Cats Have 9 Lives (And Other Purr-plexing Feline Facts)

Cats Have an Excellent Sense of Smell

A cat’s sense of smell is vastly superior to humans. Cats have around 200 million odor-sensitive cells in their nose, compared to only 5 million in humans (1). Their sense of smell is 14 times stronger than humans. This allows cats to detect smells at concentrations nearly 100,000 times lower than humans can. Cats primarily use their advanced smelling ability for hunting and communication.

Because of their strong sense of smell, cats can detect prey from far away. They can follow prey trails that are days or even weeks old. Cats also use their sense of smell to locate and identify other cats. Each cat has a unique scent that allows them to recognize individuals, as well as determine age, sex, and reproductive status.

Cats deposit scents by rubbing up against objects. This leaves both odor and visual marks. They also scratch objects to leave scent markers from the glands in their paws. These scents allow cats to identify territories and share information with other cats in the area.


Cats are Natural Athletes

Cats are incredibly athletic animals that possess extraordinary agility, flexibility, speed, and strength that often surpasses that of human athletes. Their bodies are built for jumping, climbing, running, and hunting.

A cat’s strong hind legs allow it to jump up to 6 times its height. For example, a domestic cat can typically jump over 5 feet high from a standing position. Their leg muscles exert incredible force on the ground as they run, allowing cats to reach speeds of 30 mph. Cats are also very agile – they can twist and contort their bodies to fit into small spaces and make sharp turns while running. Their flexibility stems from having a spine that is connected by free-floating bones not fused into place like in humans.

In addition to impressive vertical jumps and running speed, cats are excellent climbers. Their retractable claws provide traction to climb up trees and walk along branches and fences. Cats have excellent balance and spatial awareness that gives them confidence while climbing. And their tail acts as a counterbalance when leaping and climbing.

All of these athletic capabilities serve cats well for hunting. They can sprint rapidly to chase prey, leap high to pounce, and climb to access birds’ nests. Their speed and agility are vital assets for a predatory animal like the cat. So while we marvel at human athletes’ abilities, cats possess a level of athletic prowess specifically adapted for survival in the natural world.


Cats are Crepuscular

Crepuscular refers to animals that are most active during twilight hours. For cats, this means dawn and dusk. Crepuscular behavior evolved as an adaptation that allowed cats to avoid temperature extremes during the day and night and take advantage of the changing light levels to hunt prey.

Cats tend to be most active when the sun is rising and setting because their prey animals, like mice and voles, are also more active at these times. The changing light provides cats with ideal conditions to see prey while remaining hidden themselves. Additionally, temperatures are more moderate, which suits the cat’s preference for cooler conditions.

You’ll notice indoor cats wanting to play or get fed right as the sun comes up and again as it starts to set. This crepuscular schedule is hardwired into their natural rhythms and ancestry as effective nocturnal hunters.

Cats Have Over 20 Vocalizations

Cats make a variety of sounds to communicate with humans and other cats. While meowing is their most well-known vocalization, cats actually have over 20 distinct sounds they use to express themselves. These vocalizations all have different meanings and contexts.

For example, purring indicates contentment, though cats may also purr when they are distressed to comfort themselves. Kittens purr to their mothers when feeding for reassurance. Domestic cats tend to purr more frequently than wild cats to solicit food or affection from their human caretakers.

Growling, snarling, and hissing are all signs a cat feels threatened or angry. The yowl is a long, drawn-out meow cats make when seeking attention or expressing interest in mating. Squeaking or chirping shows excitement during play, while chattering often occurs when a cat sees potential prey out of reach. Cats will grunt or make a gurgling sound when investigating new scents and objects in their environment.

Meowing has a range of contexts. Short meows are greetings or expressions of concern. drawn-out meows indicate frustration, impatience or confusion. The frequency of meows and quality of tone changes based on a cat’s needs.

Understanding cat vocalizations helps owners respond properly to their pet’s needs. While cats may seem mysterious in their silent moments, their ability to clearly communicate moods vocally shows evidence of an expressive social life.


The Sound of Cats: 20 Fascinating Pet Cats Noise Make

Cats Have a ‘Third Eyelid’

Cats have an extra eyelid called the nictitating membrane or third eyelid located in the inner corner of their eyes. This translucent eyelid helps lubricate and protect cats’ eyes in several ways.

The nictitating membrane sweeps horizontally across the eye to moisten the cornea and remove debris. It also protects the eyes from scratches and harsh UV light. When needed, it can cover the eyeball like a protective shutter.

According to Scientific American, the third eyelid likely evolved to allow cats to see while also shielding their eyes when hunting prey in dense vegetation. It frequently appears when a cat is unwell to protect the eye, which is why pet owners observe it more when their cat is sick. A temporarily exposed third eyelid often resolves on its own, but chronic visibility may indicate an eye injury or illness requiring veterinary attention.

Cats are Meticulous Groomers

Grooming is extremely important for cats as it helps regulate their body temperature and remove loose hair and dirt. Cats spend a significant portion of their day grooming themselves, typically 30-50% of their waking hours or around 8 hours a day 1. Their grooming routine consists of licking their fur, paws, legs and bottoms as well as rubbing their heads on objects. This frequent self-grooming keeps their coat clean, gets rid of loose hair and helps distribute skin oils evenly around their fur. Additionally, the saliva they spread during grooming enables better mat and knot removal. By dedicating so much time to grooming, cats are able to maintain proper hygiene and skin/coat health.

Cats Have Sensitive Whiskers

Cat whiskers, also known as vibrissae, are thick, specialized hairs that grow in distinct patterns on a cat’s muzzle, above their eyes, and on their forelegs. They serve several important purposes for cats.

Whiskers are comprised of a tough protein called keratin and have roots that are two to three times deeper than the cat’s regular coat of fur. At the root, there is a rich network of blood vessels and nerves making whiskers highly sensitive tactile instruments. Even the slightest touch against the whiskers transmits strong sensory signals to the cat.

Since cats have excellent night vision but poorer distance vision, they rely on their whiskers to navigate in the dark and judge spaces. As the cat moves, the whiskers detect airflow and provide feedback about openings, objects, and prey. This helps cats gracefully leap and fit through tight spaces despite their flexible spines. Additionally, the whiskers above their eyes protect their vision as they move through dense vegetation.

Whiskers also aid cats during hunting. They use their whiskers to detect subtle vibrations and movements allowing them to pinpoint prey location. The whiskers essentially act like sensors that provide spatial awareness to support their predatory skills.

Because a cat’s whiskers are so sensitive, it’s important not to trim them and to ensure cat carriers, tunnels, and openings accommodate their width. Damaged or cut whiskers can temporarily impair a cat’s ability to navigate and judge surroundings until the whiskers regrow.

In summary, cat whiskers play a vital role in enhancing cats’ spatial perception and predatory capabilities. Their specialized makeup allows cats to thrive as agile hunters and navigate all kinds of terrain and tight spaces.

Cats are Natural Carnivores

Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they must eat meat to survive. Unlike omnivores such as humans that can meet their nutritional needs by eating both plants and animals, cats have evolved as strict carnivores requiring animal flesh to thrive (Source).

A cat’s teeth, digestive system, and metabolism are specifically adapted for an all-meat diet. They have pointed teeth designed for grabbing prey and sharp teeth designed for shearing meat. Their short intestinal tract is efficient at processing animal protein and fat but not plant material. Cats cannot synthesize certain essential nutrients like taurine, vitamin A, and arginine without ingesting meat, making them obligate carnivores (Source).

While cats can eat small amounts of plant material, they lack the physiology to digest it properly and obtain adequate nutrition. Their biology requires fresh meat or canned/dry commercial diets formulated especially for feline obligate carnivores.

Cats are Excellent Hunters

Cats are natural born hunters with excellent predatory skills that make them effective at catching prey. Their vision, hearing, stealth, and athleticism all contribute to their prowess as hunters.

Cats have excellent vision that helps them spot potential prey from far away. Their eyes are specially adapted for hunting with a wide field of vision and the ability to see well in low light. According to Purina, cats can see up to 6 times better in the dark than humans.

In addition to great eyesight, cats have acute hearing that can detect high-frequency sounds that allow them to hone in on prey. Their sensitive ears can pinpoint the location of noises from rodents, birds, and other creatures. According to Katzenworld, cats can hear sounds up to 2 octaves higher than humans.

Cats are also very stealthy and able to stalk prey quietly and patiently. They have soft, padded paws that allow them to tread lightly and not make noise as they approach. Cats use their stealth abilities to get close enough to prey before suddenly pouncing and capturing it.

Finally, cats are incredible athletes with great agility, balance, and coordination that aids their hunting. They can leap high into the air, run fast, and twist their bodies to catch prey. All of these physical attributes come together to make cats exceptional hunters.

Cats Have a Complex Social Life

Cats are often stereotyped as solitary and aloof creatures, but they do have a unique and complex social life. While they are territorially minded animals, cats have intricate forms of communication and social interaction with other cats. Their social behavior and communication methods include:

  • Facial expressions – Cats use facial expressions like half-closed eyes, ear position, whisker positions, and more to communicate their mood and intentions.
  • Body language – A cat’s body language, from an arched back to waving the tail, signals how they are feeling.
  • Scent marking – Cats have scent glands and leave pheromone clues around their territory to communicate with other cats.
  • Vocalizations – From meows to chirps, cats have over 20 different vocalizations to connect with humans and other cats.
  • Allogrooming – Social grooming between cat friends helps maintain bonds and social hierarchies.
  • Play – Social play is not just for kittens, adult cats also play together to bond and establish relationships.

While often independent at heart, well-socialized cats develop strong social connections and relationships with other cats when provided the proper resources and environment. Their communication methods and social structures are unique to the feline species.

For more on cat social behavior, check out this Reddit thread:

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