Some aspects of our pets will always be a mystery to us – we thought it would be useful to look into some of the more common mysteries surrounding our pets’ behaviour.
Why do cats purr?
This one hasn’t been answered definitely yet, but there’s plenty of theories about how they do it. The most prevalent of these is that cats can purr due to a combination of the laryngeal and diaphragm muscles, along with a neural oscillator (this is a rhythmic activity in the central nervous system).
Cats can be divided roughly into 2 groups. Those who have a hyoid bone, a small bone located between the skull and larynx, can purr but NOT roar. Those without a hyoid bone, which includes most big cats, can roar but not purr. Cheetahs are one of the other cat species which can purr.
We might like to think that cats purr to communicate with us, but purring is actually behaviour that’s been developed to help the species in multiple ways. Cats can purr from the moment they’re born and respond to purring from the mother cat.
As they are born with their eyes closed, they follow the sound of her purrs to find her to feed. Purring is also much less likely to be heard by possible predators.
You may notice that your cat purrs at times of stress or when they’re in pain. Research into the science of purring has found that the actual purr oscillates at a low frequency of 25-100 Hz.
These frequencies have been shown in humans to accelerate healing. It has also been suggested that purring releases endorphins, which reduce pain. So purring could speed up healing times and reduce pain levels.
Of course, for domestic cats, purring is an excellent way to encourage food and attention from us. Humans like listening to cats purring and find it satisfying and relaxing.
Why do cats meow?
Cats can make around 100 different sounds – 10 times the number dogs make. You’ll have noticed that cats will produce different sounds when they’re trying to tell you different things. Their “please feed me” meow may sound radically different to their “I want to go out” meow. You’ll find that most meowing is for your benefit, with the majority of cat-to-cat communication being a lot more subtle.
A recent documentary series about cats found that the crafty creatures can even make a meowing sound which mimics the pattern of a human baby crying. As we are hard-wired to respond to this, we are more likely to respond to the cat and their needs – clever!
How often your cat meows is variable, with some breeds like the Siamese known to be ‘chatty’ (and demanding!).
Did you know? A cat’s nose pad has an entirely unique pattern, just like a human fingerprint.
Why is my cat’s tongue so rough?
If you’ve ever been licked by a cat, you’ll know that their tongue feels like sandpaper. Dogs, on the other hand, have smooth tongues. The rough sensation of a cat’s tongue is created by the backwards-facing barbs, known as Papillae, it’s covered in. These are made from Keratin, the same stuff as our fingernails!
These are there for two main reasons: to help cats ‘rasp’ and remove skin from prey and to assist with grooming. Big cats can lick skin and flesh right off a prey animal in around 6 licks. Their barbed tongues also help them to clean themselves thoroughly, but mean that cats are liable to get things like string or yarn stuck in their mouths.
Why do cats sleep so much?
Your cat will sleep for between 12 and 16 hours a day on average. This means that a three year old cat will have spent less than 18 months of its life actually awake!
Although we think of our pet cats as domesticated, recent work to map the feline genome has found that cats have barely changed in the thousands of years since they first evolved. This means that, even though all they have to do is wander over to their bowl for feeding, the physiology of a cat is still based upon it being a large predator.
Tracking and chasing down prey is an exhausting business for predators, meaning that they need to sleep to keep their energy levels up for hunting (or playing with a fuzzy toy on a string, for most of ours!).
As cat owners will know, your pet will probably spend most of the day slumbering peacefully and then rouse themselves late in the day. This is because they are crepuscular – most active at dawn and dusk.
Did you know? During the time of the Spanish Inquisition, Pope Innocent VIII considered cats to be evil and ordered them to be burnt. The knock-on effect of this was a massive boom in the rat population, exacerbating the spread of the Black Death.
Why do cats eat grass?
There’s no clear answer to this one, but we do know that wild and feral cats also do it. This means that it’s probably natural cat behaviour.
Eating grass isn’t harmful to cats but you will often see them eat some and then vomit. It may be that they do this to rid themselves of something indigestible or unpleasant they’ve eaten, or to assist in passing hairballs.
Cats will typically eat the intestines of prey first, suggesting that the contents of their prey’s stomach has nutritional value. This may also be the case for grass.
Even if your cat is an indoor cat, you can provide them with grass (you can buy specially designed trays of cat grass). If they don’t have access to grass, they may try eating house plants instead, which are toxic to them.
Next time we’ll be looking at dogs so pop back then if you’re more canine inclined!
Posted August 26, 2014 in Pet Care Advice