Did you know that a group of cats is called a “clowder”? Or that one unspayed female cat could produce around 49,000 kittens in 10 years? These are just a few fascinating facts about one of Earth’s most mysterious creatures that many of us share a home with: the feline. The history of cats is extensive, with the earliest evidence of domesticated cats dating back to ancient Egypt more than 4,000 years ago. Today, cats continue to captivate us with their independent personalities, playful antics, and soothing purrs. Whether you are a lifelong cat enthusiast or just starting to learn about these amazing creatures, there's always something new and interesting to discover. Keep reading to explore 10 things you might not have known about cats.
Cats' Unique Communication
There’s a reason that many people don’t seem to like cats, one of which is that cats apparently are just mean and aloof. While it's true that some cats can display anger (usually this stems from fear), this misconception often arises from a lack of established boundaries between humans and cats. Cats, intricate and complex creatures, possess sophisticated communication skills that extend both vocally (through purring, hissing, and meowing) and physically, using body language and behavior.
Did you know that cats only meow to communicate with humans? However, this can often be questioned as being true due to anecdotal evidence of cats meowing at each other in certain circumstances. It’s also believed by scientists that cats are expert manipulators (but I think we all knew that) and their meow is just one of the tools used to get what they want. Cats can actually learn which noises they make are the most effective at getting their owners to do what they want them to do according to Nicholas Dodman of Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. The understanding of cat communication traces back to 1895 with the beginning of indoor cat living, and the topic continues to be explored today. Professor Alphonse Leon Grimaldi even wrote an essay in 1895 on the matter of what cats were saying to humans and this has been a concept that’s continued to be studied since then but in the end, cat owners know their cats and their language best.
Cats utilize their bodies to communicate with both humans and other animals with the tail being one of the most versatile communication systems. Their tail can greatly depict how they’re feeling. A cat walking with an upright tail is often relaxed and friendly. A swishing tail can indicate a cat is angry or curious but it can also be a sign of being ornery. When a cat’s tail is fluffed up with the hair standing up on the end, they are usually communicating that they are feeling threatened and trying to come across as bigger than they actually are. Now, one heavier we all know and love is the head-butt and rubs. It’s believed by scientists that this behavior is either a way to greet people and say they are happy to see them OR it’s a way to leave their scent behind. Now here’s one you might not know of: cats use their whiskers to communicate. Cats that are happy or active will elevate their whiskers above their eyes. A threatened cat will pull their whiskers taut, flair, and direct them towards the threat.
Cats' Purring Mystery
The rumbling of a cat purring is one of the most therapeutic sounds in existence. There’s nothing quite like cuddling with your cat on the couch as happy purrs emit from their bodies. But how do they purr exactly? This topic has been a mystery for years but a recent study in Current Biology may have the answer to how cats produce this happy rumbling.
Domesticated cats possess pads in their vocal cords which add an extra layer of fat, allowing them to vibrate at low frequencies and produce purring. Interestingly, the larynx or voice box doesn't even require input from the brain to create this sound, as the pads enable the vocal cords to produce a unique and soothing purring sound without any conscious effort from the cat, according to this study. This, though, has been challenged as there is no way to know for sure as of now due to studies being conducted on larynxs that have been surgically removed from cats prior to scheduled euthanization for terminal illness. Fun fact: their larger, wild counterparts, i.e. tigers and lions, are considered “roaring” cats while domesticated cats are “purring cats”. But why do cats purr?
We often associate purring with happiness, especially while being pet, and content and while this is often the case, it’s believed that cats also purr when anxious or in pain. The reasons why cats purr coincide with how they purr due to the neurological signals possibly sent from the brain. Other reasons cats may purr include self-healing (we’ll get to that later), communicating hunger, and attracting males when in heat.
As previously mentioned, a cat's purr can be self-healing not only for the feline itself but also for others. The vibrational frequencies produced by the purring can actually help you to physically heal. When a cat purrs, it releases endorphins into its brain which can also be felt by humans, leading to a decrease in stress hormone levels. This decrease aids in healing and can even lower blood pressure. The frequency of a cat's purr typically falls between 25 to 140 Hz, which is the same frequency that has been shown to aid in the healing of broken bones, joint and tendon issues, and even wound healing!
Cats' Remarkable Sense of Smell
A cat’s sense of smell is essentially a superpower in cats. With more than 200 million odor-sensitive cells compared to the 5 million humans have, it’s no wonder they can often rely on their sense of smell more than their eyesight in order to scope out their environment. Cats have the ability to smell something up to 4 miles away depending on the wind and the source of the odor. They even have more vomeronasal receptors than dogs which are the receptors of pheremones. Cats also have two scent organs: the regular olfactory (scent) receptors and the vomeronasal organ, a second “nose” in the roof of their mouth. The vomeronasal organ allows cats to pick up pheromone signatures that regular scent receptors cannot detect. Pheromones play a crucial role for animals for social, mating, and territorial communication. Due to their elevated sense of smell, it’s important to keep this in mind in regard to your cat’s environment in the home such as being aware of scented litter and other unfamiliar scents such as another animal that’s rubbed against you as this can cause distress for your cat.
Cats' Sleeping Patterns
When you think of cats and their daily routines, sleep is probably the first thing that comes to mind. Well, there’s a reason for that. On average, adult cats sleep 16 hours a day which makes up about ⅔ of their entire life span. This can come out to about 79 out of every 104 minutes. But they don’t sleep for 16 hours straight. Cats have what’s called a polyphasic sleep schedule in which their sleep is broken up into shorter spans throughout the day and night with these naps being on average, 78 minutes at a time.
So what happens during these cat naps? Cats have different sleep stages, just like humans. Cat sleeping stages are categorized into rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep as well as a transition period between the two. NREM often happens first and cats will either wake up after NREM sleep or simply transition to REM sleep. You know when your cat is sleeping and their eyes start moving, their legs kick and maybe their mouth is making sudden movements? That is your cat entering REM sleep and it’s believed that they are dreaming in this period.
Feline Social Structures
It’s widely known that cats aren’t exactly the most social animals, especially compared to their domesticated dog counterparts. It often seems that it's us begging for our cat’s attention than the other way around. Cats are selectively social and discriminatory in regard to their interactions with other humans and animals. Even in the wild, cats are solitary hunters and do not hunt together in a pack but cats may form social groups with an internal structure if the food supply is plentiful. Even mother cats raise kittens on their own, occasionally with the help of another female cat if out in the wild to essentially “babysit” while she hunts but the father cat is not a part of the familial structure.
Colonies may form of stray and feral cats centered around a food source which can be considered a social group but not a “pack”. But within these cat colonies, there is no clear linear hierarchy as relationships are complex as some cats may have closer relationships with each other than others. These groups only work when the cats of the colony are familiar with each other without food or other resources being a competition between them. But in the end, they are not pack animals like dogs and will continue to be solitary hunters in the end.
Cats' Cultural Significance
Over the years, cats have been an integral part of many cultures, rituals, and beliefs, some more favorable than others. Research shows two lineages of cats that can be traced back to different parts of the world and time periods. One heritage line stems from 7,000 years ago in what is considered today’s Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, southern Turkey, Kurdistan, southern Iraq, and western Iran which then spread across Europe. The second lineage is from Egypt as cats then spread through the Mediterranean as they spread via land and sea trade routes.
Cats have a lot of cultural influence in many parts of the world, from Egypt to China to Japan and in Islam. We can first see the influence of cats in ancient Egypt in the 5th and 6th dynasties (approx. 2465-2150 B.C.). where cats were worshipped and considered sacred creatures. Those who killed cats were punished with death. Iconography depicts meaningful relationships and complex beliefs revolving around cats during this time as cats were seen as good luck. Egyptians even worshipped cat-deities that represented fertility, power, and justice such as the goddess Bastet. In art, cats were depicted wearing lavish jewelry due to the belief that cats were the manifestation of Bastet. Cats eventually became integrated with different cultures around the world due to the ancient trade routes that ran through Egypt. Some other ways that cats were culturally significant around the world:
- The goddess Li Shou in China was depicted as a cat in which she was offered sacrifices to keep the pests away.
- Japanese legend states that a cat that was outside a temple raised its paw as an emperor passed by, attracting the emperor, which resulted in the emperor escaping death as lighting struck where he once stood. The symbol of a waving cat is now seen as a lucky charm in Japan today.
- In Europe, cats were both loved and feared as they were often linked to witches and their power.
Cats' Unique Grooming Rituals
Cats are excellent at grooming themselves and often stay meticulously clean with their multiple baths a day. They even spend about 50% of their waking lives grooming themselves. But how they groom and why can greatly vary. Some cats may start with the hind legs first and others may start by licking their paw and wiping their face with it. This is all up to personal preference but they may have multiple grooming sessions throughout the day to clean themselves up instead of doing it all in one sitting. A cat’s tongue is made up of numerous papillae, those small spikes you feel when they lick you, which grab onto the fur and comb through it to make grooming even more efficient.
Some cats may show excessive grooming tendencies at certain times and this isn’t just because they feel extra dirty. Cats can use grooming as a way to make themselves feel better and to self-soothe which is called “displacement grooming”. They may start to groom themselves in a high-tension situation. Animal behaviorists believe that this behavior may be a way that cats deal with conflict but the exact reason is unknown. For example, could the act of licking themselves make them feel better or is it just a distraction? While some excessive grooming is normal, if your cat seems to become obsessive about it, such as to the point of losing fur, please speak to your vet as there may be a health issue such as severe anxiety that needs to be treated. Cats engage in a behavior known as "mutual grooming," which serves two purposes. This activity helps kittens clean those hard-to-reach areas, while also providing a social opportunity for companionship and comfort between cats. Mutual grooming is a sign of trust and affection, and can also occur when a cat is accepting being petted by a human.
While cats are excellent self-groomers, they occasionally need assistance. They may have made a mess around their butt fur if they had a messy poop, got into something sticky, or even just got older and hard to move. In this case, you may want to assist your cat. HICC Pet® Freshening Glove Wipes make grooming your cat easy with the unique glove-shaped design and patented fermented coconut oil formula for extra moisturizing and cleansing.
Cats' Aversion to Water
Cats are famously known for their aversion to water. But don’t let this fool you, some domesticated cats enjoy some time in the water as do their large cat cousins who love to take dips in cool water on a hot day. The question arises: why do many domestic cats generally dislike getting wet? Various theories from animal behaviorists propose that cats evolved in dry climates with minimal exposure to bodies of water. Another widely accepted theory revolves around the discomfort wet fur brings. Wet fur can make cats very uncomfortable and takes a very long time to dry which goes against their instinct for cleanliness and comfort. The added weight of wet fur can make them feel vulnerable to predators. Even cats who may enjoy water can experience a shock factor, especially if they accidentally fall in the bathtub, potentially instilling a fear of water. Despite this, many cats display a playful curiosity when encountering a dripping or running faucet, happily batting at the water with their paws as long as their bodies remain dry.
Cats' Love for High Places
Some cats have a habit of getting stuck in high areas such as trees or roofs. Yes, despite their excellent climbing skills, sometimes, some cats do get in a little over their head and bite off a little more height than they can chew. But overall, cats often love being in high spaces. This is why many cat owners have tall cat trees for them to climb up in and relax but their love for high spaces stems from multiple reasons including some from their instinctual wild tendencies despite being domesticated. Height can offer protection for cats from predators, which in a home setting can mean other animals or children, and provide protection while sleeping as well. Heights also them to spot their own prey down below which can be incorporated into their playtime as they “hunt” other animals, toys, or people in the home. In a home with multiple cats, vertical distance may be needed to maintain order and prevent conflict.
Cats' Individual Paw Preferences
Left paw or right paw? Now that is the question. If you observe cats for a period of time, you may notice that they favor one paw over the other such as when they grab something or smack your hand when they don’t want to be pet anymore or even for which paw they put forward first when walking. Cats have a paw preference such as how humans are left or right-handed. The lateralization in mammals can indicate which hemisphere of the brain is more utilized. Research conducted by Dr. Deborah Wells out of Queen’s University, Belfast, stated that “Left-limbed animals, which rely more heavily on their right hemisphere for processing information, tend to show stronger fear responses, aggressive outbursts, and cope more poorly with stressful situations than animals that are right-limbed and rely more heavily on their left hemisphere for processing,” with the right hemisphere being more responsible for the processing of negative emotions. In the end, it was revealed that cats don’t have an overall paw preference such as how 90% of humans are right-handed but they do tend to have a dominant paw. In the study, when reaching for food, 73% of cats showed a paw preference. 70% had a "best paw" when descending stairs, while 66% preferred a paw when stepping into their litter box with the same paw being favored for each task studied. This study also confirmed findings from previous research in that males have a tendency to use their left paws while females use their right paws. According to Wells, “There is something going on with differences between the brain structure and function, clearly, of male and female animals, but as to the specifics, we just don’t know yet.”
So, next time you’re with your cat, try observing which paw they favor and see if you can tell if they are left or right-pawed. It's an interesting little observation that can help you understand your furry friend better.