21 Cat Facts That Are Purr-fectly Fascinating
Think you know everything there is to know about cats? Think again. We're about to blow your feline-loving mind with lesser-known cat facts.
They’re not nocturnal, they’re crepuscular
The word nocturnal is thrown around a lot when referring to a cat’s sleeping schedule, but this isn’t quite factual. “Cats are crepuscular, not nocturnal. This means that they are most active during dawn and dusk,” says Jodi Ziskin, a pet coach in Northern California. “In the wild, this is their hunting time. Cats tend to exert a whole lot of energy during these hours: pouncing, playing, and even getting ‘the zoomies.’ It’s a great time to play with your cat and then reward them with a meal.” Playing with your cat is one of 13 ways to get them to like you more.
Their vision is almost like a superpower
“A cat’s peripheral vision occupies 200 degrees, which is 20 percent better than humans,” says Jackson Galaxy, a pet expert and the host of Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell. “Once they zero in on potential prey, all of their ocular skills come to the fore. Although they can’t see very well at great distances, the fact is that’s because they don’t need to. A cat relies on absolute accuracy once the prey is within hunting range, which is at around 20 feet away.” He adds that their night vision is also very good, and they can hunt in complete darkness with the same accuracy they have during the day. And we struggle to find our way to the bathroom at night!
Cats are pretty good actors
“Cats are expert hunters and believe it or not, great mimics,” says Jessica Watson, a pet expert and team leader of the cat department at Best Friends Animal Society’s no-kill shelter. “You may have seen viral videos of cats barking or saying ‘no’ or ‘hello.’ Cats use this same ability to help hunt birds. Cats will chirrup or tweet to mimic bird calls or other sounds of prey, so they can hide in a bush and lure prey close enough to pounce.”
You can guess a cat’s personality based on its coloring
They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but you might just be able to do that with a feline. “Cats with more coat colors—like tortoiseshell (“torties”) and calicos—tend to have more challenging personalities,” says Jess Trimble, DVM, a veterinarian with Fuzzy Pet Health in the San Francisco Bay area. “A study published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science polled pet owners about their cat’s attitude and found that cats with the calico and tortie patterns had higher levels of aggression toward humans.” If you have one of these cuties, you’ll definitely want to be aware of the 15 signs your cat is mad at you.
Their vocabulary consists of over 100 different sounds
We often think of our cats as being quiet except for the occasional (or frequent) meow, purr, or hiss, but in reality, they’ve got a pretty expansive vocabulary. “Cats can make more than 100 vocalizations ranging from a general cry to growl to different variations of meowing,” says Ziskin. Here’s how to decipher the 10 most common sounds cats make.
Cats have distinct sounds for their owners
Speaking of cats making sounds and being great actors, they can also develop an entire “language” in order to communicate with their owners, notes Watson. “Each cat will develop a series of meows or sounds unique to their owner, similar to how dogs can learn different command words based on their trainer,” she explains. “Because of this, those that talk to their cat are more likely to have a cat that will be rather vocal.”
Cats have way fewer taste buds than humans
Here’s another fun cat fact: felines only have 470 taste buds, which is quite a difference compared to humans who have 10,000 and even dogs, which have 1,700. “Because cats are obligate carnivores — [which means they must eat meat in order to survive and have a difficult time digesting plants] — they do not need as many taste buds as herbivores and omnivores because their diet is not meant to be varied,” says Ziskin. “Plant eaters, on the other hand, need more taste buds to differentiate between toxic and beneficial plants.”
They’ve got a thing for cantaloupe
“Although obligate carnivores, many cats love to eat cantaloupe, as well,” says Ziksin. “The main reason is that many of the amino acids in meat are also in cantaloupe. So, to cats, cantaloupe smells like meat!” Whatever you do, just don’t show a cat a cucumber.
They have crazy control over their ears
Most humans fail miserably when it comes to even trying to wiggle our ears, and cats have us completely beat. “The cat’s Pinna—the triangular part of the ear that we can see—help give them the leg up on other species, acting as part radar dish and part catcher’s mitt. The shape of the pinna creates a unique funnel, grabbing sounds from the air and pulling them inward,” says Galaxy. “The coolest part of this feature? The pinnae can move independent of one another and almost completely behind their head. Yep, 180 degrees rotation—and that’s thanks to the collective work of 32 tiny muscles.”
They’ve got more whiskers than you thought
One of a cat’s defining features is her long whiskers that shoot out from either cheek. There’s a lot more where those came from, though. “Cats have whiskers on their upper lip, chin, above their eyes, on the back of their legs, and on their backs,” says Ziskin. “Whiskers help cats ‘see,’ in a way. They vibrate from touching an object or from a change in airflow, which sends a signal to the nervous system that helps determine the size, shape, and speed of what is around them.” All those whiskers make them good at navigating small, dark spaces.
Cats run a higher temperature than humans
You may have noticed that your cat feels warmer than you. This doesn’t mean they’re sick with a fever — it’s just their normal temperature. “A cat’s normal body temperature is between 100 and 102 degrees. This is one of the reasons cats seek warmth. It helps maintain their ideal temperature,” says Ziskin. On the other hand, if you see these silent signs your cat is sick, you should call your vet.
They’re not torturing that small creature
“When you see a cat batting around a bug or a small creature, they are not torturing it. They are being cautious,” says Ziskin. “These little insects, reptiles, and rodents can either bite or sting a cat. Instinctually, they do everything they can to avoid this.” That’s one cat fact that should bring you a little peace of mind!
Cats domesticated themselves
While dogs were brought in homes and selected based on tasks they could perform, like hunting and guarding, one fun fact about cats is that they weren’t brought in so much as they cohabitated. “After living alongside humans, they realized that we wouldn’t kick them out of our homes and then invited themselves right in,” says Watson. “This is why cats are still so easily adaptable to outside life and why socialization within the first 8 to 12 weeks of a kitten’s life is crucial to determining the demeanor and sociability of the cat.”
Cats have four different types of hair
Cats have four types of hair, including down, awn, guard, and vibrissae hairs. Guard hair is the outer layer and down hair is the super-soft, super-short undercoat. “The awn hairs are longer than the down hairs but shorter than the guard hairs, and they help to protect the coat and down hairs. They also generally contain most of the coloring and patterning that makes the cat’s coat what it is,” says Watson. “Vibrissae are the whiskers.”
They’re basically everywhere
“Cats almost rule the world,” says Watson. “Of the seven continents on Earth, only one of them doesn’t have cats.” Can you guess what it is? That’s right—Antarctica! Interestingly, there are only 42 different pedigreed cat breeds (compare that to dogs, which have 340). You won’t want to miss seeing the cutest cat breeds as kittens.
There’s a reason why they walk so quietly
Ever had a cat sneak up behind you? They’re really good at it—just be happy you’re not their prey! “Cats are digitigrade, which is to say that they naturally walk on their tiptoes,” says Galaxy. “This helps them come up on their prey with a combination of speed and near-silence—and a digitigrade stance helps provide cats with shock absorbers when they jump down from a height.”
Their feet are super sensitive
Speaking of paws, another fun cat fact is that felines have super sensitive feet, which is why they really aren’t a fan of you touching them. Galaxy says, “The pads on a cat’s paws are completely uncalloused, hairless, and chock-full of nerve receptors. That level of sensitivity allows for processing info like temperature, pressure, even vibration to size up nearby prey through the ground. Now that’s a refined sense of touch.” Find out what else you may be doing that your cat secretly hates.
Their paws and claws contain scent glands
Cat claws come in handy for so many things, from grabbing onto a tree for a vertical escape to helping ward off enemies. “Also, claws and the scent glands between the paws, come together as one of the ways that cats claim territory,” says Galaxy. “By scratching a tree, for instance, they are leaving both a visual and scent marker that makes their ownership unmistakable to potential intruders.” No trespassing, indeed.
Having hairballs all the time isn’t normal
We often associate hairballs as a non-issue with cats, but hacking them up all the time isn’t normal. “Less than one a month can be normal for long-haired cats. More frequently than that, and you should chat with your veterinarian,” notes Dr. Trimble. “Frequent hairballs can be a sign of disease in the gastrointestinal tract that is preventing the hair from moving through normally, or a sign of over-grooming due to allergies, parasites, stress, or other reasons.”
Cats only sweat through their paw pads
Another fun fact about cats is that, like dogs, they don’t sweat the way humans do. Instead, they sweat through their paw pads. “If you notice sweaty paw pads, look for signs of overheating or stress,” notes Dr. Trimble. “It’s hard to regulate your body temperature when you only sweat through your feet.” She adds that the sweat could also be due to nervousness.
They don’t have a sweet tooth
We humans love our dessert, but one cat fact is that they really can do without. “Cats—from housecats to tigers—lack the gene needed for tasting sweets. No sweet teeth for our kitties,” says Dr. Trimble. While sweets are out, these 50 other things will make your pet tick.