It's the cats turn for the spotlight this week. As we focus on cat paws. Cats, like dogs, are digitigrades. Which means they walk directly on their toes, with the bones of their feet making up the lower part of the leg. Felines are unique, they directly register; that is, they place each hind paw almost directly in the print of the corresponding forepaw, minimizing noise and visible tracks. This also provides sure footing for their hind paws when they navigate rough terrain. And makes them capable of walking very precisely. Also, the two back legs are muscular to allow falling and leaping far distances without injury. There are seven pads on the front paws made up of five digital pads, one central or plantar pad that takes most of the weight, and a small wrist pad. The hind paws on the other hand (or should I say "paw") have only five pads, four are digital and there is one plantar pad. Unlike most mammals, when cats walk, they use a "pacing" gait; that is, they move the two legs on one side of the body before the legs on the other side. This trait is shared with camels and giraffes. As a walk speeds up into a trot, a cat's gait will change to be a "diagonal" gait, similar to that of most other mammals. Cats are a lot more agile than dogs are, and much of this has to do with their paws and the way they walk.
English: Macro photo of a cat cleaning itself, showing the hooked papilla on the tongue. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The tongue is a muscular organ that has several functions, the main ones being the guiding of food and water into the mouth and for the taste sensation. The tongue assists in the chewing and swallowing of the food as well. The tongue also plays a role in reducing body temperature in the cat. Dogs are well known for panting, but when the ambient temperature is particularly hot cats will also pant. As air passes over the tongue, the air is cooled. Saliva augments this process as it evaporates. The tongue of a cat differs from that of a dog in several ways. In the center of the tongue are papillae – small hair-like projections that act as small hooks. They are responsible for that “sandpaper” feel when a cat licks our skin. These papillae are made of keratin, the same material found in human hair and fingernails. The papillae serve several purposes. They are important in grooming the fur. And also assisting in gathering and holding food inside the mouth. Specialized papillae at the tip and the sides of the tongue play an important role in taste sensation. Studies have shown that the feline tongue can sense texture as well as flavor. This may explain why some cats prefer dry foods based on their shape. The feline tongue is very sensitive to temperature, and studies have shown that cats prefer food served at room temperature over chilled or warmed food. Which is part of the reason that cats are so picky.
To see papillae under a microscope, click here to watch my video.
Now it is time to focus on a carnivore’s stomach. Namely, the cat stomach. Obviously, a carnivore’s stomach is different then say, a goat or horse stomach. The esophagus transports food to the stomach where it enters a valve-like structure titled the cardiac sphincter. From there, it enters the stomach. A cat’s stomach is a sac-like structure designed to store large amounts of food and continue the digestive process. Cats usually swallow large lumps of food, rarely chewing for very long. So meat and bones make their way to the stomach and are ground up there. The interior of the stomach is made up of a series of folds called “gastric folds”. Their function is to grind the food into small pieces and digest it. The inner stomach lining also secretes acids and enzymes to break down food. Once the initial stomach digestive process is complete, the partially digested food exits the stomach through the pyloric sphincter area and then enters the duodenum. Once eaten, most food leaves the stomach within twelve hours after entering. The cat stomach was designed very well for what it is meant to do, although, modern cats that are fed cat food out of containers may need some supplementing. What is better for my cat? You may ask, wet food or dry food? Well, this is sort of a trick question because truthfully, (depending on the quality) the most ideal diet is a mixture of both. You see, wet food is usually more nutritious, although if a cat never chews anything other than soft food their teeth can get weak. Hearts and brains are the best things you can supplement into your cat’s diet. As they contain the taurine cats need to thwart health problems and death. Egg yolks are also a good idea as they are nutritious and good for your cat’s fur. Conclusively, cats are carnivores and need lots of protein and saturated fats as well as access to greenery such as cat grass or catnip for other nutrients. Assuredly, if you give your cat this diet, it will live long and prosper.
Did you know that cats are not the only creatures that purr? Mongooses, hyenas, racoons, civets*, and even Guinea pigs have been known to purr. Another interesting fact is that while mountain lions and bobcats can purr, they cannot roar. And creatures that can roar (like lions and tigers) cannot purr. The reason for this is that most big cat’s laranxes are not stiff enough to purr and cats which do purr have the opposite problem. While most people think that cats only purr when they are happy or content, that might not always be the case. Sometimes cats purr when they are in distress such as going to the vet or recovering from a wound or illness. Also, Queens with kittens tend to purr more than usual. All cats tend to purr more when in contact with humans. So pet your cat and especially kittens in order that they can be happy and sociable. Plus you get to hear them purr.
(*A lithe-bodied, mostly nocturnal mammal native to tropical Asia and Africa,)