The secret lives of cats

Listening to cat music. Visually scanning for food. "Cheating" on their owners. All of these activities hint at the secret lives of cats. They are also the subjects of current research studies.

Secret Life No. 1

A University of Wisconsin-Madison study, published in the online journal Applied Animal Behavior Science on Feb. 20, found that cats, like people, have unique music preferences.

A team of researchers visited the homes of 47 cats with four samples of music. Two of the songs were created just for them, and took into account a cat’s unique sensory system. (For instance, cats vocalize one octave higher than humans.)

"We [were] not actually replicating cat sounds," said Charles Snowden, lead author and emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "We [were] trying to create music with a pitch and tempo that appeals to them."

Apparently, they hit the jackpot. The cats preferred the researchers’ "cat songs" rather than the classical music played.

Secret Life No. 2

In a University of Lincoln study, in Brayford Pool, Lincoln, UK, as part of her master’s degree in feline behavior and welfare, researcher Evy Mayes, along with a team, investigated which sense cats preferred—sight or smell—when it came to finding food.

Mayes and her team took six cats, placed them in a maze, taught them the "rules" via rewards for selecting visual or olfactory stimulus to find food, and then tested to see which sense, in fact, was most used.

The researchers discovered that four of the six cats used visual cues, rather than olfactory cues, to find food. And while the small size of the study does not infer general preferences, it does hint at them.

"Up until now we really thought that the sense of smell would dominate how cats view their world, but we are now reconsidering this…," noted Mayes.

Secret Life No. 3

The Cat Tracker Project is a collaboration between North Carolina State University (NCSU), North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn. Its goal is to enroll 1,000 cats, outfit them with Global Positioning Systems, and follow them.

And while the researchers will be investigating diet and parasites, their primary goal is to see where cats go when they leave home.

What they’ve learned so far, from the 100 cats they’ve tracked, is that most cats stay within a 12-acre radius (although one cat covered 116 acres). Some cats, too, are "cheaters."

"Many cats, we found out, spend a lot of time at a secondary house," Troi Perkins, a zoology and fisheries and wildlife conservation student at NCSU, who is responsible for downloading the data, told The Boston Globe.

Secrets and secret lives, all in honor of "Respect Your Cat Day" on Saturday, March 28.

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