If I fits I sits

We all know our cats love to squeeze themselves into impossibly small boxes. The smaller the better it seems!

Now research by Smith et al (2021) has found that cats don’t just enjoy sitting in boxes but in “imaginary” boxes as well. Of course we do not know whether these cats actually imagined they were sitting inside a box, but the cats showed a preference for sitting inside a square, even if it was just an illusion.

How did they test this?

Cat owners were asked to test their cats at home, meaning the cats were not subjected to a test environment. This is a huge bonus because cats often do not perform well (or at all) in test environments due to stress or being unfamiliar with the environment and/or the researchers.

These cats did not know they were being tested, but their owners did. However, in order to avoid owners influencing their cat’s behaviour they were asked not to interact with their cats during the short tests. The owners were also instructed to wear sunglasses so they could not inadvertently guide their cat’s actions. Owners were also asked to record videos of their cats during these tests.

Roughly 500 owners signed up to participate, but only 30 cats completed the whole study. Whether the cats or owners gave up is unknown 😉

The participants received all the material and instructions from the researchers and were given “six randomized, counterbalanced daily stimuli to print out, prepare, and place on the floor in pairs”. There were three possible stimuli: an outline of a square, a Kanizsa illusion of a square using Pac-Man shapes or a control that had the Pac-Man shapes facing outward.

The control outline (left) and the cat sitting inside the Kanizsa illusion

The study found that cats chose to sit in the Kanizsa illusion of a square just as often as inside the actual outline of a square and sat in the control outline less frequently.

What does this mean?

As one of the researchers says, “[t]he major takeaways are that cats are susceptible to the Kanizsa illusion in a human-like way, and are most likely attracted to 2-D shapes for their contours (sides), rather than solely novelty on the floor”.

Why do cats like to sit where they fit?

Although more research is needed, I agree with Nicholas Dodman who wrote that “cats like to squeeze into small spaces where they feel much safer and more secure. Instead of being exposed to the clamor and possible danger of wide open spaces, cats prefer to huddle in smaller, more clearly delineated areas.”

Problem-solving ability and laterality in cats

I started teaching Dirk to give paw a few months ago and we have now progressed to one knock = right paw and two knocks = left paw. Of course he makes mistakes occasionally, but overall he is pretty good at giving me the paw I’m asking for.

When I first started training Dirk I noticed he has a slight preference to use his left paw. He would always use that oe first and also uses it most frequently. He also uses his left paw most when playing with his puzzle feeders (though he does switch to right paw as well).

Intrigued by his paw preference I started looking into research about domestic cats and left- or right-pawedness and found a very interesting research paper on this topic. Obviously, food was involved in testing the cats as participation needs to be rewarding for them too 😉 However, even that could not convince all cats to participate as 3 out of 41 cats tested did not move a paw at all. Of the other 38 cats, 10 were right-pawed, 12 left-pawed and 16 were ambilateral: they showed no preference for either left or right paw.

The study showed that cats with a clear paw preference, either left or right, were better at solving the food puzzles than those cats that did not have a paw preference. The cats with a paw preference found their way to the food a lot quicker with fewer paw movements.

The researchers discovered that domecats actually preferred opening the food puzzles with their head rather than paw. Those that had a head preference opened fewer sections of the puzzle feeder than those with a paw preference. This means that cats that perfer to use their paws possibly have better motor skills and problem-solving skills than those that prefer using their heads. One possible explanation that some cats have a head preference may be related to domestication: we tend to feed our cats from bowls which does not require any motor skills from the cat.

Does it matter whether a cat is left-pawed or right-pawed, ambilateral or prefers to use their head? In a domestic cat probably not, but perhaps this research gets us one step closer to proving just how intelligent cats are 😉

Left-pawed or right-pawed, just stretch them all

Say my name, say my name: do cats recognise their names?

Cat owners or lovers would probably say that of course cats recognise their names. More sceptical people might wonder whether they really recognise their name or just respond to their owner’s voice.

Research by Atsuko Saito, Kazutaka Shinozuka, Yuki Ito and Toshikazu Hasegawa shows that cats do indeed recognise and respond to their names! Their study showed that cats respond to their name when said by their owner and also when said by a test person. Cats also distinguish between their name and other words, both by owners and test persons.

Cats can learn a variety of words: they form associative meaning between words and things. As owners, we often say “treat” and find the cat comes running: they have learned that this word means they’ll get some tasty food. They can learn other words too: I often ask Dirk if he wants to cuddle. He has learned that when I say cuddle he will get a lot of strokes and fuss so depending on his mood he’ll come over. Another word he knows is “coffee”, although his association of the word is not with the drink, but with time to sit in my lap 😉

Did you just say coffee?