Cat Perception


When I wrote my last blog about the way dogs perceive things, I said I would give it a go about cats as well, and here we are.

Truthfully, I don’t know as much about cats because I’ve always been a dog person. The little nuggets of wisdom I have I picked up from my coworkers at Healthy Pets NW. (For example, I learned that cats often have learned association with food rather than innate association, and so they might not always recognize something as food. I’ve also watched the family cat struggle with figuring out how to eat a piece of pork I’d given him.)

The family cat, up close and personal

So, though there were many facts about a dog’s life I found interesting, learning about cats for me was more compelling.

Some things I already knew - like that cats can see much better in the dark than can humans. Their degree of vision is slightly wider at 200° versus our range of 180°. But overall, cats have much less capacity for vision than we do. They can see a similar range of colors to dogs, perhaps blues and yellows, or greens and reds. The sources I found weren’t in agreement on that. One article did mention it’s possible cats might also be able to see UV colors - the colors we see under blacklight - but this was just one source. (Side note: I found a fascinating article about human vision and “forbidden colors” where researchers used technology to stabilize the human eye when looking at unbordered panels of blue/yellow and red/green. I’d love to know what the world looks like to those creatures with more vision capacity.) Finally, cats have terrible distance vision. After a point of about 20 feet, objects look blurry to them. Cats also have a harder time distinguishing things moving slowly or slightly - and with human faces, a few studies have shown cats may have a hard time recognizing their owners visually. Your scent or your voice is much more likely to aid in recognition than your appearance.

The second family cat, even more up close and personal

Hearing-wise, I mentioned in my last post that cats can hear so well they can discern the subtle differences between opening a regular cupboard, and the cupboard that has their food behind it. Well, this is because cats can hear a huge variety of pitches (though similarly to us in the lower range). They can also hear a multitude of tones and have similar abilities to dogs in being able to move their ears to catch a specific spot of sound. Cats have this enhanced sense of hearing, as well as the ability to see at night, because they are nocturnal, and depend on hearing their pray to catch it. It’s also because cats prefer to lie in wait for their prey, pouncing once they know it’s close, rather than chasing after it.

Cats are also reportedly much better at smelling than dogs are, due to their 30 variants of a relevant scent receptor protein (compared to a dog’s nine). I found an article that mentioned the Jacobson’s organ (an organ just behind the front teeth that connects to the nasal cavity) that allows cats to breathe more air into the nose and distinguish scents further. It was a bit harder to find some articles on cats and their ability to smell because it seems more often people are asking the question, “why does my cat smell?”

Please keep in mind that cats and taste is heavily related to smell - and they can obtain a lot of details from scent. For example, my family’s cat couldn’t handle the change in his canned pumpkin when my stepmom decided to try a cheaper formula. Smellier foods are often better, but something too pungent may be off-putting. Warming up a food before serving it often makes it appeal more as well.

Our cat, graciously ignoring my attempts at a selfie

I didn’t delve as much into cats and their inner emotional lives because (truthfully) I started getting tired after a point. But! Never fear, because I did pick up a few things. For example, experts believe because cats came into human lives on their own terms, cats didn’t develop as much of an understanding of human differences. For example, a dog will act differently around humans than it does around other dogs, while cats treat humans much the same as they treat other cats. That’s not to say cats don’t realize humans aren’t cats - more that they don’t feel a need to treat humans differently. When a cat rubs against your legs, in that sense, it is greeting you as it would another cat (a cat on the same social level, at that!).

They recognize their names as well, as shown in a separate study. Cats ignored human conversation until their name was said; then they showed interest by some form of body language. This one I already knew, as my cat comes when he’s called, albeit in a very angry, stomping, way!

I do really want to learn more about cats, and so I’ll probably be focusing more blogs on them in the coming days. While I leave you here, tell me, what are some fun facts you know about cats?

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