I spontaneously adopted a cat once after seeing a sign on a dirt road that read, "Free Kitties." My roommates were less than impressed because this cat was a little wily. From talking with other cat moms though, it sounds like a whole lot of cats put out "you can't tame me" vibes. But is that just a cat myth, or is it fact? That got me wondering about some of the creepiest myths about cats, and how some of them just seem so... well... true. I'm not going to lie, I cross the street whenever I see a black cat.
Alas, it's time to debunk some of these cat legends. First, I hate to break it to you but the myth that cats can't be trained, is a total falsehood, according to animal trainer Samantha Martin, in an interview with Huffington Post. “Although behaviors such as litter box avoidance, aggression and furniture scratching are not pleasant to live with, they can be changed through a combination of behavior modification and simple changes to the environment," explained Martin in the same Huffington Post interview. I'll have to tell that to my friend who has a gorgeous Himalayan cat that refuses to go to the bathroom anywhere but the bathroom sink!
But, now let's get to the real spooky stuff. We've rounded up five of the most terrifying cat myths that just may have been keeping you up at night.
Cats will give you schizophrenia
This persistent myth dates back to the '70s, when a psychiatrist named E. Fuller Torrey thought it was odd that schizophrenics often have "higher levels of toxoplasma antibodies" in their blood than non-mentally ill people do, according to Wired. Cat poop is notorious for containing the parasite toxoplasma gondii — which causes toxoplasmosis — and since many of the schizophrenics being studied were cat owners, the connection that early contact with the parasite could later cause schizophrenia, was indelibly inked in the public's mind.
However, a 2017 study published in Psychological Medicine, found no evidence to suggest "an association between cat ownership and psychotic symptoms at ages 13 and 18 years" in a sampling from the general UK population.
Put another way, having a pet cat probably isn't going to increase your children's risk of becoming mentally ill. However, the study does note that pregnant women should still avoid coming in contact with solid cat litter to protect against toxoplasmosis.
Cats can cause you to have a miscarriage
The old wives' tale that cats cause miscarriages is a total myth, but it got its start because of, once again, the connection to toxoplasmosis. "Cats can carry Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that causes birth defects, miscarriages and death in people with weakened immune systems," explained The New York Times.
But since there are easy measures you can take to protect yourself against toxoplasmosis, there's absolutely no need to give up your cat if you see a positive pregnancy sign. The same The New York Times article advised that you should skip changing your cat's litter box, avoid undercooked or raw meat, skip coming into contact with outdoor sandboxes (where cats tend to poop), and always make sure to wear gloves if you're gardening.
Cats have nine lives
Sure, cats are masters of landing on their feet, but where did the whole "cats have nine lives" idea come from? There are a few different theories and one of them dates back to Cleopatra's time.
"For example, the ancient Egyptian sun god, Atum-Ra, was believed to take the form of a cat on visits to the underworld. Legend has it that Atum-Ra gave birth to eight other gods and thus represented nine lives in one," explained Wonderopolis.
The nine-lives myth has survived for centuries, and maybe that's because cats do just seem mystical. Even some scientists think so!
Black cats can curse you
Like I said earlier, I'm the first person to admit that I get a little superstitious around black cats. But how did black cats get such a bad rap?
"Mythology and lore about black cats goes all the way back to Greek mythology," explained Dr. Katy Nelson, a veterinarian at the Belle Haven Animal Medical Centre in Washington, D.C., in an interview with petMD. "In one of the stories, Zeus’s wife Hera transformed a servant named Galinthias into a black cat as punishment for interfering with her plan to delay the birth of Heracles. Galinthias then became an attendant of Hecate, the goddess of magic, witchcraft, and death."
But despite the whole black cat thing being literally just mythology, it seems they're still paying the price. "On average it takes at least 10 days longer to re-home a black or black and white cat compared to a ginger one," according to the BBC.
Cats suck the breath out of babies
Now this is one of the weirdest cat myths out there. If you've heard that cats can suck away the breath of babies, you can rest assured that it's nothing but an outdated theory from the 1700s.
"In the Annual Register, a publication that records the year’s interesting events, there is an entry for Jan. 25, 1791: “A child of eighteen months old was found dead near Plymouth; and it appeared, on the coroner's inquest, that the child died in consequence of a cat sucking its breath, thereby occasioning a strangulation," explained LiveScience.
Nowadays, that incident would most likely be explained by Sudden Infant Death Syndromed (SIDS), according to the same LiveScience article.
However, it's true that you shouldn't let your cat sleep in the same room as your baby during nap or bedtime, as cats like to sleep near warmth, and that can be a suffocation risk for a baby, according to Petful.
All in all, yes some cats get a bad rap (especially from so-called "dog people"), but you've been thinking of getting a cat and any of the above myths have been troubling you, rest assured that they're all just myths that have been debunked ages ago.