Jun
4
2015

Today is National Hug Your Cat Day. And there are good reasons to hug a cat (and lots of different ways to, according to the Huffington Post).

Reason No. 1: There’s a method to their mad eating habits.

Cats’ picky eating habits protect them. That’s what a new study suggests, published June 2 in BMC Neuroscience. The study offers the first glimpse into how domestic cats perceive bitterness in food at a molecular level.

All cats, from pets to wild tigers, are carnivores. Their sophisticated tastes are an attempt to avoid toxic compounds often found in plants. As a result, unlike other mammals, cats have a unique perception of what is bitter, due to the variety of their bitter receptors.

In the study, researchers examined the responsiveness of two different cat bitter taste receptors to bitter compounds in cell-based experiments. They then compared these to the human versions of these receptors.

The researchers discovered that one of the cat bitter taste receptors was activated by two compounds, aloin (found in the aloe plant) and denatonium (used to deter children and pets from consuming chemicals such as antifreeze). The cats responded differently to the compounds.

The cat receptor was less sensitive to aloin and more sensitive to denatonium than the human receptor. It also differed from the human taste receptor by being insensitive to saccharin, an artificial sweetener that tends to have a bitter aftertaste in humans.

Reason No. 2: They are heroic.

Earlier this year, a cat in Russia was found curled up around a baby in a box, reported The Washington Post. Had it not been for the cat’s warmth, the baby, who had been left in a building’s entryway, would probably not have survived the night.

And last year, a family cat in California body-slammed a dog that was biting a four-year-old companion, reported the Today Show.

Reason No. 3: They offer sometimes-unusual services.

In 1947, a Persian cat named Baby became the first seeing-eye cat, reported TIME. Captured in unused photographs by Life Magazine, Carolyn Swanson must have preferred working with her feline familiar.

When Swanson walked, she kept Baby on a leash lest he chase squirrels. Baby, in turn, led his owner across streets and down thoroughfares.

Baby was awarded a medal for his service.

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