Physical Characteristics - General Feline
indicates that a cat's vision is superior at night in comparison to
humans, and inferior in daylight. Cats, like dogs and many other
animals, have a tapetum lucidum that reflects extra light to the
retina. While this enhances the ability to see in low light, it
appears to reduce net visual acuity, thus detracting when light is
abundant. In very bright light, the slit-like iris closes very
narrowly over the eye, reducing the amount of light on the sensitive
retina, and improving depth of field. The tapetum and other mechanisms
give the cat a minimum light detection threshold up to seven times
lower than that of humans. Variation in color of cats' eyes in flash
photographs is largely due to the interaction of the flash with the
tapetum. Average cats have a visual field of view estimated at 200 degrees,
versus 180 degrees in humans, with a binocular field (overlap in the images
from each eye) narrower than that of humans. As with most predators,
their eyes face forward, affording depth perception at the expense of
field of view. Field of view is largely dependent upon the placement
of the eyes, but may also be related to the eye's construction.
Instead of the fovea which gives humans sharp central vision, cats
have a central band known as the visual streak. Cats can apparently
differentiate among colors, especially at close range, but without
Cats have a third eyelid, the
nictitating membrane, which is a thin cover that closes from the side
and appears when the cat's eyelid opens. This membrane partially
closes if the cat is sick; although in a sleepy, content cat this
membrane is often visible. If a cat chronically shows the third
eyelid, it should be taken to a veterinarian for evaluation.
Unlike humans, cats do not need to blink their eyes on a regular basis
to keep their eyes lubricated (with tears). Unblinking eyes are
probably an advantage when hunting. Cats will, however, "squint" their
eyes, usually as a form of communication. Cat owners can often entice
their pets to squint or even fully close their eyes just by talking to
them in a soothing or pleasing manner. Many cats will also squint in
response to seeing their owners squint.
Cats have a wide
variation in eye color, the most typical colors being golden, green
and orange. Blue eyes are usually associated with the Siamese breed,
but they are also found in white cats. If a white cat has two blue
eyes, it is often times deaf; however, orange eyes usually indicate
the cat is free of hearing problems. White cats having one blue and
one other-colored eye are called "odd-eyed" and may be deaf on the
same side as the blue eye.
This is the result of the yellow iris
pigmentation rising to the surface of only one eye, as blue eyes are
normal at birth before the adult pigmentation has had a chance to
express itself in the eye(s).
Hearing Humans and
cats have a similar range of hearing on the low end of the scale,
but cats can hear much higher-pitched sounds, up to 70 kHz, which is
1.6 octaves above the range of a human, and even 1 octave above the
range of a dog. When listening for something, a cat's ears will
swivel in that direction; a cat's ear flaps (pinnae) can
independently point backwards as well as forwards and sideways to
pinpoint the source of the sound. Cats can judge within three inches
(7.5 cm) the location of a sound being made one yard (approximately
one meter) away-this can be useful for localizing prey, etc.
Smell A domestic
cat's sense of smell is about fourteen times as strong as a human's.
Cats have twice as many smell-sensitive cells in their noses as
people do, which means they can smell things we are not even aware
of. Cats also have a scent organ in the roof of their mouths called
the vomeronasal, or Jacobson's organ. When a cat wrinkles its
muzzle, lowers its chin, and lets its tongue hang a bit, it is
opening the passage to the vomeronasal. This is called gaping,
"sneering", or "flehming". Gaping is the equivalent of the Flehmen
response in other animals, such as dogs, horses and big cats.
Touch A cat has
about twenty-four movable vibrissae ("whiskers"), in four rows on
each upper lip on each side of its nose (some cats may have more),
in addition to a few on each cheek, tufts over the eyes, bristles on
the chin, the cat's inner "wrists", and at the back of the legs. The
Sphynx (a nearly hairless breed) may have full length, short, or no
whiskers at all. Vibrissae aid navigation and sensation. The upper
two rows of whiskers can move independently from the lower two rows
for even more precise measuring. Whiskers are more than twice as
thick as ordinary hairs, and their roots are set three times deeper
than hairs in a cat's tissue. Richly supplied with nerve endings at
their base, whiskers give cats extraordinarily detailed information
about air movements, air pressure and anything they touch. Vibrissae
possess exquisite sensitivity to vibrations in air currents.As air
swirls and eddies around objects, whiskers vibrate too. Whiskers may
detect very small shifts in air currents, enabling a cat to know it
is near obstructions without actually seeing them. Cats use messages
in these vibrations to sense the presence, size, and shape of
obstacles without seeing or touching them.
also good hunting tools. The structure of the brain region which
receives information from the vibrissae is similar to that found in
the visual cortex, suggesting that the nature of the cat's
perception through its whiskers is similar to that via its vision.
Stop motion photography reveals that at the moment a cat's prey is
so close to its mouth to be too near for accurate vision, its
whiskers move so as to form a basket shape around its muzzle in
order to precisely detect the prey's location. A cat whose whiskers
have been damaged may bite the wrong part of a mouse it's attacking,
indicating that signals from these delicate structures provide cats
with vital information about the shape and activity of its prey -
interestingly, whiskers also help cats detect scents. It is thought
that a cat may choose to rely on the whiskers in dim light where
fully dilating the pupils would reduce its ability to focus on close
objects. The whiskers also spread out roughly as wide as the cat's
body making it able to judge if it can fit through an opening.
Whiskers are also an indication of the cat's attitude. Whiskers
point forward when the cat is inquisitive and friendly, and lie flat
on the face when the cat is being defensive or aggressive.
Whiskers can also be a bother to a cat, especially when the cat tries to eat food out of a bowl. The end
of the whiskers touching the side of the bowl transfer irritating
sensations to its brain, making it hard for it to continue eating.
Taste The cat family
was shown in 2005 to lack the T1R2 protein, one of two required
for function of the sweetness sensory receptor; a deletion in the
relevant gene (Tas1r2) causes a shift in the genetic reading
frame, leading to transcription stopping early and no detectable
mRNA or protein produced. The other protein, T1R3, is present and
identical to that of other animals, and the relevant taste buds
are still present but inactive. Such a genetic marker found in the
entire family and not other animals must be the result of a
mutation in an early ancestor; as a deletion mutation it could not
revert, and thus would be inherited by all descendants, as the
evolutionary tree branched out. Most scientists now believe this
is the root of the cat family's extremely specialized evolutionary
niche as a hunter and carnivore. Their modified sense of taste
would cause them to some degree to ignore plants, a large part of
whose taste appeal derives from their high sugar content, in favor
of a high-protein carnivorous diet, which would still stimulate
their remaining taste receptors.
Understanding Cat Body Language
Many people fail to understand the silent body language of cats. In
particular, people who are accustomed to the outwards signs of dog
body language seem slow in detecting what a cat is telling them in
its body language, which creates the false impression that cats
are cold-hearted, unemotional, or unintelligent. To understand
cats, one must observe a feline closely and learn what its body
signals tell them. It is important to keep in mind that each cat
may display its emotions with different body language. The
flattened ears, teeth showing, baring belly for submission are
easily 'read' by humans. Some characteristic signals, however, are
often misunderstood. For instance, a cat rubbing its body along an
arm or leg of its human is not only a way in which to attract
attention and, perhaps, a morsel of food; it is also a way of
'marking' its human as its own. Using scent glands located around
its mouth and elsewhere, it subtly 'marks' its human as part of
its cat territory. Most cats prefer gentle rubs behind the ears.
To inform their humans they need petting or attention, a cat may
push its entire body weight up against the human as the cat
snuggles next to his/her favorite person.
- Lifting and subsequent shaking of a paw or paws. The more paws,
the stronger a feeling is indicated; this can sometimes be a four
paw affair with each paw being lifted and shaken in turn. This is
possibly related to the identical action that's displayed after
stepping in water. Aggression - The swishing or
sweeping of the tail in a wide swath, mid-air or against a person
means the cat is trying to get your attention. And if the message
isn't getting through, the cat may simply leave the room.
Relaxation - Sprawling on the side or back and, possibly,
rolling about; this may be seen, for example, when a person enters
the room or stirs from their seat. The cat may display this at the
same time as the person's movement. Greeting - A
particular sort of vocalization, such as a low meow or chirp,
possibly with simultaneous purring. Affection - A
pressing of the face or top of the head against a person's body,
leaving a scent as a marking of territory. Rubbing in quick
succession. Cats may also slowly blink as an expression of
affection or security. Submission - Upon being
approached, it will fall down on its side, indicating it is not
seeking attention and is unwilling to put up a fight.
Contentedness - Kneading with the paws on a person or, for
example, a favorite blanket or sleeping spot. Young kittens knead
their mother's nipples to stimulate the feeding reflex in her so
that her milk flows for the kittens to suckle on. Cats may knead
for a short or extended period of time, the extended period
sometimes interpreted by people as a sign of discomfort or
restlessness, but it is more likely the cat is happy. Most cats
will demonstrate this for about ten minutes at the longest,
although a select few have been known to knead and suckle on their
favorite human's shirt over the course of an entire night.
Researchers at Oxford University have demonstrated that cats
derive immense pleasure from kneading. Scent Rubbing -
This behavior is used primarily to claim ownership of something:
although female cats don't spray, unlike male cats. Once male cats
are neutered the scent rubbing or spraying will wear out or stop.
Courting - Cats, compared to many other mammals have a unique
courting style. Courtship consists of firstly the female coming
into season, or heat. Male cats will be able to smell a female cat
in heat miles away, and will therefore be seeking her out. This
can be very problematic for any owner who has a whole female. When
males arrive, they will fight mercilessly for the right to be the
first to mate with the female. After the dominant male has left,
the less dominant males will then each mate with the female in
turn. It is therefore possible that even if a male cat loses first
breeding rights, he can still be the father. This is also the
reason that a litter of kittens can consist of two or sometimes
even three fathers.
Cat Vocal Calls
Purring - Many people find purring as a sign of content,
which it is; however, it is slightly more than that. Some cats
purr when they are in extreme pain, or in labour, simply to try
and calm themselves down. Purring therefore can be a sign of
pleasure or pain; usually it is the former. Scientists have not
yet been able to discover how purring works, but it is suspected
that it is caused by minute vibrations in the voice box.
Greeting - A particular sort of vocalization, such as a low
meow or chirp, possibly with simultaneous purring.
Distress - Mewing is often a plea for help or attention often
made by kittens. There are two basic types of this call, one more
loud and frantic, the other more high-pitched. In older cats it is
more of a panicky repeated meow. Attention - Often
simple meows and mews in both older cats and young kittens. A
commanding meow is for example, attention, or food.
Protest - Whining meows. Frustration - A strong
sigh or exhaled snort. Happy - A meow that starts low
then goes up and comes back down. Watching/Interest -
Cats will often "chatter" or "chirrup" on seeing something of
interest out of the window, this is sometimes attributed to
mimicking birdsong to attract prey or draw others attention to it,
but often birds are not present. Bengals and Tabbies seem more
likely to display this behavior.
It is a widly held misconception that cats are sneaky, shy, or aloof
animals. Most feline shyness/aggression is a result of abuse,
neglect, or poor socialization. A cat is unlike a dog in the sense
that a dog will instantly trust you unless you have given it a
reason not to. A cat will not trust you unless you have given it a
reason to trust you.
A kitten is scared of people at
first, but if it is handled and well cared for in the first 16
weeks, it will grow up into a sweet, loving cat that will enjoy
human company. It is harder to socialize an adult cat, but this
can be very rewarding.
Cats are not emotionally
dependant on humans like dogs are, and do enjoy some "cat time"
away from humans, and will let out a faint "meow" if it doesn't
want to be picked up, but for the most part, a cat is a friendly