Sunday, September 20, 2009


Cats can hear sounds that we can't hear, see things that we can't see, and smell and feel the world around us in ways that we can never grasp. These amazing abilities actually landed cats in trouble during the Middle Ages, when they were attributed to Black Magic. Today cats are no longer suspected of those supernatural powers. We now know that their remarkable abilities are part of the evolutionary adaptation to the role of a solitary nocturnal hunter.

Be thinking of the basic senses possessed by humans and animals as you read through this issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats. Do cats excel in any of those senses? Do cats lag behind in any of them? Helpful Buckeye will describe those basic senses, how they developed, where their strengths and weaknesses are, and how they all work together to produce one of the most efficient predators on Earth.

Last week's poll question about cat abscesses produced an expected response. The results were: 1/3 never experienced a cat abscess, 1/3 only 1 time, and 1/3 many times. The 1/3 who had never experienced a cat abscess probably were dog owners or had a single cat that never went outdoors! Be sure to answer this week's poll question in the column to the left.

Carnie, from Austin, TX, sent an e-mail saying how much she appreciated the coverage of cat abscesses last week. She has 6 cats, many of which spend part of their time outdoors. Of course, she's had her share of abscesses to nurse along at home! Well, Carnie, you and all of our other cat-loving readers should like this week's topic featuring cats and their senses.

During last week's round-up of the Working Group of dogs, Helpful Buckeye asked which of the Working Group breeds played a part in the OJ Simpson double murder trial in the 1990s. Several of you sent in e-mails with an answer...but, none of them were correct! The correct answer Akita. You can read the AKC breed description for the Akita at: If you have any comments, send an e-mail to: or click on the word "Comment" at the end of this issue and fill in the form.


1) The National Institutes of Health and Mars Inc., that's right--the candy bar folks--have joined in supporting a research project that "could provide concrete evidence on how children perceive, relate to, and think about animals and how pets in the home impact children's social and emotional development. In addition, research is needed on the impact of pets in the home on children's health, allergies, the immune system, asthma, and mitigation of obesity. On a practical level, research is needed on such issues as when and how parents select pets for their families/children and how best to prevent injuries from pets." A more detailed description of this project can be found at:

2) In advance of World Rabies Day, later this month, the Center for Disease Control has released the disturbing news that rabies incidence in cats in the USA actually increased by 12% in 2008 over the previous year, while that in dogs decreased by 19% during the same period. The whole report is available at: The American Kennel Club celebrated its 125th birthday on 9/17/2009. Take this opportunity to see some of the most popular breeds over that 125 years. The changes in which breed was most popular at a particular time probably provide a pretty decent reflection of our changing society in the USA. Go to this web site and click on the arrows to see the changes:


This is the point at which Helpful Buckeye normally discusses a disease, ailment, or a medical condition of dogs and/or cats. For this issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats, however, Helpful Buckeye will devote this space to having a better understanding of your cat's 5 senses and how those senses contribute to your cat's behavior patterns. Learning about cats' senses can help us see the world the way they do. Cat senses are adaptations that have allowed cats to become highly efficient predators.

Senses are described as any of the faculties, such as sight, hearing, smell, taste, or touch, by which humans and animals perceive stimuli originating from outside or inside the body. There are some folks who believe in a 6th sense, a form of extra-sensory perception, although Helpful Buckeye feels that when all 5 senses are working properly, the animal should be even more keenly aware of its environment. Then, there are the cats which seem to have an exaggerated sense of entitlement or self-worth. This seems to be almost a running joke amongst cat owners as to which of their cats is the more haughty. The New Yorker had a couple of cartoons illustrating this:


As hunters, cats have great visual ability to detect motion. They can see movements that are too fast for our eyes, yet they experience difficulty focusing on very slow movement. In fact, many tests have shown that cats have a lot of trouble seeing objects that don't move at all. Some species of prey have taken advantage of this by staying motionless for long periods of time until the predator cat moves on. Another visual weakness of the cat is that it cannot distinguish separate objects (visual acuity) very well...actually, only 1/10 that of humans. The final visual deficiency compared to humans is that cats don't have well-defined color vision. They do have the capability of distinguishing between some of the colors but not all of them. As it turns out though, color is not as crucial in the lives of cats as it is in ours. With cats being mainly nocturnal predators, their eyes are much more developed toward seeing in very dim light, where they only need 1/6 of the light we do to pick out the same details of movement and shape. Their excellent night vision comes at the expense of daytime vision...cats are relatively shortsighted and during the daytime tend to rely more than humans on their senses of smell and sound.

Night vision is where cats excel, compared to humans. Helpful Buckeye has already discussed the topic of Tapetum Lucidum in a previous issue: and a review of that will provide some background. Cats, like dogs, and many other animals, have this tapetum lucidum, which is a reflective layer behind the retina that reflects light that passes through the retina back into the center of the eyeball...essentially allowing the cat to "use the same light more than once." This reflection is what produces the eerie glow you see in animals' eyes at night.

The other visual advantage cats have over humans is that cats don't need to blink their eyes on a regular basis to keep their eyes lubricated. Unblinking eyes are most likely an advantage when hunting, allowing the cat to not miss even a slight sudden movement of its prey.


Cats and humans have a similar range of hearing on the lower end of the scale, but cats can hear much higher-pitched sounds. Humans generally hear about 8.5 octaves whereas a cat hears about 10 octaves, which is why some high-pitched noises, such as certain types of music, may agitate your cat.

Cats' ears are sharply-shaped, always erect above the head, fairly large for the size of the head, and have the ability to move sideways, forward, and backward so that sounds can be captured more accurately. In effect, your cat's ears function like a mini-satellite dish as they rotate to pick up sounds and funnel them to the brain.

The acuteness of a cat's hearing is even more keen than that of the dog. It is particularly sharp in the noise ranges that mice and other small rodents use. Cats can in fact use just their ears for hunting, as when deciding whether a mouse hole is inhabited or deserted. Cats will sometimes even come to a pause when chasing prey so that they can listen and determine the prey's new position.


Cats rely heavily on their sense of smell. For instance, a cat will always sniff its food before eating. They will use their sense of smell rather than their sense of taste to determine whether the food you've offered is appealing enough.

A cat's sense of smell is considerably better than that of humans, but not quite as good as that of dogs. Your domestic cat's sense of smell is about 14 times more sensitive than a human's, which means that they can smell things humans are not even aware of. Because of their astonishing olfactory (sense of smell) acuity, cats can detect the presence of other cats even outside the home.

Apart from its nose, the cat has another olfactory organ in its mouth. Along the roof of the mouth, there are a pair of "Jacobsen's Organs" that allow the cat to analyze air that is inhaled through the mouth rather than the nose. When a cat uses these organs, it curls back its lips, opens its mouth, and seems to grimace with a smile. This is called the "flehman reaction" and it is seen mainly in connection with special scents that the cat wants to check out more thoroughly.


In spite of their reputation for being finicky eaters, cats have less ability to differentiate between various tastes than humans do. While we have about 9000 taste buds on our tongue, your cat has less than 500. Your cat's taste buds are found along the edges, back, and tip of its tongue, while those of dogs and humans are spread all over the tongue.

Since cats are true carnivores, their sense of taste is geared toward identifying protein and fat, but not carbohydrates. Taste tests have shown that cats have a very weak preference for sweetness, making them much less interested in sweets than humans or dogs. Recent studies indicate that cats are lacking one of the genetic proteins necessary for properly tasting sweetness and scientists now believe this might be related to the cat's family being extremely specialized as a hunter and carnivore. Their highly-modified sense of taste would cause them to ignore plants, which can contain high levels of sugars, in favor of a high-protein carnivorous diet.

The most powerful reaction of all to a cat's food is the smell, or aroma, of the food. To a cat, when approaching a meal, the aroma is the only important information they are receiving. That's why a lot of cats will sniff at their food and then walk off without even trying it. If the cat happens to take a mouthful, then the tongue also has a sensitive reaction to the temperature of the food. The wild ancestors of our domestic cats chose to eat freshly killed prey (which would still be warm), rather than being scavengers of already dead animals. The ideal, preferred temperature for cat food is 86 degrees F, which happens to be the same temperature as the cat's tongue. Food taken directly from the refrigerator is detested by a cat, unless it is extremely hungry. From The New Yorker:


Like humans, cats have touch receptors all over their body. These nerve cells transfer sensations of pressure, temperature, and pain from any point on the body to the brain. The most sensitive places on a cat's body, where nerve cells are concentrated, are the face and the front paws. This is because these are the most important body parts the cat uses while hunting.

Cats have evolved a specialized type of whisker known as a vibrissa (plural--vibrissae) that is a modified version of ordinary cat hair. Vibrissae are more than twice as thick as a regular cat hair and their roots are three times deeper than other hairs. They have many more nerve endings at their base, which then give the cat extraordinarily detailed information about nearby air movements and objects with which they make physical contact. These highly-developed hairs are found mainly on the face, but also over the eyes, on the chin, and at the backs of the front legs. The ones on the face are, of course, the whiskers that we have come to associate with all cats. A cat usually has about 24 of these facial vibrissae, arranged in four rows on each side of its nose. Cats can move the vibrissae forward when being inquisitive, examining something, or for intimidation. A backward movement is more of a defensive motion or for purposely avoiding touching something. A cat with perfect whiskers will be able to kill flawlessly both in daylight and at night, while a cat with damaged whiskers can kill cleanly only in the light. In the dark, it misjudges its killing-bite and plunges its teeth into the wrong section of the prey's body.
That completes the overview of a cat's 5 senses. Hopefully, this will help cat owners understand their cats' actions a little better, although, as we all know, we can only hope to understand cats just so much.


1) What You Can Do If You Are Having Trouble Affording Veterinary Care, Part 1

Many pet owners, at one point or another, are faced with unexpected veterinary bills. Veterinary medicine has advanced to such a degree that caregivers have new, and often expensive, options for the care of their ailing pets. Although the cost of veterinary care is actually very reasonable in comparison with the much higher cost of human health care, an unexpected medical emergency can present a major financial dilemma for an unprepared pet owner.

The Humane Society of the United States recommends that, in addition to preparing for routine pet-care costs, you regularly set aside money to cover for unexpected veterinary bills or consider pet health insurance. For example, create a special "pet savings account" and contribute money to it on a regular basis. Another great option is to purchase a pet health insurance policy. The important thing is to have a plan and stick to it. If, despite your planning, your pet incurs major veterinary expenses that you have trouble affording, consider these suggestions:

  • Ask your veterinarian if he or she will let you work out a payment plan. Many veterinarians are willing to work out a weekly or monthly payment plan so that you do not have to pay the entire cost of veterinary care up front.

  • Contact your local shelter. Some shelters operate or know of local subsidized veterinary clinics or veterinary assistance programs. You can find the name and number of your local shelter in the Yellow Pages of your phone book under "animal shelter," "animal control" or "humane society," or by calling Information. You can also go to and enter your zip code to find a list of animal shelters, animal control agencies, and other animal care organizations in your community.

  • If you have a specific breed of dog, contact the National Club for that breed. (The American Kennel Club,, has a list of the national dog clubs.) In some cases, these clubs offer a veterinary financial assistance fund. Additionally, The HSUS has a list of breed-specific assistance groups.

  • There are some organizations that offer assistance locally (by state or community). See our state-by-state (including Canada) listing.

  • The HSUS also has a list of organizations that provide assistance to senior, disabled or ill pet owners.

  • Ask your veterinarian to submit an assistance request to the American Animal Hospital Association's (AAHA) "Helping Pets Fund." In order to qualify, your animal hospital must be AAHA accredited. To learn more about the program visit the AAHA web site. To find an AAHA accredited hospital in your area, search online at

  • If you bought your dog from a reputable breeder, check your contract to see if there is a health guarantee that covers your pet's ailment.

  • Check with veterinary schools in your state to see if they offer discount services to the public. You can find a list of veterinary schools in the Education section of the American Veterinary Medical Association's (AVMA) website,

  • Use your credit card. Ask for a higher credit limit or a cash advance.

  • Call your bank. Ask about loan programs or other options they can suggest that might be helpful in your situation.

  • Ask your employer for a salary advance.

  • Alert family and friends and ask them each for a $25 loan.

  • Consider taking on a part-time job or temping.

  • Contact Care Credit at

  • Apply for a Citi Healthcard at

  • Start your own fundraising collection at

These are all very good suggestions from the Humane Society of the United States. Next week, in Part 2, the whole list of states and organizations that offer assistance will be included in the issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats.

2) Over the past 10 years, pet rehabilitation has emerged from a boutique service to what is fast becoming a mainstream treatment option within veterinary medicine. With animal rehabilitation services becoming increasingly commonplace, more and more clients are recognizing that physical therapy is not just for people but can also mean pain relief, increased mobility, and an improved quality of life for pets as well.

Pet rehab becoming mainstream practice

Physical therapy for animals increasingly seen as viable treatment option

Go to this site from the AVMA for more information about pet rehabilitation, including thoughts from practitioners of rehabilitation medicine for animals:


Vintage T-shirts for your dog are available at:


1) People and their dogs need physical activity to fight obesity, a U.S. veterinarian said. However, Dr. Susan Nelson of Kansas State University in Manhattan, KS, said there are many benefits besides weight loss when humans and dogs exercise together. "Exercising with your pet also promotes the human-animal bond," she said in a statement. "People like dogs because of their unconditional love, and dogs are going to be very pleased to have their owners do something with them." Exercise benefits mental health for both. Nelson said dogs need an energy outlet and dogs receiving adequate exercise will be happier, more content and less likely to develop destructive behavior. Ideally, dog and owner should get out twice daily for exercise. "Medium and large dogs typically make better long-distance running partners. If your dog can run longer than you are able, you may want to consider biking while having your dog run beside you on leash," Nelson said. "Pay careful attention to safety if you choose this option. Smaller dogs are better suited for shorter distance running or walking." Words of wisdom for all of us!

2) Like many other web sites, you can now sign up for the ASPCA Cute Photo of the Day by going to: and submitting your e-mail address. The recent photos have been a really nice selection of cats, dogs, kittens, and puppies, with something new each day.

3) The AKC is running a poll in which you can vote for your favorite cartoon canine. Do so at: and go back to the site periodically to see how your choice is doing in the voting.

4) Cat declawing is at the forefront of discussion in San Francisco as both sides wage their campaign of pro and con. Read some of this interesting story at:

5) OK, most of our readers are aware that Helpful Buckeye is a coffee drinker, favoring some of the stronger blends. Well, in the interest of "science" and the expansion of knowledge, Helpful Buckeye may have to look into this new blend of very expensive coffee. Yes, Cat Poop Coffee will be sold in Ft. Myers, Florida later this month on the 29th, National Coffee Day. Read the story of how this coffee gets its's very interesting and the first person to have tried it had to be pretty adventurous!

6) "In case you thought that Garfield, the lasagna-lovin' kitty, only existed in animation, we're here to assure you that's not the case. Meet the real-life Garfield. His name is Humphrey and he's from North London. His owner, Sophia Atrill, said the cat's pasta obsession began when she let him take bites off her plate, and now it's all he'll eat." Go to: 7) Whoever said that cats do not like to get into water never saw Woody, the cat, and his version of getting a drink and taking a shower at the same time:

8) Since we're obviously featuring cats this week, Helpful Buckeye will close this section with a little humor from David Letterman. A few months ago, Peter, from Omaha, suggested a Letterman's Top Ten List about cats, but it took me a while to find it. Here is David Letterman's Top Ten Signs You Have a Dumb Cat (From "David Letterman's Book of Top Ten Lists," 1995):

  • Only seems content when suction-cupped to your car's rear window

  • Wastes 8 of his 9 lives in a single afternoon walking into the same electric fan

  • Baffled by yarn

  • Doesn't purr; just makes sound like a stalling Cessna

  • Always confusing "litter box" with "carton containing Mom's heirloom wedding dress"

  • Covered with mouse graffiti

  • Asks to be neutered by Bob Barker personally

  • Seems hypnotized whenever Ross Perot is on Larry King

  • No matter what position you drop him from, he unerringly lands on his head

  • Frequently tries to mate with the Dustbuster

Never fear, we also have found the corresponding list for dogs...which we will include in an upcoming issue!


The LA Dodgers started to solidify their best-in-the-National League record by winning 5 of 6 games this week.

The Pittsburgh Steelers gave away a game to the Chicago Bears by giving up 10 unanswered points in the 4th quarter...very uncharacteristic for the Steelers.


Monday, 13 Sept, 35-45 MPH gusts

A recent study has shown that: "Fidgeting can burn about 350 calories a day." Wow, Helpful Buckeye can visualize our readers mastering the art of fidgeting!

"In everyone's life at some time our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit."--Albert Schweitzer...Helpful Buckeye is very thankful for a few of those human beings who stepped up on the last day of July to help rekindle my inner spirit. Thanks a know who you are!

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

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