10 Heartwarming (Scientific) Stories about Cats

10 Heartwarming (Scientific) Stories about Cats

It’s not often you can have your heart warmed while learning about scientifically calculated catitude. But today is your lucky day because this is one of those rare occasions. This won’t just tug the strings of your second-most important organ; it also covers essential information about our favorite feline friends (until the domestication of the cheetah, that is), whether fuzzy or furless.

Related: 10 Amazing Animals with Unique Environmental Adaptations

10 Cat Allergies? Enter “CRISPR Kitties”

CRISPR: Gene editing and beyond

A Virginian biotech company called InBio, which specializes in such things as asthma and allergy research, is exploring CRISPR to make one of the world’s most popular pets less allergenic. Such “CRISPR kitties” could be a blessing for many sneeze-prone people.

Cat allergies affect up to 15% of people, meaning the “domestic cat is the most common source of mammalian allergen.” Most afflicted folks are attacked by a protein called Fel d 1, which mediates the allergic response in 95% of cat-allergic patients. This allergy-accelerating protein is in cat saliva and skin oil, and good luck avoiding those.

Thankfully, scientists discovered that this protein apparently doesn’t appear to do anything, and cats could easily live without it. Its actual purpose? Who knows. What is known is that targeting the production of this protein via gene editing could be vastly more effective than allergy pills and other treatments.[1]

9 Cat Contraception

One-dose contraceptive vaccine for cats

Helping cats enjoy happy, healthy lives also depends on humanely reducing stray populations. Yet it requires surgical intervention, which takes time and resources. Now, scientists have tried a simply applied, non-surgical “gene shot” on six female cats, with promising results.

The small study size was intentional, allowing strict scientific scrutiny of each cat and the mechanics of the new anti-pregnancy approach. As a result, researchers were able to extensively analyze “15,220 freeze-dried poop samples for estrogen and progesterone levels and [examine] 1,200 hours of video of mating behavior,” according to William Swanson, animal research director at Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.

The shot injects a gene into the muscle cells, leading to the pumping of the contraceptive anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH). AMH works by disrupting egg follicle development in the ovaries. Giving cats this gene therapy shot prevented pregnancies for at least two years. Further research is needed to decide its overall safety and efficacy, but it’s a fascinating advance for global feline welfare.[2]

8 Cats in Squares

Square Tape Challenge for Cats!

Cat senses are excellent; their eyes are six times better in low-light conditions than ours, so while you may accidentally bump your cat in the dark, your cat will never accidentally bump you in the dark. Not accidentally, anyway.

Exceptional visual perception and brain wiring are why cats love sitting in 2D squares or other shapes, even if those shapes are incomplete (i.e., four cut-outs placed apart from each other in the shape of a square).

The fact that these appear to create an enclosed form is the Kanizsa square illusion, exploiting our brain’s tendency to fill the gaps and see contours that aren’t there. The same thing occurs in the cat’s mind, meaning your kitty will likely love a flat, incomplete square as much (or almost as much) as a fresh, cozy box.[3]

7 Leg “Whiskers”

What Do Cats Use Their Whiskers For?

Cats don’t just have whiskers on the whiskers part of their bodies. They also have whiskers on the non-whiskers part of their bodies, including the back of their legs. These are called carpal vibrissae because carpus means wrist, and vibrissae is the fancy Latin scientific word for whiskers, or technically nose hairs.

Like the whiskers around their snouts, these vibrissae aren’t just to tickle you; they’re sensory organs used for sensing a cat’s surroundings. They can detect tiny movements, such as air pressure changes and the surrounding environment, to help cats navigate their world and achieve their superb feline agility. By using these wrist whiskers, as it were, cats can feel surfaces and objects, giving them better spatial awareness, environmental orientation, and hunting skills.[4]

6 Grayish Tabby—the First Cat

How We Domesticated Cats (Twice)

If you have a grayish-darkish tabby cat, congratulations, you have the first cat! Our modern domesticated (arguable) cats are known as Felis catus, and they descend from the African Felis silvestris lybica, which basically looks like a tabby cat. Cat pattern is such an essential factor that it helps researchers decide upon a feline’s wildness or relative wildness.

For example, some fur patterns, including blotchy, arose due to genetic alterations much later in cat domestication history. So, if you have a blotchy grimalkin, thank the medieval age. But don’t thank it too much because general cat attitudes were not always great, to say the least.[5]

5 Will Work for Food… Not!

Cats prefer to not work for their meals

Cats prefer to get their food without having to work for it. That’s smart but also not surprising. What is surprising is that other animals are the opposite. So much so, in fact, that UC Davis scientists did a whole study about cats’ willingness to suffer drudgery for their dinner.

It’s called contrafreeloading, meaning some animals would rather work for their meal. As per Mikel Delgado, cat behaviorist and UC Davis veterinary researcher: “There is an entire body of research that shows that most species including birds, rodents, wolves, primates–even giraffes–prefer to work for their food.”

The study provided 17 cats with two food options: easy vittles on a tray and a puzzle with food. Most chose the easy comestibles. Possibly because the puzzle didn’t stimulate natural cat behaviors, like ambushing. Cats still like puzzles, though, and that’s important because…[6]

4 Cat Puzzles Free the Hunter

Best Cat Food Puzzles? We tried them all!

UC Davis researchers previously studied cat puzzles to ascertain how they benefit felines. The study found that about one-third of cat people provided their furry friends with puzzles, though it would probably be best for that number to be higher.

Puzzles benefit cats by bringing out their wild foraging instincts. Cats used to hunt for their food and engage in additional predatory practices before “humans came along and took their jobs away.” The puzzle helps feline mental enrichment by giving them back their jobs and restoring the sense of wild accomplishment, one could say. Plus, previous research found that puzzles “aided cats with weight loss, anxiety, and urination outside the litter box.”

Unfortunately, many cat owners try puzzles but soon give up. People should definitely keep at it, the study says, but start with easy ones and work your way up.[7]

3 What Cat Genetics Tell Us

Why We Have Cats as Pets: The History of Feline Domestication

Humans have been cat people for longer than some have previously believed, according to a University of Missouri study. While some said that anthro-feline relationships really took off 4,000(ish) years ago, possibly circa Egypt, gene research pushes that date back to the agricultural revolution of 10,000 years ago. As humans began storing grains, rodent populations exploded, benefitting from our hard-won wheat.

Serendipitously, along came the cat to benefit from our hard-won wheat’s rodents. While big domestics like cattle and horses underwent multiple domestication events, the feline underwent one such transformation, according to feline geneticist and renowned MU professor Leslie A. Lyons. Our cats, truly only semi-domesticated, became the cats we know in the Fertile Crescent many millennia ago, then traveled the world with us.

Importantly, such genetic studies have created databases that have helped significantly reduce certain feline ailments, like polycystic kidney disease.[8]

2 Colors, Patterns, and Fur Length Reveal History, Temperament, and Health

Why were Ancient Egyptians obsessed with cats?

Long after the Fertile Crescent fecundity, cats underwent a second human-assisted transformation during the Classical Period in Egypt, circa 3,500–4,000 years ago. Further evidence points to attempts to create a leopard cat in China, but no such kitties (or their relatives) remain.

These findings also highlight how cats conquered the world. Ancient cat DNA from port cities shows that people brought their feline companions aboard their ships, possibly to subdue the rodents that plagued ship-borne food supplies. Interestingly, studying the evolution of cat colors and patterns links these characteristics to specific behaviors (like aggressiveness), origins, and disease prevalence.

However, the ancient Egyptians did not revere their cats as we like to think; they practiced various cruel rituals (including the mass establishment of cat mills) to appease the gods for their human benefit. However, that depressing historical avenue is for another day, as this is about happy cats.[9]

1 Finland Created a New Cat

Discover the Unique Salmiak Cat: New Genetic Mutation Unveiled!

The universe released a new cat type, recently described by science, in May 2024. This rare, domestic Finnish feline has a novel coat pattern called “salmiak,” and it’s kind of a cookies-and-cream vibe. People in Finland began noticing the pattern emerging around 2007, noting that instead of conventional tuxedos, these black-and-whites rocked a color gradation, like a sprinkling of salt and pepper. The ombré effect occurs as the fur grows lighter from root to tip, from black to white.

To make it official, scientists identified the genetic mechanics in the journal Animal Genetics as “a 95-kb deletion downstream of the KIT gene.” Ah, of course, that makes so much sense! In more understandable terms, a missing piece of DNA leads to the “salmiak” coat type, named after a popular type of Finnish salty licorice. Because Finnish people love licorice for some reason. But they love cats, too, so it evens out.[10]

fact checked by
Darci Heikkinen

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