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Cat Senses: An Overview

Nov 1, 2011 · Updated Oct 16, 2016 · ·
  1. Anne
    Cats can hear sounds that we can't hear, see things that we can't see and smell and feel the world around us in ways that we can never grasp. These amazing abilities have actually landed cats in trouble during the middle ages, when they were attributed to black magic. Today cats are no longer suspected of supernatural powers. We now know that their remarkable abilities are part of the evolutionary adaptation to the role of a solitary nocturnal hunter.

    What we consider hidden away in the dark can be very visible to the feline eye. What seems to us to be slightly scented litter may be too overwhelming for the sensitive feline nose and cause litter box problems. Learning about cats' senses can help us see the world the way they do and understand their behavior better.

    A Cat's Sense Of Sight

    Cats have excellent night vision and can see much better than us even in a badly lit environment, though they cannot see in total darkness. This special ability, so useful for the nocturnal predator, comes at the expense of daytime vision. In fact, cats are relatively shortsighted and during daytime tend to rely more than us on their senses of smell and sound.

    We don't know for sure what kind of colors cats can see, but scientific tests indicate that cats can recognize at least some of the colors that we do. As hunters, cats have a good ability to detect motion. They can see movements that are too fast for our eyes, yet find it hard to focus on very slow movement.

    A Cat's Sense Of Sound

    Cats have sharp ears, adapted especially for the squeaky sounds of small rodents. They can hear sounds that are three times as high than the ones we can.

    The ears are fairly large relatively to the cat's head and have the ability to move sideways so that sound can be captured more accurately. Cats use this ability to locate the source of the sound. They will sometimes pause while chasing prey to listen and determine its location.

    A Cat's Sense Of Smell

    Cats rely heavily on their sense of smell. A cat will always sniff its food before eating and scent marks are an essential part of feline communication.

    Cats also have a unique mechanism at the top of their mouth, which enables them to make a special analysis of air molecules. A pair of organs, called Jacobson's organs or the vomeronasal organs, let the cat analyze air that is inhaled through the mouth rather than the nose. When a cat uses this special mechanism she curls back her lips, opens her mouth and seems to grimace with a smile or an expression of disgust. This is called the flehmen reaction and is seen in connection with special scents that the cat wants to check thoroughly.

    A Cat's Sense Of Taste

    Cats use their sense of taste to determine which foods are good for them. As they are true carnivores, their sense of taste is geared towards identifying protein and fat.

    Tests have shown that cats have a very weak preference for sweetness. That is why most cats are not fans of sweets, unlike dogs or humans. Of course, we can never really know how the cat's mind interprets different tastes. We can only tell by testing if they have a preference for substances that we consider sweet.

    Cats are also not very sensitive to the taste of salt. Some experts say that this is because they get all the salt they need from their meat-based diet. They do not need to get extra salt from other sources, so they are not sensitive to its taste.

    A Cat's Sense Of Touch

    Like us, cats have touch receptors all over their body. These nerve cells transfer sensations of pressure, temperature and pain from any point to the brain. The most sensitive places on the cat's body, where the nerve cells are concentrated, are the face and the front paws. This is because these are the most important body parts the cat uses while hunting.

    The cat's whiskers are the most sensitive of all. The special hairs, called vibrissae, are set deep within the skin and provide the cat with sensory information about the slightest air movement around it - a valuable tool for a nocturnal hunter.

    As you can see, a cat's perception of the world is quite different from a human's. Remember that when you try to understand a cat's behavior or modify it in any way.


    Comments? Leave them using the form below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!

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  1. tarasgirl06
    Cats ARE superior living beings.  That's just fact.  As for that little Colorpoint: "Where'd ya get those?"  (S)he looks about ready to lift off!  ;)
  2. mazie
    Interesting Reading, thanks
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