What special abilities do cats have? By nature, your feline’s super senses and physiology provide them the tools to survive and thrive in the wild. At home, you can provide enrichment to help your cat live by their true nature. In the following, we’ll reveal fun facts about their super abilities — whisker detection, tail balancing, leaping, licking and scenting — and explore how you can enrich your indoor cat by creating an environment that encourages their true nature.
1. Super-sensitive whiskers
What are cat whiskers for? Cat whiskers are comprised of follicles that lead to bundles of small but highly sensitive nerves. Because cats are far-sighted, whiskers keep the cat highly attuned to their up-close environment and what is happening in it. They use their whiskers to determine the size of an opening. But they can also detect the movements of their prey through their whiskers.
Enrichment through chase play
Provide toys and games that encourage chasing and pouncing. To see if you can activate their interest in a game of chase, try waving a feather wand inches from the edges of their whiskers out of their line of sight. Does the subtle current of air grab their attention?
2. Amazing balancing tail
A cat’s tail is an extension of their spine, and it serves as a counterbalance allowing them to walk the length of a narrow branch or a shelf without tumbling to the ground (though if they did, they’d land on their feet). The balancing abilities granted by their tails also helps them nail the landing when pouncing on their prey.
Enrichment through cat-friendly shelves
Use your vertical spaces and your cat’s balancing abilities to full advantage by building cat-friendly spaces! Cat shelves, cat walks and cat stairs that mount right to the wall grant your cat a safe place to climb and balance and do what comes naturally to them.
3. Heightened sense of smell
A cat’s sense of smell is 14 times more powerful than a human’s, with 200 million odor sensors to a human’s 5 million. But their olfactory abilities go well beyond the power to pick out family members’ scents and to appreciate a sniff of whatever you’re handling. Cats also detect pheromones. Pheromones are a chemical that cats emit from various glands in the body that convey feline meaning and messages.
When they rub their faces on the furniture and head butt their humans, they’re making themselves at home, “marking” it with territorial pheromones — a sure sign your cat feels safe and at home in a familiar environment! Mother cats release the so-called “multi-cat” pheromone that soothes and reassures kittens they are safe and secure.
Enrichment with scenting activities and pheromones
For scent enrichment for cats, catnip-infused toys are a great enticer for playtime. Sprinkling oregano and other cooking herbs into a throw blanket will provide your cat with fascinating new scents to explore. Leave hidden cat treats around their space for cats to sniff out and find — under a blanket, on furniture legs or on one of their perches.
Synthetic cat pheromones can be purchased in sprays and diffusers. These pheromones are completely odorless to humans. So if you’re introducing a new cat, traveling or simply want to signal to your cat that all is well, you can use pheromones to make the environment feel more welcoming with zero impact on the humans.
4. Gravity-defying vertical leaps
Cats can pull off a vertical jump up to 5 to 6 times their body length. Not only that, but they don’t need a running start! In fact, they make it look pretty effortless. If we humans could do that, we wouldn’t need ladders to clean our gutters. Those small hindquarters pack some serious turbo power.
By nature, cats leap to high places because they crave a perch. A tree branch or some other high vantage point gives them a place to retreat from the action, rest and observe what’s happening in their domain. Also, their flexible spines combined with their leaping ability puts them at an advantage during the hunt, because they can change direction in mid-leap.
Enrichment with cat trees and shelves
Provide cat-friendly surfaces your cat can leap to. Cat trees and window-mounted shelves provide kitty a place to safely retreat and take in their environment.
At the same time, you’ll want to keep and maintain a cat-off policy for kitchen countertops. Doing so will stop the spread of bacteria on food-prep surfaces, and protects your pet from kitchen mishaps.
- Maintain a clean surface free of tempting objects and food items.
- Use clicker training to teach cats that counters are off-limits. Entice your cat to jump off by tossing their favorite treat on the floor, sounding the clicker when they jump off. Eventually, your cat will make the connection — a click means leap off the counter and get a tasty reward.
5. The barbed tongue
When a cat licks you, it’s a sign of trust and affection. But the sandpaper texture of that little tongue makes quite an imprint because it’s so inexplicably rough.
If you catch an up-close look during one of kitty’s grooming sessions, the surface of the tongue appears textured — furry, almost. These are the hundreds of backward-facing spines on the surface called filiform papillae. These papillae are made of keratin, the same substance that forms our hair and fingernails, as well as the claws of a cat.
These little spines provide your cat with a multi-purpose tool for grooming — combing out dust and debris while smoothing out any tangles. The papillae also have hollow scoops at the tip that efficiently wick saliva deep into the fur, providing a means for cats to cool themselves. The barbs also function as meat shredders, helping your cat break down their food into smaller bits.
Enrichment with lick mats
Though licking is tied to the practical business of grooming and eating, there’s a good enrichment tie-in you can try at home. Licking releases endorphins, making it a rewarding and comforting behavior for cats. When they’re stressed, they may work in an extra grooming session or two to seek relief and pleasure.
Silicone licking mats have become popular with pet parents. These flat mats are textured with ridges where you can spread their serving of wet food. It provides a lick-intensive slow feeder for your pet and a healthy way to elevate your cat’s mood.
Appeal to kitty’s nature with a crunchy treat
To reward and enrich your cat, offer a delicious treat that’s made with your cat’s preferences in mind. NutriSource Crunchy Cat Treats are oval-shaped for easy pick-up with pointed edges for ease of eating. These healthy treats come in three yummy recipes: Liver & Cheese, Salmon & Tuna, and Turkey & Chicken.
Keep your dollars local and look for Crunchy Cat Treats at local independent pet suppliers that carry NutriSource.