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Sort of spurred by a question today: Is it normal for a cat to eat moths?

I'm not sure how well these types of questions really work. I mean, how do you definitively answer that a behaviour is normal?

In the case of this example question, it might be possible to change it to read "Is it harmful if my cat eats moths?" but is that something we want to do? Or should we vote these questions as being too broad?

  • "Normal" is often abused as a word. See normal distrubution for ways to answer such questions canonically. – CodeGnome Oct 12 '14 at 22:50
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The heart of the question is really "should I be concerned about this behavior or is it okay to allow it" and I'm really okay with any edit along those lines.

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I don't see a problem with them, for the most part. I have several behavioural science books on animals at home, so many of the "is it normal" questions may be answered with factual information and cited sources. So a question like, "is it normal for a dog to scratch the ground after defecating" is perfectly reasonable and answerable.

Now, there are a class of questions where there is no science, just anecdotal evidence...

If we can see that the anecdotal is going to be quite overwhelming, then I think we're good. For example, a question like "is it normal for a cat to chase a laser pointer" has massive evidence to back an answer.

If it just turns into a "well, my kitty..." then we have the single anecdote or story and if that is all the question can get, it's probably become opinion oriented.

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These Are X/Y Questions

These sorts of X/Y questions typically confuse "normal" with "safe" or "healthy." These aren't always the same things.

As one example, where I live it's quite normal for deer to jump out in front of fast-moving cars. It is not healthy for the deer, nor safe for the drivers, but it is statistically common enough to be considered normal.

Ways to Deal with X/Y Questions

You could answer the question at face value and cite statistics, or you could address the real underlying question as best as you can understand it. In this case, the underlying question is probably something like "Is ingesting moths harmful or toxic to cats?" Both approaches are valid, and a lot depends on the culture of the specific site.

Whether or not the question needs to be edited for quality or clarity is similarly a site-culture issue. Most sites on SE promote community improvements to low-quality posts, provided the edits don't dramatically change the author's original intent. If a change is needed but would be too drastic, close the question; otherwise, try to improve it to make it on-topic and useful to future visitors.

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