By Erin Verkler
You know just where they like to be petted, what kind of food they prefer, and what it takes to make them happy. But there are plenty of extraordinary things you may not know about your cat. Most character traits particular to felines come from the fact that they’re natural- born hunters. Whether they’re pouncing on you from behind the door or batting at that stray piece of string dangling from your sweater, it all comes from their innate desire to prowl for prey.
Aside from their hunting ancestry, cats are amazingly complex creatures. We’ve gathered some interesting facts from several vets and animal behaviorists to help you understand and appreciate your cat just a little better.
1. Smell. Cats have a heightened sense of smell which is up to 30 times better than a human’s largely because they have an extra sensory organ called the Jacobson’s organ. Located behind the upper teeth at the front of the cat’s mouth, the extra organ sends smell signals directly to the brain instead of traveling through a nasal passage first like they do in humans. “When you see a cat sniff outdoors, his lower jaw hangs down just a little so air hits the Jacobson’s organ as it also gets up through the nose,” explains Sheldon Rubin, DVM, a delegate to the American Veterinary Medical Association and chief of staff at Blum Animal Hospital in Chicago.
2. Bones. A cat’s collar bone attaches completely differently than a human’s does. This difference makes cats more flexible so they can stretch and jump.
3. Eyes. Enlarged pupils represent arousal and can make the eyes appear to change color. Also, if you have a white cat with blue eyes, chances are she will be deaf. The phenomenon is called genetic-linked deafness.
4. Night Vision. Cats’ pupils are vertical instead of horizontal like those of humans. Vertical pupils let in more light, which helps with night vision. Cats also have peripheral vision of about 285 degrees. Both night and peripheral vision help with the hunt.
5. Sleep. Cats spend up to 18 hours sleeping each day. In the wild, a cat spends much of his day hunting. But as domestic animals, our cats’ basic needs are met, so they spend that extra time taking long and leisurely catnaps. “Once they’ve been freed from the need to be constantly moving around looking for prey, they have the ability to sleep a great deal,” says animal behaviorist Debra Forthman, Ph.D., senior fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
6. Hygiene. Cats like the beach, but hate water. “Rolling in sand helps keep their coats clean because it keeps away parasites,” Dr. Forthman says. Cats also maintain their coats and help the shedding process by spending 30 percent of their day grooming.
7. Tummy rubs. Most cats don’t like being touched on their stomach. If a cat’s stomach is exposed, he’s in a position that makes him very vulnerable if attacked. Some cats will feel secure enough to roll over and elicit petting on their stomach, but generally cats will avoid lying in that position.
8. Milk. Despite the classic vision of a kitten lapping milk from a bowl—and despite cats’ typical cravings for it—felines are actually lactose intolerant. They should never be fed
milk because it can cause gastrointestinal problems.
9. Payback. Believe it or not, cats don’t seek revenge on you for slacking off on your guardian duties. If a cat urinates outside the litter box, it’s not because they’re mad at you or trying to get back at you. Most likely, “They’re distressed, they’re upset, and they’re stressed,” Dr. Forthman explains.
10. High Places. Why does your cat sit on top of the refrigerator? Because as territorial animals, cats have a need to see what’s going on and want to be as high as possible to feel secure in their scouting. “It’s a territorial thing,” Dr. Forthman says. “That’s why they climb trees when they get scared.”