In honor of World Cat Day, here are some facts about our feline friends…
In Ancient Egypt, cats were a very important part of society. Killing a cat was a crime punishable by death. It’s said that when a family’s pet cat passed away, they would often embalm it, and shave their eyebrows as a sign of mourning. The Ancient Egyptians even had a cat goddess, Bastet – half-human and half-cat.
Most cats have five toes per paw. However, some cats (like my cat Pawlette, seen above) are polydactyls. A polydactyl cat can have as many as eight toes per paw. They are also known as Hemingway cats, after the author Ernest Hemingway, who had a white, six-toed polydactyl named Snowball, who lived at his home in Key West, Florida. According to the Hemingway House, roughly 40-50 polydactyls still live on the property today.
Black cats aren’t considered bad luck everywhere. In the United Kingdom they’re good luck. The black cat/bad luck myth goes back to the Middle Ages, when cats were thought to be evil. Sadly, they met the same fate as those who were accused of being witches. The cats had the last laugh, though: because so many cats were killed, the rat population soared, which led to the devastating Black Death, or Yersinia pestis plague. Unfortunately, the myth about black cats has persisted to this day, making them harder to adopt out and leaving them particularly vulnerable to sacrificial cults. Many vets will provide a list of known dates when sacrifices are more likely to occur, and it is especially important to keep your cats inside and safe.
One of the heartaches of having a cat is that they don't live as long as we do. Indoor cats can live an average of 12-14 years, while outdoor cats are vulnerable to disease and attack, averaging only 2-5 years. The oldest cat of verifiable age was Crème Puff of Austin, Texas, who passed away in 2005 aged 38 years and 3 days.
Petting a cat can lower your blood pressure, and a 2008 study said that owning a cat can reduce your chance of a heart attack by 1/3.
Think your cat is lazy? Cats can sleep up to 20 hours a day. However, when push comes to shove, the average house cat can run faster than the fastest human – yes, even Usain Bolt.
Abraham Lincoln was a great cat lover (as was his adversary in The Civil War, General Robert E. Lee). Lincoln was the first president to bring cats into the White House. When asked what her husband’s hobbies were, Mary Todd Lincoln was reported to have said, “Cats!” Adolf Hitler and Napoleon hated cats (naturally).
The great inventor Nikola Tesla said that he became interested in electricity as a young child when he received a shock while petting his cat. He wrote of his childhood in A Story of Youth Told by Age "I was the happiest of all, the fountain of my enjoyment being our magnificent Macak—the finest of all cats in the world. I wish I could give you an adequate idea of the affection that existed between us. We lived for one another. Wherever I went, Macak followed, because of our mutual love and the desire to protect me. When such a necessity presented itself he would rise to twice his normal height, buckle his back, and with his tail as rigid as a metal bar and whiskers like steel wires, he would give vent to his rage with explosive puffs: Pfftt! Pfftt! It was a terrifying sight, and whoever had provoked him, human or animal, would beat a hasty retreat."
Cats don't see the same range of colors that we do, however they can see much better in the dark, which is probably why they are so good at getting into things in the middle of the night.
In order to keep those beautiful eyes healthy, make sure your cat gets plenty of taurine in its diet. A lack of taurine can cause blindness. A commercially prepared, high-quality cat food is much healthier than feeding your cat plain meat – and don’t make it a habit to feed your cat table scraps. The myth that cats can live on tuna and milk has been proven false. Many vets have watched their patients die because they were only fed tuna, which causes nutritional deficiencies. Cow's milk is a no-no, too. Most cats are lactose intolerant, and only need milk when they are kittens. Human food is not always good for your cats, especially if it contains onion and garlic, which can kill cats. And remember, just because you’re a vegan or vegetarian doesn’t mean your cat can be, too. Cats are obligate carnivores – they have to eat meat.
Want to learn more? Visit the ASPCA to find out which foods and plants are toxic to your cat.