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    Interesting facts about cats from the scientific point of view

    Scientists from the University of Life Sciences in Poznań answer questions about the behaviour of cats: why they like to sit in boxes, what they purr, why they need a tail and why they tend to knead the ground. The occasion for scientific explanations is World Cat Day on February 17.

    Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Natalia Sowińska and Dorota Główny from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Sciences of the University of Life Sciences in Poznań collected the most common questions that fascinate cat lovers from the Poznań profile “Your cat would drink whiskey”.


    Why do cats like to sit in boxes?


    Although animal keepers are happy to buy their pets expensive toys, scratchers, lairs. Cats prefer gift boxes. They enter the smallest boxes, fill them almost completely, as if a constant state of aggregation did not exist in their case. As explained by veterinarians, cartons, drawers or bowls become a kind of personal space and the cat should not be forcibly pulled out or, even worse, shaken. Tight spaces give your pet shelter, a sense of security and warmth. The predator’s instinct tells the cat to remain unnoticed by its prey in order to be able to jump out of its hiding place suddenly and effectively.


    “However, we should remember that hiding too much, avoiding contact or not being interested in our surroundings can mean stress or even a serious illness. Never underestimate your pet’s needs and be vigilant for any deviations from the norm,” the experts advise.


    What does the cat purr? What is the mechanism and what are its functions?


    Purring is a skill that only some felids can boast about. Purring is believed to be the result of vibrations of the vocal cords being set in motion by the muscles of the larynx, but the purring mechanism remains an unsolved problem. Those that have fully ossified hyoid bone can purr, i.e. domestic cats, cheetahs, lynxes, pumas. In the case of representatives of the panther family (Pantherinae), the hyoid bone has not completely fossilized, so tigers, lions or panthers roar instead of purring.


    Purring has multiple functions. These sounds are made not only by cats as happy and petted but also stressed and suffering. The low frequencies of the cat’s purr (25 to 150 Hz) have calming and healing properties. A purring cat’s level of endorphins increases, which lifts the cat’s mood. Cat owners are also less likely to suffer from depression and cardiovascular disease. Purring is also used by cats for communication, such as when grooming each other. Cats also use purring to communicate with their owners. By purring, the cat demands a caress, play or a meal. In such situations, cats have been proven to purr until they have achieved their goal, which can be considered almost overtly exploiting human weakness for feline grace.


    Why does a cat need a tail and can it function normally without a tail?


    The cat’s tail is multifunctional. As explained by veterinarians, it is an important element of balance for a cat, thanks to which the cat can walk without wobbling on a thin fence, as well as jump on tables and higher and higher shelves in our apartments.


    “We can read a lot of cat’s emotions from the movements of the tail. Strolling between the caregiver’s legs with the tail held high indicates contentment, greeting, or calling for attention. A cat that moves its tail quickly from side to side communicates its dissatisfaction, irritation or even anger. A cat with a raised tail feels threatened and tries to increase its body size in front of its attacker. It is not worth touching the cat then,” the authors advise, noting, however, that it is impossible to read the language of the cat’s body only by moving its tail.


    Experts remind us about the existence of Manx cats, whose breed feature is the lack of a long tail. Such cats have a so-called debris tail. “It’s worth taking a look at the health of this breed, as Manx cats may be predisposed to diseases related to the skeletal system or neurological problems,” they admit. They add that cats do not need a tail for their daily functioning. After losing a tail, a cat will do no worse than its healthy colleagues, but it will require some training and patience.


    Why does the cat knead with its paws before it lies down?


    Natalia Sowińska and Dorota Główny also refer to the common behaviour of a cat kneading the blanket, bedding or the owner’s belly with its paws. They confirm that such behaviour has already been observed in newborn kittens, which, while suckling milk, knead the mother’s belly with their paws, thus stimulating her glands to produce milk. The hormone secreted in response to such a stimulus is oxytocin, which improves lactopoiesis.


    It is also assumed that the cat marks territory in this way. On the paws between the paw pads, the cat has sebaceous glands, thanks to which it can leave a smell on the kneaded objects or us and mark them as its property.


    “Some people believe that often the cat is just trying to get attention. Sometimes they want to ask for stroking or scratching behind the ear or, as we all know, cats know their feeding times very well. Maybe it just this moment and we are late with the cat meal for entire two minutes? ” – the authors of a popular science joke.


    Can cats “bark”?


    Experts observe that cats can use a very wide range of sounds, from purring to meowing and hissing, to threatening sounds of fighting. Some sounds may even resemble a dog barking. The ground for cat ‘barking’ can be searched for in the hunting instinct, as these are noises that are associated with finding and catching prey. Cats that are released outside often make a bark-like sound just before they capture their prey.


    According to behaviourists, barking can also be a sign of frustration when a cat sees a potential prey within its range but is unable to reach it. “This does not mean, however, that we have to start letting the cat outside, it is enough to take care of its behavioural needs at home and diversify the environment with toys or hiding places” – emphasize the veterinarians.


    Do cats dream and what can they dream about?


    Cats sleep around 16 up to 20 hours a day. Specialists distinguished three phases of a cat’s sleep. It is light, deep and REM sleep.


    “It is in a shallow dream that the cat spends most of its time. It can be compared to our afternoon nap. We can notice ear movements in the dog, which indicates that the cat is alert all the time and although it closes its eyelids and partially relaxes its muscles, it still receives stimuli from the environment and is ready to attack or run away “- the experts explain.


    In the deep sleep phase, the cat’s vigilance ceases, but the REM phase is the time to dream. It takes up 20 to 30 per cent of a cat’s sleep. You can then notice involuntary movements of the paws, twitching of the whiskers or tail, and even making sounds.


    “This is a sign that our cat has probably fallen asleep. The pet then relaxes and regenerates, it should not be woken up. Probably, cats’ dreams are created similarly to human dreams, so cats may dream about what happened to them in the recent past. These can be acrobatics on curtains, the crazy chase for a redpoint on the wall or fresh fish-smelling delicacies,” enumerate veterinarians. However, they admit that the issue of cat dreams remains full of secrets that could only be revealed by the cats themselves.

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