We've all heard the term "crazy cat lady," which probably invokes visions of a messy, lonely spinster covered in cat hair and surrounded by felines in a tiny apartment. The origins of this term may be hard to trace for certain, but, why does this stereotype continue to exist today? Is it even true that single women love cats more than any other type of person? The answer to this question is a resounding "no". Yet, there are some factors that can lead a person to put their cats first.
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Women, cats, and a misconception
Since the term "cat people" can apply to anyone, why are single women more commonly criticized for appreciating their cats? For starters, remaining single has always been looked down on by American society at large, and an adult woman offering her attention to a cat over a man is often unfairly conflated with romantic undesirability. Cats are also unfairly criticized in this scenario as well. After all, you don't hear the term "crazy dog lady" about a woman who has multiple canines. So, why do cats get the bad rap? Often, cats are unfairly judged as being aloof, moody, independent, and sly. Dogs are already viewed as our "best friends," therefore, cats seem like an odd choice of outcasts to invite into one's home to some people.
The truth is, cat lovers aren't only limited to women, it's just that the stereotype has become such a trope that it's more easily spottable than, say, a single man who owns three dogs. When men surround themselves with animals or opt for solitude, it's usually seen as a choice. Yet, when women are in the same situation, it's often chalked up to a moral failure. Single women don't love cats more than anyone else, but because cats, like most pets, offer attention, affection, and consistency, it shouldn't be surprising if a single person would want such a relationship in their life.
Toxoplasma gondii and cats
You may have heard before that some people can essentially become addicted to their cats. This is thanks to a parasite sometimes found in cat feces called "Toxoplasma gondii", which can cause the infection, toxoplasmosis. This protozoan has been known to affect the behavior of some mammals who are in regular close contact with felines, namely, rats. In one study, rats who were exposed to "Toxoplasma gondii", or "Toxo", sought out cat urine through smell, despite the fatally dangerous position it may have put them in. For humans, dopamine, (which affects how we feel pleasure), can be created thanks to an enzyme found in the parasite. Not only can this contribute to impulsive behavior and clouded judgment, but it can also lead to a brain abscess in immunocompromised people, and those pregnant or nursing.
In spite of all of this, most researchers state that sharing a space with cats is not something to worry about. To prevent toxoplasmosis, it's recommended that cat owners clean their cat's litter boxes daily, and toss the bagged waste in a bin outside (sooner rather than later).
Animal hoarding and mental health
While the idea that a single woman with cats is inherently "crazy" or "less lovable" than anyone else is unfounded and a bit dated, actual animal hoarding is a serious matter. Animal hoarding is defined as housing more animals than a person is able to care for. This usually results in neglected nutrition needs, shelter, and veterinary care for the animals. It also leaves the hoarding person living in unsanitary conditions, often isolating them from other people, or leading them to live in a state of denial about their caretaking responsibilities. Animal hoarding is widely regarded as a disorder and is in violation of animal cruelty laws in every state in the United States. While the "crazy cat lady" is a practically harmless term when used in jest, animal hoarding affects everyone in and around the situation and requires compassion, care, and resources to properly address the issue.
Single women, in particular, are not more predisposed towards loving cats than anyone else, despite often being portrayed as "crazy cat ladies" in popular culture, movies, and on social media. In rare cases, toxoplasmosis from cat feces may affect people by producing more dopamine in the body and can make a litter box infected with the parasite potentially dangerous.