Cats may prefer to use their eyes rather than follow their nose when it comes to finding the location of food, according to new research by leading animal behaviourists.
Felines have a tremendous sense of smell and vision, but the new study by researchers at the University of Lincoln, UK, has for the first time investigated which sense they prefer to use under test conditions – and suggested sight may be more important than smell.
“Up until now we really thought that the sense of smell would dominate how cats view their world, but we are now reconsidering this and also the implications of how we manage them,” said researcher Evy Mayes.
A group of six cats were placed in a maze which had ‘decision’ points – and the cats had to choose which avenue they took based on their preference for using images or smell. They were simultaneously presented with two squares of paper, each containing a different visual and odour cue.
One combination of stimuli indicated they would receive a food reward, whereas the other led to no reward. Once the cats had learned the rules of the game and received food rewards for correctly choosing either the visual stimulus or the olfactory stimulus, the researchers separated the cues (visual versus olfactory) to investigate whether the cats were using their eyes or nose to solve the task.
Four out of the six cats picked the visual cue, over the odour cue, to receive their food reward with only one cat preferring to use its nose and the sixth showing no preference. So it seems that when they had the choice, cats simply preferred the visual signals over the olfactory ones.
Professor Daniel Mills, who supervised the study added, “Another important finding from this work is the individual variability – different cats had quite fixed preferences, and this may have important implications for their welfare.”
The findings were published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science.