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Cat Senses

Learn about the five senses of our cats

Cat Senses by Bradley Mashburn

We understand the world around us through our five senses and so do our cats. Using sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, we observe, learn, navigate, and experience. Your cat's senses evolved from those of the wild cat, a long line of hunters and predators, and are designed for the purpose of stalking, hunting and killing.

Almost all of your cat's five senses have heightened ability when compared to humans. So, how do we stack up, sense wise, to our feline companions? A cat's vision is superior at night to ours but inferior in daylight. Cats have a slightly larger field of view than humans. We have a similar range of hearing at low frequencies, but cats can hear much higher-pitched sounds. A cat's sense of smell is about fourteen times better ours. Cat's tastes are specialized, as a carnivore, preferring meat and fat. They are lacking a gene that allows them to taste, or enjoy sweet - which might help with dieting;-).


Cats have excellent night vision. They can distinguish objects well even in a badly lit environment, though they cannot see in total darkness. The cat's retina has two types of cells: one to perceive vertical objects and one to perceive horizontal ones. Cat's vision is especially well tuned to detecting motion; they can see movements that are too fast for our eyes, yet find it hard to focus on very slow movement. This capability in addition to the night vision makes him a successful noctural hunter.
A unique feature a domestic cat's eyes are the slit shaped pupils. He can see in the dimmest of lights because his pupils can open about three times as wide as the human pupil. Cats also have an inner eyelid that helps clean and protect the eye. This third eyelid is called the palpebra terria. It is a fold of tissue covered by a specialized mucous membrane. 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.


Cats have sharp ears, adapted especially for the high sounds. The ears are fairly large relatively to their head and have the ability to move sideways so that sound can be captured more accurately. Cats' ears are uniquely designed to draw sound into the ear canal, which enables them to hear sounds like a mouse rustling in the brush 30 feet away. Cats can rotate their ears up to 180 degrees. They also can detect the tiniest variances in sound, distinguishing differences of as little as one-tenth of a tone. This discrimination capability helps them identify the type and size of the prey emitting the noise or quickly find a mewing kitten.


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. A cat's sense of smell is far better than a human's, but not quite as good as a dog's. A cat uses scent to find food, mates, enemies, and to seek out his own territory. 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, allow the cat to analyze air that is inhaled through the mouth rather than the nose. There are several hypotheses about how the cat uses his Jacobson's organs including: finding food, helping predict unusual occurrences, e.g., earthquake, and perceiving sexual odors or pheromones.


Compared to humans, the cat's sense of taste is weak. Where we have 9,000 taste buds, cats have only 473. Therefore, most of a cat's sense of taste is really his sense of smell. 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. Cats are also not very sensitive to the taste of salt or sweet. Food straight from the refrigerator doesn't appeal to a cat; whose wild ancestors ate freshly killed prey. Try heating Kitty's food to intensify the aroma if he is not eating well. SEE THE COMPANION ARTICLE ON FEEDING YOUR CAT


Like their human companions, cats have touch receptors all over their body. The Sense of Touch is especially keen on the foot pads and at the whiskers. 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 are the face and the front paws. 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.

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