Okay, face it . . . cats are cute and those little triangular ears perched atop their heads are merely icing on the furry cake. But those ears are not just pretty decorations; they are a powerful set of investigative tools used by felines to hear what humans would find unimaginable. They can hear extremely high as well as extremely low frequencies. In other words, in the art of hearing, a cat's ears are an astonishing machine.All Ears
Okay, face it . . . cats are cute and those little triangular ears perched atop their heads are merely icing on the furry cake. But those ears are not just pretty decorations; they are a powerful set of investigative tools used by felines to hear what humans would find unimaginable. They can hear extremely high as well as extremely low frequencies. In other words, in the art of hearing, a cat's ears are an astonishing machine.
So, of all the senses, including smell, taste, sight and touch, a cat's hearing is its most reliable. Felines can perceive the slightest noise and accurately judge where it is coming from. They can hear sounds three times more intensely than humans can. The external ears, known as the pinna, are fairly large relative to a cat's head, and can rotate up to 180 degrees so sounds are captured more accurately.
Perhaps that is why the sound and tone of our voice is so important to kitty because, the more they get to know us, the more crucial the sound of our voice becomes in their world. In fact, the tone of voice you use to scold or praise your cat - even if it is the same exact phrase - will tell kitty your intent. In other words, what your cat hears are not the words, per se, but the tone in which they hear it.
For example, did they do something wrong (such as kitchen counter cruising) that they were not supposed to be doing, or are you simply telling them how much you adore and love them? The tone of your voice and how their ears perceive your words makes all the difference.
Since hearing is such a large part of a cat's life, it is important to try to shield cats from loud, high-pitched noises, which can greatly disturb them. One example is the American tradition of the fireworks display on Independence Day. In warmer climates, many cities celebrate the New Year with an explosion of fireworks. While it may be a fun time for humans watching the beautiful display, the deafening boom of fireworks can terrify most animals merely from the sound itself.
For cats, however, it is not just scary, but downright painful to their delicate, sensitive ears. You can protect them as much as possible by placing them in an interior room with a television or radio playing and try to be with them to reassure them that everything is okay.
Consequently, due to the evolutionary aspect of cats as predators in the wild, their senses progressed differently than humans - as did many other animals. While living the life of a feline, the savvy cat probably uses a combination of all of its senses to function most effectively. However, it is certainly no secret that their sense of hearing has always been their most reliable resource.
Whenever you touch your cat, you may not realize that the skin underneath all that fur is quite sensitive. And the fur that covers kitty is specialized sensory hairs. Researchers have not figured out much regarding how the hairs on kitty's body are used except for the whiskers - who many people do not even realize constitutes itself as a type of hair on felines.
The whiskers on the face of a cat - the ones that stretch out from their muzzle - have a count total of twenty four. There are twelve on each side and they are arranged in four horizontal rows. They are, of course, the strongest and stiffest of all the different types of hair on kitty's body. And, perhaps they are the most important because they extend a cat's sense of touch beyond the surface area of the body alone.
Cats depend on all of their whiskers to help see and feel their surroundings, including using them to navigate in dark, dim and close-quartered situations. Cats are such excellent navigators at night, not only because their eyesight is so extraordinary in low light but, also, because of those movable, informative whiskers, known as vibrissae.
On the back of the kitty's front legs, which might be called their wrists, there is another set of whiskers used for several purposes. When prowling low to the ground in dark conditions, those set of whiskers can help feel where the feet are stepping when locating its prey. These whiskers also aid in the sense of touch while using their paws to handle objects too close for them to actually see.
Aside from those tactile hairs on each of the front legs and the muzzle, whiskers are found extending from three other locations on the cat's body - the lips, eyebrows and chin. Finally, to explain the extreme importance of the delicate, yet extremely tough, tactile hairs, it is interesting to note that the first types of hair which begins to grow on a kitten in the mother's womb are, surprisingly enough, those highly perceptive and exceptionally expressive hairs known as whiskers.
Kitty's face and front paws are the most sensitive places on their bodies, where most of the nerve cells are concentrated. These are the most important body parts the cat uses while hunting. Your cat's paws are specifically pressure-sensitive, and some researchers believe they can even sense tiny vibrations.
Since cats cannot tell you when they feel pain, you must evaluate your feline's mood, actions and regular or irregular daily activity. Some researchers even think that constant petting not only causes irritation, it may also cause static electricity and even actual pain because of the cat's unique nervous system. We've probably all experienced the gentle stroking of a relaxed cat who, suddenly, turns around and bites the hand that pets them. While it may seem a mystery to you, the cat certainly has a reason.
For instance, if a cat has a painful medical condition, your touch or even kitty's perception that they may be touched in a painful area could cause the aggressive behavior. Take your cat to a veterinarian to find out if your feline has a medical condition such as arthritis in the neck, back or hip joints, a sore tooth or perhaps an ear infection, which is worsened when being petted.
Be sure to recognize the warning signs in your cat and stop petting them before they become aggressive (due to pain or sudden fear) and hurt someone. Your cat cannot talk, unfortunately, and tell us how and where to touch them or if they feel like being touched at all. Sometimes they may wish to be left alone and only you must learn to recognize the signals kitty sends you. While cats are a fascinating specimen of sensitive skin, hair and paws, they are also your sensitive furry friends who, in most cases, enjoy the sense of touch from their favorite human - YOU.
A Matter of Taste
Does your feline have a favorite brand of cat food? Or a certain flavor of that food which makes them salivate upon simply seeing the bag? Pet food manufacturer's advertisements frequently show cats turning their nose up at meals being offered to them and then running to the bowl when their certain brand of "tasty" food appears!
However, the manufacturers don't have to please only kitty's palate, they also must convince kitty's owners that their particular brand is best. The brightly-colored, tiny fish-shaped replicas found in many dry cat foods is designed to attract HUMANS! Your cat could care less about such "whimsical" matters because the truth behind every feline's taste preferences are much more complex than the LOOK of those fun-shaped morsels. A cat's sense of taste is much more complicated than many folks know.
First of all, the rough, prickly feeling of a cat's tongue (that some compare to sandpaper) is a tool they've used for centuries - allowing them to survive in the wild. Kitty's tongue is covered with tiny hook-like barbs called papillae. Since they are placed on the tongue pointing backwards, cats use their tongues to remove feathers or fur from their prey and to lick meat from the bones of their catch.
As far as taste buds are concerned, mushroom-shaped papillae are present at the tip and sides of the tongue. A set of cup-shaped papillae is located at the back of the tongue. A cat's tongue mimics a spoon when drinking - enabling it to lap up liquids in quantity - swallowing after every third or fourth lap.
As for the popular belief that cats are "finicky," perhaps it's because of their lack of taste buds in comparison to other species. While felines only have 473 taste buds, their canine counterparts' tongues contain over 1,700 and, an astonishing 9,000 taste buds occupy the human tongue!
According to today's experts, cats can distinguish between four different tastes: sour, salty, bitter and sweet. Previously, we believed felines were unable to taste sweets because cats rarely show interest in sugary foods. Now, however, it's been discovered that cats do indeed have a few sweet-sensitive taste buds on the very back of their tongues. But, even if cats can taste sour, sweet, bitter and salty cuisines, kitty's sense of smell, oddly enough, also influences taste.
In fact, smell and taste are very closely linked in cats. Both senses are located in the same area of the feline brain. Oddly enough, cats even have an "extra" sense (which humans lack) called the Jacobson's organ.
Located in the roof of the mouth, it's connected to the nasal passage as well - suggesting that kitty "smell-tastes" at the same time. When an interesting aroma fills the air, a cat will slightly open its mouth, with a curled lip (this look is known as the Flehmen Response), and inhale the smell on her tongue.
Then she rubs her tongue over the roof of her mouth - thus passing the smell/taste on to the Jacobson's organ for evaluation. Many cat owners are amused by this look because it's the closest thing to an actual expression - it almost appears to be the look of disgust mixed with contemplation.
Thousands of scientific studies have focused on feline taste buds and thousands more will surely follow. For now, however, owner awareness needs to be the key factor in feeding your feline. As long as it's nutritionally balanced, as well as acknowledged with kitty's veterinarian's stamp of approval, then your feline's favorite known food preference will assist you choosing the perfect brand, type and flavor of cat food each and every time you shop.
However, just when you think you have it all figured out and start getting a bit too comfortable picking up kitty's favorite "vittles" on a regular basis, the unthinkable happens - your cat's most beloved cuisine on earth suddenly becomes . . . repulsive to your suddenly-finicky furry friend.
So, after all the time and effort spent on finding that perfect cat food, kitty pulls a 180 degree turn-around and will not even acknowledge its once-coveted food.
So, it's back to square one in your search for the ultimate cat food - which when found will bring a four paws-up from your feline - for now. The danger of kitty starving to death has passed. And perhaps - just perhaps - the smallest of smirks crosses the face behind those whimsical whiskers . . . because kitty knows the game has only just begun.
While the human world uses all of its senses to successfully live in the world around them, the animal kingdom is quite different. Different animals hone in on certain senses and use them primarily as a tool to survive.
For example, the expression, "Blind as a bat," is merely a myth - although they cannot see that well in the dark, they can indeed distinguish objects in their flight path. Their main sensory organ is their ears, which of course, are very large in proportion to their body. What does this have to do with cats? It's merely an example of how each animal has its own distinct way of determining its position in the world around them.
As for the felis catus - the scientific name for domesticated or house cats - all of the feline senses are rather acute, but their sense of smell is perhaps its main source for identifying individuals, objects and prey in its surroundings. Although cats have those big, oftentimes bulging eyes which seem too big for their face, that tiny little nose has approximately 200 million odor-sensitive cells while humans only have five million which, of course, is a large distinction between cats and their human owners. They live in a world completely separate from humans.
While a person's sense of smell practically acts as an insignificant role, the world of the feline sense of smell is most likely the strongest of all its senses.
So, while kitty's cute, petite nose plays such an important part in her life, there is even more help behind that nose. Cats also have a pair of vomeronasal organs (oftentimes called Jacobson's organs) on the roof of their mouth. When kitty wants to thoroughly investigate a particular scent, she will inhale through her mouth, usually curling her lips up at the same time, and bring the air over the roof of her mouth.
When the cat curls her lips like this, she will often squint her eyes and maybe even flatten her ears as she concentrates. This makes her look like she is scowling. This scowl-like look is called a Flehmen Reaction. The vomeronasal organs will then analyze the scent molecule by molecule - almost as if the cat is tasting the smell. This gives them additional information concerning their surroundings and the people around them.
Smells not only divulge where something is, they also play a crucial role in shaping the way cats distinguish territories. Cats mark objects - either by urine-spraying (which is normally preventable if neutered - the earlier the better) or secreting their scent glands on objects as a way of leaving their specific scent behind to show ownership to other felines as well as a way to remind them what already is theirs. That's why they rub around your legs and all of the furniture in the house - as a territorial claim.
When you come home from outside the house, your shrewd feline can smell what you had for lunch and for a mid-afternoon snack. Kitty can smell the grass on your shoes from the lawn you walked on to come home. And that dog you stopped to pet may cause your cat to flehmen so that she can get more information about him - no matter how disgusting kitty thinks of her canine counterpart (who, by the way, claims an even MORE sensitive smelling device).
However, your cat's sense of smell is so incredibly strong that we need to remember that while you can win a man (or woman's) heart through their stomach, you can only win a cat's heart through its nose.
Anatomy of a Cat Eye
It's a myth that cats can see in complete darkness. The part of the feline's retina called the "tapetum lucidum," acts like a reflector in the eye and bounces light to the back of the retina, thus the appearance of "glowing" eyes which a cat exhibits at night when their eyes are struck with a beam of light, such as car headlights.
Because of the so-called "witches" holiday, Halloween, this oftentimes cause people to see malice where there is none in that "eerie" glow of a cat's eye (which is why ALL cats, black as well as every color, should be kept inside - not just during Halloween, but all year long).
Even though cats cannot see in complete darkness, they can see quite well in extremely dim conditions, thus being deemed nocturnal creatures. In low light, cats' eyes are able to function in approximately one-sixth of the light needed for human vision. This ability, however, comes at the expense of their daytime vision.
Cats are relatively shortsighted in daylight and see things somewhat blurred - like a nearsighted human trying to see a faraway object - but the stealthy feline can detect the slightest movement at almost any distance. Felines have incredible depth perception, allowing them to judge distances much better than humans. As unbelievable as it seems, a cat's sense of "sight" is actually near the bottom of their cognitive abilities.
The size of a cat's eye is relatively larger than that of a human. This enables a larger pupil and, therefore, more light to enter the eye. Generally, the lens is more curved allowing sharper focusing - even at the edges of the lens. The size of the anterior chamber and the curvature of the cornea is also greater, which helps more light to be refracted onto the light-sensitive retina.
Finally, cats' eyes also reveal what a cat is feeling or thinking. The pupils of a feline's eyes can dilate up to five times their normal size when frightened or threatened. In normal light, a happy cat should have small pupils that look like little slits in the center of the eyeball. Eyes that are half closed signify a contented, relaxed feline.
For most cat owners, however, their furry friend's eyes - with all the elements, components and mystery which compose the complicated function of vision - being closed dreamily is the most commonly witnessed occurrence when noticing your cat's eyes.
Sandra L. Toney has been writing about cats for 15 years. An award-winning author of eight books, such as The Simple Guide to Cats and The Little Book of Cat Tricks, Toney is a professional member of the Cat Writers' Association. She lives in Indiana with her husband and three spoiled felines.
- Filed Under: Health & Home