How Cats Understand Their World

Cats, like humans, use their five senses to figure out what’s going on around them. But cats have a unique way of using their senses compared to us.

How A Cat Senses the World

Key Takeaways

  • Cats use their senses differently than humans to understand their world.
  • They rely heavily on their sense of smell, with up to 200 million smell sensors in their noses.
  • While they don’t have as many taste buds as humans, they make up for it with their sense of smell.
  • Touch is important to cats, as they feel love through physical contact.
  • Their whiskers are sensitive and help them navigate their surroundings.
  • Cats have excellent hearing, with 32 muscles in their ears and the ability to hear higher-pitched sounds than dogs.

Cats and Their Super Sniffers

Cats rely on their sense of smell, a lot, to know who and what is around them. Cats have about 45 to 200 million cells in their nose that can detect different smells, while we only have about 10 million cells. So their sense of smell is much stronger than ours.

Cats also have a special organ in the roof of their mouth called the vomeronasal organ. When a cat wrinkles its nose and opens its mouth a little, it helps them use this organ to smell things even more. This is called gaping.

So, things with strong smells, like scented cat litter, the smell of other animals on you, or new smells in the house, can make a cat upset or uncomfortable.

Taste Isn’t a Cat’s Strong Suit

When it comes to taste, cats can’t taste things nearly as well as humans. We have somewhere between 2,000 and 10,000 taste buds, but cats only have about 470. But they make up for this with their amazing sense of smell. Cats mainly decide if they like food by how it smells, not how it tastes.

Cats have special taste buds that are different from humans. Their taste buds that can detect a flavor called umami, which is found in foods like tuna. This flavor is really important to cats, just like how sweet flavors are important to us. The reason cats love tuna so much is because it has a combination of certain substances that create a strong umami taste that cats really enjoy.

A Cat Eating

This cat loves the taste of tuna, but can not taste sugar or sweet things

However, cats cannot taste sweet flavors like we can. They are missing a protein called TAS1R2, which is needed to taste sweetness. This is because of a genetic mutation that happened a long time ago in their family tree. This mutation made it so that cats can’t taste sweet things, but they can still taste other flavors.

Because of this, cats are really good at hunting and eating meat. Their taste buds are adapted to prefer high-protein foods, like meat, rather than foods that are high in sugar, like fruits and vegetables. This helps them survive and thrive as carnivores.

Touch Means Love for Cats

From the time they are born, cats feel love through touch. They clean each other and snuggle up together when they’re little. When you pet a cat, it can exhibit behaviors like purring, drooling, or kneading. This is because their skin is rich in nerves that provide pleasurable sensations. It helps them relax, slow down their heart rate, and loosen their muscles.

The more you hold and touch a kitten, the more it will like being around people when it grows up. But every cat is different. Some like to be petted a lot, and some don’t. Even cats that don’t want to be held for a long time will still play with you, follow you, sleep on your bed, and sit on your lap.

It is important to note that cats have hypersensitive hair follicles on their belly and tail area. Petting these areas can sometimes be too stimulating for them. Cats generally prefer to be petted and scratched on their head, particularly under their chin and cheeks, where they have scent glands. This also helps release their scent, which can elicit a pleasurable response in your cat.

Rubbing the Cat's Chin

Kitty Loves Being Scratched Under Her Chin

Touch is a crucial aspect of love for cats. Understanding their preferences and providing gentle and appropriate touch can strengthen the bond between you and your feline companion.

Whiskers: A Cat’s Feelers

Whiskers are a cat’s way of feeling things. A cat’s whiskers are super sensitive and can feel tiny changes in the air and temperature. They are much deeper in the skin than fur and can tell the cat a lot about what’s around it.

They help the cat find prey when hunting or move around in the dark or narrow places. If the whiskers touch something, the cat will know if it can fit through a small space or between two objects.

Most whiskers are on the cat’s upper lip, but there are smaller ones near the eyebrows, chin, and feet. The whiskers are rooted in thick pads on the skin and have nerves that send messages to the cat’s brain.

Each whisker is filled with tiny nerves that help the cat judge distance and space. It helps them decide if they can fit in a small box or how far they need to jump to reach something.

Whiskers also help cats know what’s around them. Even if a cat is blind, they can still navigate a room by walking around and using their whiskers to sense where they are. At night, whiskers act like radar and help cats move around.

At the tip of each whisker, there’s a special organ that can pick up vibrations in the environment. This helps the cat know where they are and if there are other creatures nearby.

Cat Vision: Built for the Hunt

Cats don’t see as clearly as we do. Their vision is not very sharp compared to ours. For example, if a cat wants to see something clearly that a human can see from 20 to 30 yards away, the cat has to be only 6 or 7 yards away. Cats can be considered to be somewhat near-sighted.

But their eyes are great at spotting movement, which helps them hunt. This kind of vision is actually helpful for cats when they are hunting, because it allows them to see things up close better.

Cat Stalking Prey

Kitty with ears turned forward, listening to and watching her prey

Cats have their eyes in the front of their face, which helps them judge distances really well, like when they jump to catch something. They also have a special layer in their eyes that reflects light and helps them see better in dim light. But they can’t see in complete darkness any better than we can. Have you ever noticed how often cat’s eyes glow in pictures? It’s the reflection off this layer of skin that causes that.

Cats have a high number of rods in their eyes that help them see in the dark. These rods are really good at picking up dim light, which means cats can see in much darker places than humans can. But, this also means that cats don’t see as well when there is a lot of light around.

Cats and Their Amazing Ears

Cats have really good hearing compared to other animals. They can hear sounds that are much higher pitched than what humans can hear. Cats can even hear sounds that are higher pitched than what dogs can hear, a whole octave higher.

A cat’s ear has 32 muscles and can turn sideways and even backwards, to listen to sounds better. They can even tell nearly the exact spot a sound is coming from if it’s not too far away. You’ve probably noticed that you can also often tell your cat’s mood, by the way they hold their ears.

Cat's Ears Turned Sideways

Cat flexing his ear muscles, with ears turned to the side

It’s a myth that all white cats with blue eyes are deaf. Some of them can hear just fine. But there is a slightly higher chance that white cats with blue eyes might have trouble hearing. Cats with one blue eye and one different-colored eye might be deaf in the ear on the same side as the blue eye.

The Last Meow

As you can see, cats experience the world in a unique way, relying on their highly developed senses of hearing, smell, and touch. Our furry companions perceive the world with a heightened level of sensitivity and awareness, offering them a different perspective and understanding of their surroundings compared to humans.

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