Fake news – it’s one of the blights of the modern age. But it’s not exclusive to politics. False science has also spread to the online world of pet care.

Vets regularly treat cats who have fallen victim to one of the remarkable number of myths surrounding pets. Here we debunk some of the most commonly peddled misconceptions about cats – all of which could potentially put their life at risk.

Image of cat up a tree for Vets Now article on cat myths
It is a myth cats can't get hurt when falling from heights

1. It's ok to smoke or vape around cats

Cats are at greater risk than people, and even dogs, from second-hand smoke. They can and do suffer from oral cancer and malignant lymphoma as a result of passive smoking.

Research shows cats are particularly at risk from second-hand smoke because of their predilection for self-grooming and because they spend more time indoors and closer to carpets where carcinogenic particles can linger. There’s also evidence to suggest cats may be at risk from the nicotine in e-cigarette smoke.

2. Cats always land on their feet so are safe in high places

It’s true cats can twist acrobatically in mid-air so their feet land first – it’s called their righting reflex – but they don’t always manage this. It really depends on the angle and height of their descent.

And of course some falls are just too high to avoid injury. In the summer months, emergency vets see so many injuries from cats falling from upstairs windows they’ve named the condition high-rise syndrome.

3. Cats only eat as much food as they need

This is nonsense. In some countries, obese cats now outnumber their healthy counterparts.

Some cats are greedy and if indulged there’s every chance they’ll go on to suffer the same obesity-related issues as people, such as diabetes and arthritis.

Image of cat eating for Vets Now article on misconceptions about cats
It is a myth cats only eat as much as they need

4. Aggressive cats are just trying to assert their dominance

Not true. Cats are not pack animals. They hunt alone and if they’re being aggressive towards their owner or terrorising other cats in the neighbourhood, it’s a sign of an underlying problem.

Their behaviour could be the result of frustration, stress or anxiety, or it may be the cat has an undiagnosed medical condition.

5. Cats not in pain aren't suffering

There are other ways in which cats can be said to be suffering. For example, they could be struggling from a shortness of breath due to the way they’ve been bred or are being denied their right to enjoy the ‘five freedoms’ that, by law, every animal must be granted.

Those are freedom from hunger and thirst, pain and disease, discomfort, fear and distress and the freedom to express normal behaviour.

Image of an angry cat hissing for Vtes Now article on rabies
Dogs are responsible for 96% of human rabies cases, but there are also reports of human rabies due to bites of cats

6. Cats only spray to mark their territory

Spraying is a normal feline behaviour. They tend to do this to mark their territory and new furniture, clothes and Christmas presents are often the target. But cats also spray as a coping strategy during times of stress or when they’re ill.

If your cat is spraying indoors, in particular, they may be suffering from inflammation of the urinary tract, disorientation, or joint pain. All of those conditions could become serious if left untreated.

7. Cats are nocturnal

Cats are actually crepuscular. That means they’re most active during dawn and dusk. Nocturnal animals, on the other hand, only go out at night and sleep during the day. Unfortunately, dawn and dusk is also often rush hour and the most common time for cats to be involved in road traffic accidents.

There are various ways to encourage cats to sleep during the night, including keeping them entertained during the day and feeding them their main meal just before you go to bed. If your cat wanders around at night meowing, they may be suffering from an underlying medical problem causing pain or discomfort.

Image showing cat purring for Vets Now article on cats being sick
Cats purr for a number of reasons, not just because they're happy

8. Cats only purr when they're happy

While purring can be a sign of a happy cat, it’s not the only reason they make this noise. Cats sometimes purr when they’re frightened, unwell or in pain.

There are a variety of medications that you can use to provide pain relief for your cat. Please speak to your vet about the most appropriate. However, any underlying conditions – such as a broken bone – will need to be treated and in some cases may require surgery.

9. Cats have nine lives

Ok, so everyone knows this isn’t true. But it’s amazing how many people think cats are indestructible because of their incredible dexterity. While cats have been known to emerge unscathed from earthquakes and other natural disasters, they are just as susceptible to serious injuries from road traffic accidents and the like as any other animal.

In fact, research shows almost a quarter of a million cats are run over on British roads every year and those who are lucky enough to survive often suffer terrible injuries.