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  • Writer's pictureStream Valley Vet

A Cat's Impressive Five Senses

Have you ever wondered how cats truly perceive the world around them? Their senses are especially tuned differently in comparison to humans, but research over time always provides new insights into how it affects their overall perceptions. To start off, cats live in a "smell" world. Their sense of smell is much better than ours, and may even be just as great as dogs! In fact, the ability to smell is so important that cats have the sense at birth.

Cats investigate places and objects by sniffing them and communicate with each other through sent. When they can't smell (if they're unwell, for example) they change their litter box habits, they don't eat, and un-neutered cats don't engage in mating behaviors. Read on to find out how these senses work together to bring a cat's world into focus!

What's That Smell?

Take cooking, for example. What may seem like mild scents to use may have a very pronounced odor to cats, which is why they may be eager to spend time in the kitchen before a meal. Cooking meats and slicing tomatoes or other ingredients entice a cat to investigate these intriguing scents. Often times, we'd think our cats want to eat our food, but they'd rather smell it to check it out. Giving your cat interesting things to smell is a form of enrichment that's similar to giving them a new toy!

Cats have scent glands all over. On their lips, chin, forehead, front paw pads, and along and under their tail. Whenever they rub their cheeks or paws on something, they're depositing pheromones: chemical signals that only other cats can detect. Did you know that pheromones produced by scent glands at the front of the body are calming and inviting? On the other hand, pheromones that come from the rear declare one's territory or express stress. It's interesting just how much these pheromones have an effect on our pets!

A Cat's Personal Scent

Cat owners will probably agree that everything in your house, themselves and their families, are marked with their cat's scent. Cats like it when everything in their home smells the same, which is why they insist on rubbing against anything new to the house. And, even though personal items are washed, a cat has to mark them again and again. They enjoy claiming just about everything as their own.

When cats mark their surroundings, they help other cats in the home create a collective scent. If a new cat comes in, their unfamiliar scent changes this communal scent, making the original cats begin a new round of scent marking. However, if a cat is in a single-cat home, anything with a strong odor will disrupt that communal smell, thus making them feel the need to cover the unfamiliar odor by scratching, face marking, spraying, or urinating to restore order to their surroundings.

Smell and Taste

Probably the only sense where humans have an advantage over cats is taste. Humans have about 9,000 taste buds, but cats have just a bit over 450. This makes their ability to distinguish different tastes very limited--mostly sour, salty, and bitter flavors. Cats don't have the genes that would allow them to have taste buds to experience sweet flavors, because the amino acids in meat have few simple sugars.

Cats must smell what they eat. Many of them won't eat food that's been sitting out for a while because they need to like what they smell. They also won't eat canned cat food straight out of the fridge because they haven't had a chance to smell it just yet. If you'd ever want to keep a cat away from something, the trick is to spray the area with a bitter flavor that won't be harmful. Cats typically don't like bitter flavors, and can learn to interpret the area as dangerous!

What do They See?

Did you know that cats have the ability to make out objects with only 1/6 of the amount of light that humans require? While they can't clearly see details or rich colors in low light, they are able to see in the dark because of the high concentrations of rods in their retina that are sensitive to dim light.

On the other hand, a cat's visual abilities are actually 10 times less than that of a human. They rely partly on their whiskers to sense what's around them. Also, their enhanced retina makes up for any vision impairments. Unfortunately, they have a blind spot for when objects are 4-5 inches in front of their face. This makes whiskers come in handy!

"Cat Touch This?"

Kittens are blind for the first 7-10 days of their life. Before their sharp eyes open up, they rely on other senses to navigate their new surroundings. While cats have whiskers on their face, they can have whiskers on the backs of their front legs as well! Whiskers help cats navigate narrow or shallow areas and let them know whether their body can fit. This ability offers them good judgement before curiosity takes over!

Some cats, such as Sphynx, don't have any whiskers. This doesn't impede them from operating as normal, but they can be just as agile as other cats!

Cat Radio

The cat sense that is far superior to ours is easily their ears! They are able to fully rotate at 180 degrees, and their outer ear is connected by 27 muscles. Cats can hear from a distance that's at least 5 times farther than what a human can. What's even more interesting is that while we might be able to distinguish two separate sounds, it might seem like one to a cat. They might be able to hear a broader range than humans, but sometimes cats require about 5 degrees of separation to determine two different sounds.

It's no wonder cats startle so easily as well. They have the ability to hear frequencies between 45 Hz and 64,000 Hz, while humans can only hear between 64 Hz and 23,000 Hz. It's important to keep their hearing in mind when they're surrounded by loud noises! Pay attention to their reactions that might signal you to turn it down.

Cats are mysterious creatures, and owners may often find themselves trying to interpret their peculiar behaviors. We hope this provides some insight! If you find yourself wondering how a cat can scope out a mouse in the night, it's thanks to their incredible sense of hearing and ability to see more in low light. They may appear to be picky eaters, but really cats would rather smell food before they go to eat! There's often something new to learn about our feline companions, but each is unique in their own way. What's something unusual or funny that you often find your cat does? Share with us!



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