Cats are known for their independence and curiosity, but they are much more complex. Our Lebanon Animal Hospital is spilling the tea on fascinating felines with six interesting cat facts that will make you say, “Me-WOW!”  

#1: Cats and the flehmen response

Have you been baffled by your cat’s facial expression that looks like a grimace or sneer? This odd facial expression that sometimes looks as if they are trying to taste the air is a normal reaction called the flehmen response, which many animals, including cats, goats, tigers, and horses, also exhibit. When your cat encounters a new smell, they curl their upper lip back to their teeth to sample the odor molecules trapped in the mucus lining the upper respiratory tract, to better detect the new scent. Cats use the response primarily to analyze other cats’ pheromones—especially in urine—and also to investigate other interesting scents. 

#2: A cat into space

On October 18, 1963, French scientists launched a small female tuxedo cat named Félicette into space from a base in the Sahara Desert. The trip was brief—only 15 minutes—and reached an altitude of about 100 miles above Earth. Fortunately, Félicette parachuted safely back to Earth.

#3: The cats’ whiskers

Cats’ whiskers are extremely sensitive and much like antennae on insects, provide sensory input that helps them navigate daily life. Their whiskers are located above the eyes, on the chin, on the forelegs, near their ears, and above the upper lip, and help with the following functions:

  • Sensory input — When air flows or an object brushes against a whisker, the nerves in the hair follicles vibrate and transmit information to your cat about the object’s size, shape, and speed.
  • Body balance – The sensory organs located at the ends of whiskers (i.e., the proprioceptors) help your cat keep their balance by sending messages to the brain about their body and limb positions—one of the reasons cats almost always land on their feet. 
  • Radar sensor — Cats see better at a distance, but their whiskers serve as a radar to detect close objects and also to help them hunt at night—including their water and food bowls—and prevent them from bumping into walls and furniture in the dark.
  • Mood communicator — If you want to know how your cat is feeling, look closely at their whiskers. 
    • Happy — When their whiskers are in a neutral position, slightly to the side, your cat is likely content and relaxed. 
    • Fearful — If their whiskers begin to move slightly back and their ears move further to the side, your cat may be fearful or anxious. 
    • Aggressive — Whiskers pulled back tightly to the face can signal aggression.
    • Painful — When your cat is in pain, they may flatten their nose, cheek, and muzzle, and move their whiskers forward.

#4: What are cat lovers called?

Want to impress your friends with your vocabulary? The next time you want to declare your love for cats, use the word “ailurophile,” which is derived from the Greek word “ailouros” (i.e., cat), and the suffix “phile,” (i.e., lover). Someone who hates cats—if that’s possible—is called an “ailurophobe.”

#5: Cats and face rubbing

When your cat rubs their head against you or a household item (i.e., bunting), they are not only saying, “Hello.” Bunting can signal affection, but can have other motives depending on the context, such as: 

  • Marking territory — Cats have scent glands on their heads, and they rub their face to leave scent pheromones on the object to mark their territory and inform other cats of their presence. 
  • Self-soothing — Some cats bunt when they are anxious or unsure, because the action comforts them in an unfamiliar environment or situation.

#6: Cats and chatter

You have probably seen your cat staring out the window open-mouthed and making a strange chattering sound. This rapid jaw movement is instinctual and signals excitement, primarily when your cat observes prey, similar to people who see food in a restaurant.

Now that you realize that your cat is more clever than you knew, you no doubt have extra appreciation for your special pet. Show that appreciation by contacting Lebanon Animal Hospital and scheduling their wellness examination.