When cats are at their best, they’re a little bit naughty
I’m not sure why anyone would want to keep a cat.
But according to a new study, it seems they have a good reason: When they’re at their finest.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Calgary and the University College London, was released today and will be presented at the International Cat Congress in Geneva, Switzerland.
Cats have an excellent sense of smell, which makes them good at identifying predators and predators’ nests.
Researchers found that the scent of a cat is more strongly associated with a nest that’s nearby than one that’s far away.
That’s a surprising finding because many people associate scent with the presence of predators, said lead author Elizabeth L. Lopes, a research associate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the U.C.L.A. The findings were published today in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.
Lope said her research focused on the ability of cats to detect predators by scent.
The research was conducted with eight cats living in Calgary.
They were trained to detect a cat’s scent, and to find a scent-marked object, such as a mouse or a mouse pup, when they encountered a cat that was a few feet away.
The cats also learned how to identify the object by smelling it.
They would be tested on the object after the experiment ended.
The researchers found that in the presence (and scent-marking) of a predator, the cats’ response to the predator was less than in the absence of that predator.
This effect of scent-detection training was most pronounced for the more dominant cats.
This is not a surprise, Lopes said, because the dominant cats are often used as a proxy for the dominance of prey species in the cat’s social hierarchy.
The dominant cats have a higher level of dominance than the submissive ones, and so their responses to other cats are less affected by that than those of their less dominant siblings.
The effect is particularly significant when the cats are training to recognize and avoid their own scent.
“This could be because dominant cats perceive the scent-marks as threats and try to avoid them,” Lopes explained.
The finding may also explain why cats do not respond to other humans in the same way as other animals, Lope noted.
Lights and sounds are the most common way to communicate between cats, so if cats could learn to detect sounds that other people use, they would be better able to help their species.
The discovery may also shed light on the importance of scent in animal communication, said study co-author Stephen E. Tarrant, a graduate student in Lopes’ lab.
Lodes and Tarrants also conducted a study that looked at the ability to locate a specific object by smell.
That study found that a cat was more likely to locate the object if it was in a familiar environment, but less likely to do so if it had been found outside.
Lones said the ability for cats to discriminate smells may be important for helping them navigate unfamiliar territory.
“One of the reasons why cats are so successful in the wild is that they can see in a new environment and navigate through that environment,” she said.
The ability to distinguish smells is also useful for understanding how animals communicate with one another.
In other animals that communicate by using touch, such touch is perceived as a direct threat to an individual.
“In other animals like wolves, cats have evolved to have a very similar ability to detect other cats’ movement,” Lodes said.
“If they are being threatened by another cat, they will go and grab onto the other cat to protect themselves.”
For example, the study found, cats will go after other cats that have been chasing them, but will not attack other cats chasing them.
Lanes said her findings could help us understand how animals use scent to communicate.
“When we talk about scent-signaling in nature, we’re looking at it as a signal for others,” Lones explained.
“We’re not looking at whether cats can be used as social signals or to signal other animals.”
Tarrantes added that other studies suggest that cats are also used for detecting other predators in the environment.
“It’s possible that cats could be used in that way, too,” Tarrante said.
While the research suggests that cats can learn to differentiate between objects and scent, Lodes noted that the study was designed to be limited to the effects of scent on cats.
“The data in this study is not conclusive about the specific effects of a given scent on a cat, but it is interesting to see how cats respond to different scent-sensitizing stimuli,” Loes said.
More stories about animals and the environment: