We recently got a new cat from friends who had to move to Florida and didn’t want to have her deal with a long four-day trip in the heat in their car.
Since we were going to miss them, we renamed her “Missy”. After taking her to vet and getting all of her shots up to date, my younger two girls had lots of questions: Why do some cats have green eyes, and others have yellow? Why are some cats’ noses pink and others are black? Before I launched into a lengthy genetics discussion that would be most likely over their heads on this very hot day, I thought we might find some simpler answers about our beloved felines. We were surprised by what we found out!
While we were researching some the answers to our questions, we discovered that cats have different eye colors, golden, green or orange being the most common. Some felines have two different colors for their two eyes-a condition typically called “odd-eyed”. Some specific breeds, like the Siamese, or colors, like white, will have blue eyes. It is actually a misconception that blue-eyed cats are always deaf.
One thing we didn’t realize that cats have a third eyelid! This nictitating membrane is a thin layer that closes from the side and appears when the eyelid opens. Cats also don’t need to blink to produce tears and keep their eyes lubricated. No doubt because of their predator instinct, they have the ability to close only one eye at a time, thereby keeping one eye always open during a hunt. This ability always made us think our kitties were winking at us- now we know the truth.
Our cats have never been partial to many of the goodies that my girls have loved over the years. It surprised us when they would prefer the leftover non-sugary cereal milk to leftover ice cream melt (when there ever was any!). It is not a sense of nutrition that keeps them going for meat vs. cookies. Cats actually have a genetic defect, the lack of the T1R2 protein, in their taste buds that does not allow them to taste “sweet” foods. They literally don’t know what they are missing!
A cat’s sense of smell is 14 times stronger than a human’s. They have twice as many receptors in their noses as we do. Cats also have an additional scent organ in the roof of their mouths called the vomeronasal organ.
When this organ is in use, the tongue hangs out and the cat wrinkles its nose. This action is called gaping, resembling sneering and it is similar to the Flehmen response in dogs, big cats and horses, but not quite ‘panting’.
Cat nose color is due largely to pigmentation, with the most common colors being black or pink. If a cat’s nose color is white, it can sometimes signify anemia. We didn’t realize that cat nose color can change over time. It usually gets darker over time vs. lighter, but any change can happen.
In various mythologies, cats are said to be good luck or bad luck, harbingers of evil or spiritual symbols. According to Wikipedia, Norse mythology often depicts Freyja, the goddess of love and fertility, being pulled by a cat-drawn chariot. Most folks are familiar with the Egyptians love, and near worship of cats, with the goddess Bast often displayed as a cat or lioness. In Japanese culture, the Maneki Neko is a cat symbolizing good fortune. In Islamic tales, Muhammed supposedly had a favorite cat, Muezza, and loved cats so much that he would rather go without his cloak than disturb a cat sleeping on it.
Of the many superstitions surrounding cats, one of the most common is their having “nine lives”, though in some cultures the number is only six or seven. This may be attributed to the cats’ ”righting reflex”, which enables them to rearrange themselves to an upright position in midair during a fall, and therefore land on their feet, nearly every time. So during the fall, the idea was that the cat “died” and then upon landing, “came back to life”. Nevertheless, cats can perish in long falls, even with such a unique reflex.
One thing I have learned about children is that they love to ask questions. From that simple vet visit and a few questions, we now know more about cats that we ever have in the 20 years or so that we have had such pets. The answers to their many questions inevitably lead to even more questions… and learning continues.