Saturday, March 22, 2008

Are Cats Psychic?

Most people who coexist with cats will report that they have what seem like uncanny ways of knowing what we humans will do next. However, the jury is out on whether cats have psychic powers. It’s hard to get solid proof because of cats' perverse (and to my mind wonderful) refusal to cooperate in the kind of experiments that might give us a clue.

Giving us a clue is simply not on the feline agenda. Nonetheless, as predators, cats are very tuned in to small details and always closely observing little things we may not even notice. Whether or not they have powers beyond the senses, all experts agree that the everyday senses cats have are far more acute than human senses.

Those hypnotic cat's eyes are designed to allow the cat to use small amounts of light, so that while they cannot see in total darkness, they can hunt at night. The large ears that swivel to catch tiny, mousey sounds can hear sounds three times higher than humans can hear. The sense of smell is very important to cats. They will narrow their eyes and back away from smells they dislike (including sharp smells such as citrus). When they encounter a particularly interesting smell and want more information they will open their mouths slightly and inhale in what looks like a sneer, but is actually the opposite! This reflex opens a special set of sensory organs in the roof of their mouths so that they can find out as much as possible and analyze what they're smelling.

Then there are the cat's famous whiskers! Called vibrissae, cat whiskers are twice as thick as ordinary cat hairs, with deeper roots and more nerve structures. The whiskers seem to help a cat function in dim light, and a cat can fan its whiskers out as wide as its body so it can judge whether it will fit in an opening before going through.

This does not explain why one of my cats repeatedly tries to climb into a small paper bag that won't even allow his entire head to fit in it. Maybe all bets are off when it comes to irresistible paper bags! Experts point out, and I can testify from observation, that when a cat eats out of a small food bowl the whiskers contact the sides of the bowl and it distracts the cat, so low flat bowls are preferred.

Part of their predatory heritage is a cat’s well-developed sense of time and the recurring habits of humans. Whether a cat is reading your mind or your body language doesn't seem to make a lot of difference to the cat or the human. Those who may worry about their cat knowing their thoughts should not worry. Most human thoughts don't interest cats in the slightest.

On the other hand, your cat is intensely interested in when his or her next meal is arriving This is why when you feed your cat breakfast at a certain time every morning you will never need an alarm clock.

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