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If your senses were as heightened as your cat’s, people would no doubt think that you had superpowers. Read on to see how your cat’s senses of hearing, smell, sight, taste and touch set it apart from mere mortals.
If you could hear as well as a cat, you’d have bionic ears. Imagine being able to make out a mouse walking in the grass more than 20 metres away! You’d also pick up on frequencies two to four times more sensitive than those audible to the human ear, otherwise known as ultrasounds. You’d even be able to hear a bat flying. You know when your cat’s eyes start darting around for something that you can’t even see? Chances are it’s picked up on a sound and is looking for the source.
On that front, humans can detect the source of a sound to within 20 degrees, and have a really hard time assessing its elevation. Cats, on the other hand, can detect its source to within 5 degrees and know exactly how high up the sound is. Which isn’t all that surprising: Have you ever noticed that cats’ ears are shaped like small parabolic antennae capable of moving in all directions? Handy, that.
Hearing is without a doubt a cat’s most finely honed sense and his most effective surveillance tool. If you ever get goose bumps when you see your cat staring at a spot on the wall or turning to look at something you can’t see, tell yourself that he’s no doubt scanning the movements of a mouse hidden in your walls or listening to a neighbour practice violin well out of human earshot.
If you shared your cat’s sense of smell, you would be quite the culinary expert! In fact, you’d be able to sniff out the individual ingredients in any given dish. That’s because cats can smell things on a molecular level. Instead of smelling spaghetti sauce, they smell tomatoes, parsley, onions and every other ingredient that went into the dish. They also have a powerful olfactory analytical tool called the Jacobson’s organ: Two tiny holes on the roof of their mouth that enable them to pick up the scent of pheromones left by other cats marking their territory.
Cats have incredibly impressive night vision. They see almost as well in the dark as they do in the light of day. Their night vision is a lot like the goggles that soldiers wear to see in the dark. But cats can’t see in total darkness, and their night vision comes at a price. Cats had to sacrifice one colour in their day vision, which means that they only see shades of yellow and blue. What’s more, anything beyond 20 meters or closer than 5 cm will be very blurry to their eyes. Have you ever seen cats dip their paw in their water dish before drinking? By doing this, they are creating turbulence in the bowl, making it easier to judge the distance between their nose and the water—and to avoid getting their nose wet by accident.
The least developed sense in cats is their sense of taste. They lack a sweet receptor, but they’re great at detecting umami (one of the five basic flavours together with sweetness, saltiness, bitterness and sourness). Cats can also taste water. But, contrary to popular belief, you can easily “trick” a cat’s taste buds. If your veterinarian advises you to change your cat’s food, do it over the course of two weeks, gradually replacing its old food with the new food until the deed is done!
This is where we get to a cat’s famous whiskers, called vibrissae. The vibrissae are so sensitive that cats don’t need to touch a wall in the dark to know that they need to avoid it. They can feel a current of air generated by their own movement, which hits the wall and bounces back to them.
So there you have it: Five reasons why your cat could easily be considered a superhero—in addition to being able to melt your heart.