Cats rely on their senses for survival in the big world, but they are very different from a human’s five senses. Wondering what the differences are between our five senses? The Refined Feline has the answers for you!
A Whole New World
As mentioned previously, cats don’t use their senses the same as humans. As pet parents, we need to be aware of these differences to know a cat’s feelings and actions. Being very instinctual, cats rely on smell, sight, hearing, taste, and touch to guide them throughout their day. Their basic functions and needs are very different from a human’s. It’s very important to remember this tidbit when interacting with your cat, as it can build more trust. We’ll do a deep dive into each of the five senses to supply more knowledge on how your cat uses these every day.
A cat uses their sense of smell for literally everything, and is a cat’s most used sense. A cat’s most powerful sense, it’s around 40 times stronger than a human’s smell. Cats are always using their sense of smell to sniff out any friends or foes, and more. They can discover potential prey, spoiled food, and where their home is if they get lost outdoors, oftentimes with only one sniff of the air. Your cat most likely greets you by smelling you from toe to head, even if you were just at the office all day. A cat will recognize your smell clearly, but they also want to smell all the places and things you’ve been around. Their smell is so sharply focused that they will recognize your smell before recognizing you by your face!
Cats also have the unique ability to “smell” without even using their noses! They have an olfactory receptor, called a vomeronasal organ, that’s on the roof of their mouths. This organ allows cats to pick up on chemical signatures, like pheromones, on anyone. When your cat “smells” something with their mouth open, they are using their vomeronasal organ to get more information. Most cats will even leave their mouth open for a few seconds after “sniffing” to fully “process” the scent.
Cats also have scent markers on their body which they utilize often. You will see them rub on furniture, walls, their cat tower, and even people. Cats will use these scent markers for territory too, instead of urination. They may rub their face against items in your home, which is just cats using their facial scent markers. This will alert other cats that the item belongs to them, whether it’s cats within the household or outdoors.
Beyond popular belief, cats can’t see in total darkness, although their eyesight in darker light is still better than ours. Cats actually hunt the most during dusk and dawn, so their eyesight is catered to low-light conditions. Their eyes contain more light-sensitive photoreceptors than humans, and cats can see around six to eight times better than us! Their low-light eyesight is boosted by their shape and tapetum lucidum, which is a shiny membrane.
Although cats can’t see in the distance too well, they do have eyesight that’s better suited for lower light conditions. Cats will have the best focus and clarity from about twenty feet away. A human’s peripheral vision is around 180 degrees. A cat’s peripheral vision is 200 degrees because of their eye’s location and shape.
While it was thought that cats are color-blind, this has since been debunked. It’s believed that cats can see most colors, but simply have fewer color-sensitive receptors than humans. So most colors are fine for cats, except red-green can be tricky for them. A human that is red-green color blind is the best way to describe how a cat sees color. This color scheme for a cat would mean that red-colored objects appear more greenish instead. And other colors, like brown, appear more grayish, and potentially be harder to see for them.
It’s no surprise that cat’s ears are designed to pick up minuscule sounds from small prey. Their triangular-shaped, large ears enable them to pick up sound, while their cone-shaped outer ear amplifies the sounds. They can also rotate their ears to better recognize the location of their prey. For maximum efficiency, the vibrating sounds travel down their large ears to help them find and stalk their prey. Since the majority of their prey make higher pitched noises, it makes sense that a cat’s hearing is specifically designed to pick up these higher sounds.
A cat can hear higher-pitched sounds better than a human, but they hear lower-pitched sounds about as well as humans. While humans hear frequencies around 20,000 Hz, a cat’s hearing can reach upwards of 64,000 Hz. It’s also been discovered that cats can hear these higher pitched frequencies better than dogs!
Cats will depend on their sense of touch for a variety of reasons or tasks. Touching the ground can help them detect prey’s movements or even if a predator is coming toward them. They rely heavily on their whiskers, which are thick hair follicles that sense movements. Whiskers are not only found on a cat’s cheeks and above their eyes, but also near their chin, ears, and forelegs. From a deeper skin layer, whiskers are similar to their basic fur coat. When a cat’s whiskers brush up against objects, this can tell them more about the items. This can range from anything to the object’s temperature to its texture, and tell cats what’s alive and what isn’t. A cat’s whiskers are likened to the sensitivity of a human’s fingers. Cats will blink as a protective measure when one of their whiskers is touched.
Another important factor to a cat’s sense of touch is its paw pads. A cat’s pads are covered in nerve receptors, constantly sending information to a cat’s brain about what’s under foot. This allows cats to traverse different terrains without a second glance, and check out many varying objects. Their paw pads are so sensitive, that they will pick up sound vibrations through them!
With so many highly powerful senses, a cat’s sense of taste is actually quite low. Felines only have 500 taste buds blanketing their tongue, while a human has 9,000 taste buds. Cats don’t necessarily need a high level of taste buds, however, as being carnivores, they mostly eat meat. It is believed that cats do not taste sweetness, among other flavors. With their sense of smell being so high, they usually depend on this sense more than taste to tell them what to eat.
You’d think a low sense of taste would deter cats from being picky, but that’s certainly not the case. Cats can still develop a preference for certain flavors, textures and tastes, making it difficult to pinpoint a food they like. Once you do find something they seem to enjoy, it will most likely change in a few months though. Cats do seem to avoid more bitter foods, however. It is believed that it’s an instinctual response to help cats avoid accidental ingestion of poisonous or toxic materials.
Your Cat’s Five Senses Explained
Did you already know some of these fun facts about a cat’s five senses? Either way, you’re now equipped to better understand how your cat processes the world. You will become a better pet parent as you’ll start seeing the world through their eyes. Even if a human’s eyesight isn’t as good!