter — www.pawsitivelycats.org, 289-2747
Hermitage Cat Shelter — www.hermitagecatshelter.org, 571-7839
Laura Wilson Etter is a freelance journalist, grant writer and artist in Tucson.