What Makes Cats Tick?
If you've been lucky enough to share your space with more than one cat, you know how individual each relationship is. However, despite their differences in personality, cats possess many common attributes. Of course, just because they are common among cats doesn't make these attributes any less incredible. So the next time your cat takes a flying leap onto a dresser or races around a corner in hot pursuit of your foot, before you shoo him away, take a moment to appreciate your cat's amazing abilities.
A NOSE BY ANY OTHER NAME
Why are cats so finicky? An organ on the roof of their mouth (called the vomeronasal organ) that connects to the nasal cavity allows cats to essentially taste what they smell. This is how your cat distinguishes if food is fresh enough for his liking. Cats also use their nose to identify enemies, mates, people, and other cats' territories.
THE WAY OF THE WHISKERS
Whiskers provide important sensory information to cats. The feline whiskers are more than twice as thick as ordinary hairs and have roots that are three times deeper. Whiskers are so sensitive that they don't have to touch an object for a cat to sense nearby movement. Cats can rotate the long, rigid whiskers that protrude sideways from the muzzle down and around to check for signs of life in prey. These whiskers also help cats measure tight spaces to decide whether they can fit through. Whisker-like hairs behind the front legs help cats feel their prey, while whiskers above the eyes trigger a blinking reflex to protect the eyes.
IT'S ALL IN THE LEGS
Cats can reach speeds of about 30 miles per hour over short distances. The cat's front legs support the bulk of body weight during walking and running, and the back legs support the body when jumping. You've probably laughed more than once when, just before your cat pounces, his rear legs shimmy and his rear end starts to wiggle. This is how your cat sizes up a jump and tests the firmness of takeoff.
TALE OF THE TAIL
Besides helping humans and other cats judge your cat's mood, his tail helps him balance himself when climbing a tree or precariously perching on the back of your sofa. The tail also allows cats to maintain their balance when making a sharp turn in pursuit of an invading bug or a catnip mouse.
EARS THAT HEAR FAR AND NEAR
Little does the squeaky mouse tiptoeing through your house know that he is broadcasting his position with each step. Your cat's cone-shaped ears can pick up sounds and movements up to five times farther than humans can, which helps him pinpoint the exact location of the source.
THE EYES OF A TIGER?
You may have noticed that your feline friend typically does not see a piece of kibble on the floor right under his nose or that he paws the water in the bowl before drinking. This is because cats have a hard time focusing their eyes on close, unmoving objects. (They're much better at seeing movement and objects that are farther away.) Cats often paw water before drinking to determine where the surface is, as well as the speed at which the water is flowing and if there is any danger under the surface (unlikely in a water bowl safely positioned inside your home, however).
THE POWER OF THE TONGUE
If you're a cat owner, you're probably familiar with the rather uncomfortable sensation of your cat's tongue dragging across your skin as he licks you. But do you know why his tongue feels so much like coarse sandpaper? The center of the cat's tongue actually contains keratin, the tough substance that is also found in human fingernails. Located in the center of the tongue's raspy upper surface, the keratin-containing papillae are small, backward-pointing, hooked projections. These abrasive hooks, which allow a cat's tongue to act like a comb, are an essential tool in untangling fur during grooming. Licking the coat also helps relieve anxiety, fear, and nervousness, which explains why your cat vigorously grooms himself following a spat with another cat or a missed landing after a jump.
The cat's tongue would not be as useful for grooming without his spine's amazing flexibility, which allows a cat to groom nearly his entire body. Frequent standing, arching, and stretching help keep the cat's 30 spinal vertebrae pliable and resilient. The tiny shoulder blades permit movement in almost any direction, and the narrow chest and lack of a true collarbone allow your cat to squeeze through tight spaces.
THE PAWS HAVE IT
The outer layer of skin on the paw pads is considerably thicker than the skin elsewhere on the body. The large pad on the back of the front paw serves as a brake after leaping forward. That pad and the other rounded pads on the paws below the toe bones cushion movement and are prime shock absorbers when landing.