The Nose


A well-developed sense of smell is vital for survival in the cat world. It enables the cat to identify territories, relays specific information about the opposite sex, informs him of the presence of potential enemies, alerts him to the presence of potential prey, and detects the temperature and safety of food. A cat isn’t a scavenger and the cat’s sense of smell directly affects his appetite. A cat who can’t smell can become anorexic.

The cat’s sense of smell is better than a human’s but inferior to a dog’s.

The cat’s nose has approximately two hundred million scent cells. To give you an idea of how your cat’s nose compares to yours, humans only have about five million.

The inside of the cat’s nose is lined with a mucous membrane that traps foreign particles and bacteria in an effort to prevent them from entering the body. The mucous membrane also warms and moisturizes inhaled air before it continues on through the respiratory tract.

Some cats have to work harder than others when it comes to breathing due to the differences in muzzle shapes. Flat-nosed breeds, such as Persians, have a compromised breathing ability due to the distorted shape of their compact nose. Their sense of smell may be compromised as well.

Cats also have an extra scent “analyzer” that plays a specific role in identifying sex-related odors in urine (see The Mouth).

The Mouth

Kittens get their temporary teeth at four weeks of age. The permanent teeth are usually in by six months. There are thirty teeth in total. The two canine teeth are used for severing the spinal cord of prey and delivering the killing bite. The six incisors located in the front of the mouth in both the upper and lower jaws are for tearing off small bits of meat and plucking feathers. The premolars and molars cut off larger pieces of flesh from the prey. Cats don’t chew or grind these pieces, but rather, they’re swallowed whole.

The cat’s tongue is covered with tiny backward-facing barbs (papillae) that are used for grooming, and also for removing meat from the bones of prey.

When it comes to drinking water, cats use their tongue to lap water at an incredibly fast speed. The cat curves the upper side of his tongue downward and darts his tongue lightly onto the surface of the water. The speed at which he does this is so fast that as a column of water is drawn up by his tongue, the cat will close his mouth to collect the water just at the moment gravity begins to pull the water column back down. The researchers are engineers and they created a machine to mimic the cat’s tongue. They determined that the cat laps four times per second.

The cat’s tongue has fewer taste buds than that of a human. The cat generally has no desire for sweet tastes although some develop a taste for sweet goodies if repeatedly offered by owners.

Cats use their tongue very efficiently to keep their coats well groomed. Grooming is vital to survival. After eating, the cat uses his tongue to remove all traces of prey from his fur so it won’t alert other prey to his presence. It also decreases the cat’s risk of becoming prey to a larger predator.

Grooming serves a behavioral function as well. In a stressful situation a cat may groom himself to displace the tension he feels. You may notice this if your cat is sitting at the window watching a bird outside. If the bird flies off, the cat may begin a round of self-grooming to defuse the energy he was storing and the frustration he feels.

Located in the roof of the mouth is a scent organ known as the vomeronasal organ, with ducts leading into both the mouth and the nose. The cat inhales, opening his mouth and curling his upper lip. The odor is then picked up on his tongue. It’s almost a cross between smelling and tasting. He then moves the tongue toward the roof of the mouth with the collected odor, passing it to the vomeronasal organ. While performing this scent analysis, the cat’s lips are pulled back into a sort of grimace (called a flehmen reaction). This behavior is most commonly performed by males reacting to the urine or pheromones of females in heat. The Whiskers

Whiskers (vibrissae) are used as a sensory device, relaying messages to the brain. Whiskers are located on the upper lip, cheeks, above the eyes, and on the forelegs. The whiskers on the muzzle are in four rows. The higher 2 rows will move severally of the lowest 2 rows. The upper whiskers, which extend beyond the head, also help guide a cat through the darkness by gauging air currents. Whiskers on the forelegs square measure accustomed sense any movement of prey treed underneath the cat’s front paws.

The muzzle whiskers also help a cat to determine if he can fit through a tight spot. In theory, the width of the whiskers should match the width of the body. In reality, though, many cats are overweight so their body width far exceeds the whisker tips.

Whiskers play an important role in feline body language as well. Whiskers that square measure forward-facing and displayed typically indicate that the cat is alert and prepared for action. The whiskers of a relaxed cat square measure positioned sideways and not as spread-out out. Fear or potential aggression is communicated by the whiskers being tightly spaced and flattened back against the face.

The Nails

Cats have five toes on each forefoot and four on each hind foot. The fifth toe on the inside of the forefoot is known as the dewclaw and doesn’t come in contact with the ground. Some cats, referred to as polydactyls, have extra toes.

When a cat scratches on a tree or scratching post, the outer sheath of the nail is removed. This allows the new growth to come through. If you look at the base of where your cat normally scratches, you’ll probably find little discarded crescent-shaped sheaths.

Unlike dogs, the nails on the cat’s forefeet don’t wear down because they remain sheathed until needed.

The Tail

The tail is one-third of the spine, is used for balance, and also serves an important role in communication. The tail helps the cat balance on high, narrow places and assists in high-speed directional changes. An upright tail when the cat is standing or walking lets you know he’s alert. It’s also the position used in greeting. A relaxed cat’s tail is horizontal or somewhat down. When your cat flicks his upright tail at you, it’s usually meant as a greeting. In most cases, the message he’s sending is “Hi, I’ve missed you. When’s dinner?” A lashing or thumping tail reflects arousal or irritation. If you’re petting your cat when this happens, it’s a very good idea to back off. When a cat is resting, an occasional twitching or sweeping motion of the tail is his way of saying he’s relaxed but still alert. A frightened cat will puff out the hairs on his tail (piloerection) so it looks more than twice its size. A tail in an inverted “U” shape indicates that the cat is fearful and potentially defensively aggressive. A subordinate cat will tuck his tail between his legs or around his body, trying to be as small and invisible as possible. Injury to your cat’s tail can result in a permanent loss of balance and create severe or fatal bladder problems.