Science Explains The Puzzling Behaviors Of Cats

Animal lovers like to imagine all the wild things their pets would tell them if they could talk. Except even in that scenario, cats probably still wouldn’t say a word! As some of the most mysterious and complex creatures on the planet, cats have been objects of fascination for millennia.

It’s no surprise we’ve bought into the many myths about cats, as scientists were long unable to confirm or deny these stories. For many years, it seemed as if a cat got their tongues. But recent studies have finally deciphered the truth behind felines’ most famous features.

Whether you’re a dedicated cat lady or an ailurophobe, it’s time to reevaluate your kitty convictions. These animals are complex from head to toe, but there’s one particular body part that humans find most captivating.

That would be a cat’s eye. Equally beautiful and terrifying, this organ is allegedly one of the most powerful in the animal kingdom. However, there was no way to tell if this was true.

Lucky for us, advancements in animal anatomy and psychology have finally allowed humans to see the world from a cat’s point of view. While they disproved many folk stories, other results surprisingly confirmed some long-standing rumors.

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It’s essential to note that not all cat eyes are the same. For starters, they can come in just about any color under the sun. It’s also not that uncommon for felines to have different colored irises.

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Unfortunately, this psychedelic condition — known as heterochromia — has a big drawback. Up to 40% of felines with one lighter eye go deaf on that side, as it signals a defect in the inner ear.

In many respects, the complexity of cats’ vision puts ours to shame. But before you swear off your glasses for laser eye surgery, take a closer look into whether their sight is as super-powered as some claim.

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You’ve definitely heard the fun fact that cats can see perfectly in the dark. At the very least, nobody can deny they’re skilled at sneaking around the house at night. But are they really that comfortable in a pitch black space?

Yes and no. Feline night vision is definitely superior to humans’. Their eyes have six to eight times as many rods — the eye receptors that pick up light — than ours. But that’s not the full story.

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While adept at navigating dimly-lit environments, cats still can’t see much of anything if there’s zero light. That’s a big reason why they have those long whiskers, which allow them to feel vibrations and objects around them.

Still, you might be under the impression that cats’ eyeballs glow in the dark. Those unfortunately aren’t built-in flashlights. Their retinas are backed up by special tissue called tapetum lucidum, which reflects back bright beams while absorbing less intense light sources.

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Even in the daytime, a cat’s perspective is quite different from a person’s. Many pet owners wonder if their beloved pals can only see the world in black and white.

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Just like us, kitties have cones in their eyes, allowing them to see color in the world. That being said, their perspective isn’t exactly tie-dye. They have their own range of visible colors.

Cats’ perspective, shown in the bottom half of this comparison, includes a less vibrant color palette. But on the bright side, their field of vision is about 200 degrees, compared to the 180 degrees that humans have. Though you might be curious about that blurriness…

Compared to you, your cat is pretty nearsighted! Once something is over 20 feet away, kitties have a hard time making out the details. That’s just their natural vision, so no need to make Paws an appointment with an optometrist.

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Of course, there’s more to cats’ eyes than their internal makeup. Like people, felines express and communicate their emotions through their peepers, though many pet owners don’t notice these cues.

Have you ever blinked at a cat and had him blink right back at you? That’s a sign of trust; he’s saying that he notices you but does not consider you a threat.

Similarly, if your cat companion hangs out next to you with his eyes half-closed in an almost sleepy trance, then he’s relaxed and at ease around you. Congratulations: you’ve earned some affection from the creature that you feed every day.

Eyeballs aside, there are plenty of other popular misconceptions about our furry friends. Some we have accepted as fact our entire lives! Don’t be shocked to learn that these cat stereotypes are nothing but fe-lies.

1. Cats love milk: This perception is largely perpetuated by movies and cartoons. Kittens certainly need their mother’s milk. As they grow older, it’s actually not a good idea to give cats milk since many of them become lactose intolerant.

If you really want to live out the fantasy of giving your feline friend milk, you have some options. There is a lactose-free milk you can purchase that’s packed with taurine, an enzyme that’s really crucial to their diet. 

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2. Can’t eat people food: This is generally true for most human foods. Cats are strictly meat eaters who thrive on protein-rich diets. Raw meats are a definite no-go, and so are seasoned cooked meats. 

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If you want to treat your kitty to a human food delicacy, cooked tuna, skinless chicken, and lean cold cuts are a safe way to go. Raw fish is not an exception to this rule. Cats can get sick from foodborne bacteria just like you can.

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3. Cats hate water: On whose authority? While most of our feline friends will not cooperate with baths, just like anything else, it’s a personality thing. Some cats are fine with water. Hairless cats require frequent baths and generally enjoy some suds.

Bare Cats Sphynx

4. Pregnant women stay clear: Do not feel pressured to cut ties with your cats if you’re expecting! The only real risk posed to pregnant women comes from cat litter, and there’s a simple way to avoid potential harm.

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There’s a certain parasite called toxoplasmosis that cats can carry. Traces of it are left behind in cat feces which, if touched, can result in birth defects or possibly miscarriages. Gloves, daily cleanings, or having someone else do the dirty work are worthy solutions.

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5. They think you’re a cat: Well, the real myth is that cats think their owners are their own mothers. Sorry but Mittens definitely knows you guys aren’t blood relatives. Veterinarians say your pet views you as primarily a food source that can ultimately be replaced.

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6. Cats and dogs don’t mix: Within seconds of scrolling on YouTube, you’ll know this theory is purely hot air. Plenty of households around the world are home to amicable canine and feline relationships, and dare we say it, best friendships.

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7. Cats hate babies: People tend to have broad concerns about integrating their cats with their newborns for fear of some vicious attack. Cats don’t have secret vendettas against babies, they just have boundaries and will react to aggressive unpredictability. 

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8. Cats are nocturnal: Actually, they are just rarely awake! Cats sleep around 12-20 hours a day as it is, so they don’t really have a preference for daylight or nighttime hours. Their routine revolves more around food.

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In fact, cats are crepuscular animals like the lions they once evolved from. That means they are more active during the twilight hours of the day, at dawn and dusk, since it’s easier to spot your prey then.

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9. They land on their feet: Thanks to viral videos of cats leaping great distances at the sight of a cucumber, most people know cats are agile. It’s called right reflexing, and it’s now they manage to find their feet on the floor in most cases.

Instagram / Hisakata Hiroyuki

It’s surprising this idiom about cats exists when the they so frequently are portrayed as stuck up in trees. Falling from great heights is an unfortunately common tragedy. Veterinarians from major cities frequently see cases of animals injured or worse from open windows. 

10. Cat years: The general belief is one human year equals seven cat years. By that logic, cats who easily live past twenty years would be over 140 cat years old. The oldest cat in world would have celebrated his 217th birthday. Not a chance.

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11. Black cat superstition: Truth is, this long-held myth has made cats the least adopted felines in the shelters. There’s zero evidence to suggest a black cat brings anything but joy and companionship to a household.

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12. Purr means happy: Only a complete fool should believe a cat purring is a sign for unrestricted petting. Don’t let that lazy hum of satisfaction lure you into a false sense of security; the experts say purrs can indicate a wide range of emotions.

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It’s good to separate the truth from the cat info that belongs in the litter box. Avoiding scratches from a purring cat is one thing, but there are ways to try and identify the meaning behind the sounds your cat makes.

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1. Cats don’t purr to communicate with other cats; they only do it for humans. That means your pet is specifically telling you how happy they are. You should also be on the lookout for these other sounds.

2. Beyond purrs and meows, your cat might occasionally make a high-pitched gurgling sound. It can sound pretty alarming if you aren’t expecting it, but don’t be afraid; it’s just another way of trying to tell you something.

3. Cats gurgle when they’re feeling upbeat and social, so the sound is a positive sign. Your pet is just trying to chill out and have a friendly chat. Another way of communicating can get a bit violent, however.

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4. Cats can be pretty aloof, so there’s nothing unusual about your pet lounging alone and surveying the entire room. But if your pal looks at you and starts slowly blinking, he’s giving you an important message.

Slow blinking is a sign of comfort and love. It’s a signal that cats use to tell each other everything is OK, so, if you see it, your buddy is feeling pretty good. There are some other ways they communicate, too…

5. Have you ever been minding your own business when your cat runs over and headbutts you? Seems pretty rude, right? Heck if a human tried that it would be time to call the cops! But there’s a deeper meaning to that strange gesture when cats do it.

Cats use scent glands in their head to mark their territory, meaning a headbutt is actually quite affectionate. Your pet is telling other cats that you are her person! Daaww, how sweet is that? Now moving on to biting…

6. Cats are predators, which means they have some pretty sharp teeth. So when they turn those fangs on you, it has to mean something bad is going on, right? Like maybe they are really unhappy with the new dry food you’ve been dishing out?

Vet Times

While an aggressive bite is obviously a negative sign, gentle nibbles are a demonstration of love. Your cat is just telling you that he appreciates your presence; after all, he’s choosing to bite you playfully instead of forcefully.

7. After biting, the obvious place to go is licking. If the former is a playful mark of endearment, what is your kitty trying to say with her scratchy tongue rather than her teeth?

Have you ever seen apes grooming their relatives? Well that’s what’s happening when your cat tries to clean up your hand or hair! She’s identified you as part of the family and wants to help take care of you.

8. If you ever see your cat flopped on the floor with his belly facing up, he’s not just being lazy. In fact, there’s a deeper significance to the pose that you might not realize…

South Boston Animal Hospital

The phrase “soft underbelly” is grounded in reality; an animal’s stomach is a weak point that they try to protect. If your cat lets you touch that sensitive area, that means he trusts you completely.

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9. You probably know not to touch your cat’s tail, but did you know he’s using it to communicate? A bushy tail, for example, is a sign of distress, while a waving tail has another meaning.

Cats really don’t wag their tail, but they do flick it back and forth to show happiness. If your furry friend is feeling especially affectionate, they’ll even curl their tail around you like a hug.

10. Have you ever woken up to find your cat has left a dead mouse or her favorite toy on your bed? It’s like a scene from The Godfather (only minus the mob activity). These “presents” aren’t the type of gift you might think, though.

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While your cat isn’t giving you a gift out of appreciation, the gesture is still a mark of trust. Cats bring their prey back home so they can eat it safely; leaving it near you means that you’re someone who won’t steal their stuff.

11. Cats might not be interested in going for walks and playing fetch, but they have been known to follow their owners around. But do they do it for the same reason as dogs?

No matter the species, physical proximity is a show of affection. If your independent cat is always near you, especially when there’s food available in another room, he really loves you.

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12. Whether you call it kneading, making biscuits, or anything else, most cat owners have felt this one. When a cat presses her paws into you, they’re trying to tell you something major about your relationship…

13. If cat vs. dog intelligence has ever been debated, consider it resolved: Cats have 300 million neurons in their brains, while dogs have just 160 million. In fact, a cat’s brain is considered to be extremely similar to a human’s brain, so expect a feline uprising any day now.

14. Since whiskers detect distances and movements by the air’s vibration, they’re actually crucial to a cat’s survival in the outdoors. So don’t be too scared if your cat runs off — they have survival tools built right into their bodies!

15. What’s the deal with cats and catnip? Cats naturally have the scent of catnip binded to their nasal passages, so when they get a whiff of the herb, it stimulates the sensory receptors in their brains — and makes them act a little lovey-dovey.

16. It’s no secret that cats spend a majority of the day sleeping. We’re actually pretty jealous of just how long a cat can sleep for, which is at least 12-16 hours a day. Cats just don’t know how lucky they are! 

17. Did you know that cats have dominant paws? Females are more likely to use their right paws while males usually prefer their left. No word yet on if the whole “right brain, left brain” thing exists with cats!

18. The rumors are true, cats can change color! Well, maybe not in the way you’re thinking. Siamese cats have a gene modifier that technically makes them albino, but when they’re introduced to high temperatures, portions of their fur turns gray or even black. 

19. If you want your cat to stop leaping onto the kitchen table, try spraying them with lemon water. Cats are picky eaters and are especially sensitive to bitter and citrus-y flavors, so they’ll quickly learn to avoid the lemony spray. 

20. The next time your partner scolds you for taking too long in the shower, bring up this fact: cats spend 30%-50% of the day cleaning their bodies! Much like us with showering, grooming improves a cat’s circulation and prevents any unseemly odors. 

21. A purring cat can be totally soothing when you’re in a bad mood, but the sound has other surprising healing properties as well. Purring can be restorative to a cat’s health, and it even helps heal problems with bones and tissues. 

22. Be careful when considering a major lifestyle change with your cat. Studies have shown that something as simple as a change in routine can negatively impact a cat’s immune system and make it sick. Even a healthy cat can be affected!

23. Cats really do have 9 lives, and it’s thanks to their interesting bodies. Cats have a “straightening reflex,” meaning that some of the tiny balancing-organs in their ears help tell a cat when they’ll hit the ground and how to land on their feet. 

24. At night, cats often choose to sleep in spots that are high-up and hidden in an effort to remain unseen by potential predators. This is just more proof that modern-day cats are not so different from cats in ancient times!

25. We all know that people can be allergic to cats, but did you know that some cats can be allergic to people? It’s estimated that approximately 1 in 200 cats suffers from asthma caused by dusty and unkempt living conditions. Luckily, cat inhalers exist.

26. If you’ve stepped on your cat’s tail, the high-pitched shriek and bared fangs you get in return is exactly what you’d see in a stray. A cat’s DNA never changes, so when threatened they revert right back to the wild ways of their ancestors. 

27. Humans are unique in how we all have different fingerprints, and the same can be said for cats…sort of. Believe it or not, the sure-fire identifier for a cat is actually its nose! Who knew those little noses were so complex?

28. It may sound like the only thing your cat does is meow and purr, but felines can actually produce about 100 sounds! This certainly furthers the “cats are smarter than dogs” argument, considering how dogs only produce about 10 sounds.

29. Cats need seven times less light than humans to see, especially during the daylight hours. This explains why some cats naturally gravitate towards dimly-lit rooms or closets. It’s also why they’re more energetic at night — they can simply see things easier!

30. There’s another reason cats are so bendy, and it’s not because they’ve been exercising! Felines are born without clavicles, which means they don’t have to worry about bulky bones impeding their movement. This makes them experts when it comes to slinking through narrow passages!

31. If your cats aren’t BBFs, there’s a reason why. Cats develop a “secret language” with humans, a language they do not share with any other cat living in the same space. This means no cuddling and no mingling — they’re basically just acquaintances!

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