How To Enrich Your Cat’s 5 Senses

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While cats have the same five senses as humans do – sight, touch, sound, smell and taste – they are able to use them very differently, which makes them the avid hunters, precise jumpers, and super snugglers we know and love. To help make sure your cat is getting the proper enrichment to be their best selves, we’ve broken down a bit more about the cat’s five senses and how you can use this information to keep your furry friend engaged and challenged.

SIGHT

Let’s talk about how cats see. Their sense of sight is simply different than humans. It’s not better or worse, but rather has nuances unique to them. Cats beat humans when it comes to a wider field of vision, about 200 degrees versus our 180, and in their ability to see in the dark; but, where they lack is in their ability to see a full spectrum of colors in bright light. Some experts believe cats see things in muted, pastel tones.

Rather, cats rely on their ability to focus mainly on movement. They have six to eight times more rod cells, which allow them to sense motion better than humans can, especially in the dark. Another unique feature that helps them hunt is that they do not need to blink to keep their eyes moist, so they can keep their focus locked on their prey. Combined with a greater sense of depth perception, cats truly are superior hunters.

Enrichment Tip:

Because of their keen sense of sight, cats are highly proficient predators, so giving enrichment to satisfy this is important. Provide your cat with interactive play that mimics prey – a feather wand toy, a mouse wand toy, or an “insect” wire toy will engage and satisfy their predatory instincts. In addition, make sure they have something interesting and moving to look at – this can be as easy as installing a bird feeder outside of your window, or getting an aquarium of fish for them to watch. You can also put up pinwheels outside or put some cat-friendly tv on.

TOUCH

Touch is one of the easiest senses to satisfy, as a cat’s sense of touch is felt throughout its whole body. When you pet your cat, they have a sensory experience that slows the heart rate and relaxes the body, which is why you will get all the purrs and kneading in reaction to a solid petting session. They also “pet” you back when they rub their face against you – it’s their way of saying “you’re mine!” as they deposit their scent and mark you as part of their domain. 

Cats sense touch all over their body, not only with the scent glands on their faces and paws, but also with their incredible radar system of whiskers. Cats have whiskers on their cheeks, lips, above their eyebrows, and on their front legs. Whiskers work as touch receptors that help them accurately measure distances for navigation, object detection, and hunting. 

Enrichment Tip:

Other than giving your cat a relaxing massage, you can enrich their sense of touch by providing a variety of surfaces and textures to interact with. Be sure to give your cat a variety of scratching surfaces to choose from, including cardboard, sisal rope, and carpet squares, as well as plenty of things to explore and navigate through – from a paper bag or cardboard box, to a cat tunnel, to a cat tree or shelves with varying heights. Check out Catastrophic Creations for some really enriching and beautifully designed cat platforms! 

SOUND

One of a cat’s super power senses is sound. You may notice when your cat suddenly turns its head toward something you can’t identify yourself, which is likely a sound we just aren’t capable of recognizing as humans. Cats can hear far better than us, and even better than dogs! Cats hear at a range of 48 HZ to 85 kHz, giving them one of the broadest hearing ranges among mammals. Providing enrichment that focuses on sound is important for cats, but something we must be careful about considering how sensitive they can be. 

Enrichment Tip:

Provide low energy sounds, like classical music, to help your cat feel calm and relaxed. Avoid intense or loud unpleasant sounds, like loud heavy-metal music, because this can actually trigger cats to become aggressive or fearful. Something as simple as having your window cracked open for them to hear the sounds of birds outside is another easy way to create a calm and enriching environment. 

SMELL

Cats use scent to navigate many aspects of their life and rely heavily on it. Using their powerful sense of smell, cats are able to determine information – like where you’ve been when you leave the house, to communicate and socialize with other cats, and to identify and mark territory. Cats even have a way to “smell” through their mouths with a special organ called Jacobsen’s organ, which is located inside their nasal cavity and opens near the roof of the mouth. If you’ve noticed your cat with its mouth hanging open, it’s likely just used this organ to detect certain odorless chemical substances, most commonly pheromones of another cat like a potential mate or when a kitten identifies its mother. Together with their noses, a cat’s sense of smell is one of their strongest senses – they have over 200 million odor sensors in their nose, smelling 14 times better than humans can – so keeping them challenged with scent is really important.

Enrichment Tip:

Providing something for your cat to sniff out and hunt is really gratifying to their need to complete the hunting or prey sequence. Try something like the Doc and Phoebe’s Indoor Hunting Cat Feeder Kit, where you can fill these cute little mice with treats and place them around the house for your cat to seek out. Even once they find them, they still have to work a little to get the treat out just like they would in the wild! 

TASTE

Cats only have a few hundred taste buds, which may seem like nothing compared to our over 9,000 human taste buds. With their limited taste buds, many experts believe that cats can’t taste sweet, but might seem to like sweets rather for their fat content. Cats can also taste salty, sour, bitter, and umami. The sour and bitter taste receptors help them identify foods not to eat – like toxic plants. To help them identify the food they most require, cats can taste something we can’t: adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is a compound found in meat. Makes sense for cats, who are obligate carnivores.

Enrichment Tip:

To enrich cats via their sense of taste, here are a few things you can do. Use food puzzles to hide tasty treats, like freeze dried meat snacks, to create a hunting-like scenario to make them work for their food. You can also create a cat garden! Other than catnip and cat grass, there are other cat-friendly herbs and plants that they would love to snack on and enjoy the taste. Just be sure they are non-toxic, which you can verify on ASPCA’s website here

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