Newton’s Purrspective – Sense of Smell and a Cat’s 6th Sense

Here’s guest writer and “one smart cat” Newton to give us the science behind a cat’s sense of smell.

Newton’s Purrspective – Sense of Smell and a Cat’s 6th Sense


Isaac Newton

Cats and humans share the same 5 senses (hearing, sight, touch, taste, and smell), but our abilities are far from equal. Despite my obvious bias, I have to say that you can’t argue with science. In a comparison of the two species, overall cats win paws down. Cats have a far greater range of hearing (45-64,000 Hz compared to humans 64-23,000 Hz). (1) Our eyes have six to eight times as many cells for viewing objects in low light as humans. (2) Our whiskers are so sensitive that we can detect the slightest change in air currents around objects (such as furniture). This is one of the reasons blind cats can get around so well. (3) True, we only have 473 taste buds compared to 9,000 in humans (4), and our reputation for being finicky is well deserved. But, we are obligate carnivores and our natural diet is primarily protein. We have no need to taste sugar! (5) If your apple pie mysteriously disappears from the table I suggest that you blame it on Fido.

Perhaps most amazing of all is our sense of smell. Any human who has suffered a cold knows how important smell is to being able to taste food. Cats have 200 million odor sensitive cells in our nostrils, 40 times more than humans. (6) We also have a special structure called the Jacobson’s Organ (vomeronasal organ). This structure is located behind our upper front teeth and connects to the nasal cavity. Inhaled information is transferred directly to special areas of the brain for concentrated processing and analysis. Has your cat ever sniffed you intensely and then made a face suggesting the smell was bad? Kitty is actively breathing in air to utilize the Jacobson’s Organ. The curled lip is called “Flehmen” (German for lip curl) (7) or sometimes “Flehmen’s smile”. This process allows more in depth analysis of scents and, among other things, is used to detect pheromones. We KNOW if a strange cat has been rubbing up against you! For this reason it is sometimes called an auxiliary or extra sense – a Sixth Sense.

Does this mean cats are psychic? I can’t say for sure, but some researchers suggest that a cat’s sense of smell is extra special. Atmospheric air flow through Jacobson’s Organ may reveal small changes in chemical composition. This could enable a cat to sense impending disasters such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and forest fires. Supporters of this view say Jacobson’s Organ is the structural origin of a Sixth Sense. (8)

In conclusion, understanding the sensitivity and importance of smell to cats can help humans to make our environments more pleasant. Remember, smell can attract or repel. I come running when a new box of Cat Faeries Legendary Catnip toys arrives. But please don’t be offended if I don’t enjoy your Chanel No. 5.

Smell influences:

  • the types of food we will eat (we need lots of protein)
  • what areas of the house we prefer (we don’t like most chemical cleaning agents, so I suggest an enzyme based cleaner such as Cat Faeries Anti-Icky Poo in cat box areas)
  • litter box acceptance/avoidance (we prefer unscented litter) (9)

Following these guidelines can foster a more peaceful coexistence for all.

NOTES:

(1) http://www.lsu.edu/deafness/HearingRange.html
(2) http://www.livescience.com/40460-images-cat-versus-human-vision.html
(3) http://animals.howstuffworks.com/pets/question592.htm
(4) http://lovemeow.com/2009/10/5-senses-cats-vs-humans/
(5) http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/strange-but-true-cats-cannot-taste-sweets/
(6) http://lovemeow.com/2009/10/5-senses-cats-vs-humans/
(7) http://cats.about.com/od/amyshojai/a/Flehmen-Aka-Flehmen-Response.htm
(8) http://www.zooclub.ru/eng/cats/sost/5.shtml
(9) http://www.pet-health-care-gazette.com/2010/02/03/cat-litter-box-problems-what-to-do-when-your-cat-decides-not-to-use-the-litter-box/

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