You don't have to know much about cats to know they're among the best companions you can have. But the more you know, the more you'll enjoy their unique traits and entertaining company, and the more you'll be amazed by the peculiarities people have ascribed to them over many millennia.
I'm a 43-year veterinarian, a lifetime cat lover and author of 23 books on dogs and cats. While I still continue to learn feline facts, tips and tactics, here are just a few things you might not know about your feline family members.
- Cats walk like camels
If you've ever watched dogs walk, you may have noticed that they alternate sides when they step. In other words, the right front paw steps forward at the same time the left rear paw does. Their natural gait is a trot. Cats move differently. They step with both left paws, then both right paws. Their natural gait is called a pace. Camels and giraffes are the only other animals with the pace as their natural gait.
2. Whiskers gauge width
A cat's whiskers are deep-set, highly sensitive hairs called vibrissae (a great Scrabble word). These sensitive detection devices can perceive wind direction, help the cat gauge if they can fit through an opening and are important for body language signaling. If a cat's whiskers are forward, the cat is friendly or curious. If they are pinned back, it's best not to approach or touch.
3. Hairballs aren't harmful
Cats are great self-groomers and have a very raspy tongue that can pull out a lot of hair, which the cat then swallows. That hair is indigestible, so when it enters a cat's stomach, it has two exits: up or out. When it comes up, it's a hairball, though it's not round at all. A hairball actually looks more like a slimy cigar.
4. There's no need for sunglasses
Unlike humans, dogs and most other animals, the pupils of cats' eyes reduce to slits in bright light rather than tiny circles. Because the cat's eyelids close at right angles to the vertical pupil, a cat can reduce the amount of light entering the eye even more by bringing the eyelids closer and closer together. This works similar to the shutter of a vintage camera.
5. They can hear better than dogs
If you compare a human, dog and cat, the cat wins, hands down. Cats can hear nearly three times more frequencies than humans can. Technically, human hearing tops out at 20 kilohertz, a dog's at 45 kHz, but with cats it's 80 kHz. In fact, cats are able to hear a mouse walking 30 feet away or a bat in flight.
6. Age isn't relative
Do cats age seven years for every human year? No. In fact, dogs don't either. A 1-year-old cat has reached full adult size and sexual maturity. This would be the equivalent of an 18-year-old human being. After the first year, a "four equals one" rule works pretty well. So a 10-year-old cat would be the equivalent of 54 human years: 18 (the first year) + 36 (4 x 9 years) = 54.
7. Cat cures
The ancient Romans believed feline feces had healing powers. They used a concoction of honey, cat dung, spices and fat to heal burns and wounds. They also thought drinking from lead cups was a great idea, so I don't recommend trying this ancient burn ointment at home.