Cats put sight over smell in finding food

The eyes have it! Cats put sight over smell in finding food

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.

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 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 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.

The findings have now been published by the international journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

Evy Mayes carried out the research at the University of Lincoln while she was studying for her Masters degree in feline behaviour and welfare.

Evy, who is now working at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, explained: "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. At Battersea Dogs & Cats Home we make sure that our cats are housed in the best possible environment - one that respects the cat and provides each individual with whatever it needs in order to help it adapt to a rehoming environment. I was also particularly surprised by the speed at which the cats learned how to solve the task, which is very encouraging for future cat behaviour studies."

Professor Daniel Mills, who supervised the study and is based in the University of Lincoln's School of Life Sciences, added: "We live in a complex world and use all of our senses to make sense of it. This is the first time we have asked cats how they operate rather than assumed this from what we know about their senses. 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. If there is a cat which has a strong preference for using its nose then simple changes in the smell of the environment might have a big impact on it, whereas, for others it may be insignificant. This work provides a unique insight into the important principles of attending to the needs of the individual rather than the population in general for good welfare."

Due to the small sample size, further investigation is required to infer a general preference for to use visual over olfactory stimuli when learning the location of food. 


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More information: Animal Behaviour Science. DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2015.01.003
Journal information: Applied Animal Behaviour Science

Citation: Cats put sight over smell in finding food (2015, February 26) retrieved 19 June 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2015-02-cats-sight-food.html
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Feb 26, 2015
"Up until now we really thought that the sense of smell would dominate how cats view their world"

Now, that should have been investigated, rather than the patently obvious notion that cats prefer sight. Why did they think it was smell? How did they ever come up with that notion?

Mar 01, 2015
My cat will go up to an empty dish that I just put down and smell it to determine if it has food. Thus, I do not think that sight is the primary sense used to determine the existence of food.

Mar 01, 2015
My cat will go up to an empty dish that I just put down and smell it to determine if it has food. Thus, I do not think that sight is the primary sense used to determine the existence of food.
@MR
sorry
logical fallacy... that doesn't make sense to me

my dog eats cat poo whenever she gets a chance, but that doesn't mean she doesn't like the taste of steak better

now, i am not saying you are wrong, just pointing out that there is no logical means of extrapolating that your cat uses scent over sight just because it sniffs it's food dish

all cats do that- at least, every singe one i've ever personally seen, from house & Tom's to Bobcats and Mountain Lions

Now, from observation, a cat hunts by mostly sight - tracking it's prey or by ambush
http://www.tigers...gers.php
http://education..../?ar_a=1

the study is paywalled
anyone got a free copy to share?

Mar 01, 2015
"now, i am not saying you are wrong, just pointing out that there is no logical means of extrapolating that your cat uses scent over sight just because it sniffs it's food dish"

Capt. since the food dish was very shallow and any contents would be easy to see, my guess is that my cat determines the existence of food by smell rather than sight. I agree that she sees the dish and get excited but the final determination is made by smell not sight.

Also it is a well known fact that cats will not eat if their sense of smell is impaired by illness.

Mar 01, 2015
since the food dish was very shallow and any contents would be easy to see,
@Mr166
again, as i point out... i know all cats do that, at least, every one that i have ever known

that doesn't mean that it uses said sense of smell to hunt, only for the actual examination of the food, IMHO

which was kinda my point above

does that make it more clear?

these are some cool links you might like:

http://www.scient...-sweets/

http://news.disco...0312.htm

i found it interesting,


Mar 02, 2015
OK....6 cats does not a statistic make.
Just saying.

It's certainly something that can be used for formulating a hypothesis based on observation, but to get any kind of scientific value out of this they have to amplify their data base...a lot.

Mar 02, 2015
I agree that cat hunting, which is a little different than locating food, is a visual and sound driven task. I have never seen a house cat track anything by smell as a dog does.

Mar 02, 2015
I agree that cat hunting, which is a little different than locating food, is a visual and sound driven task. I have never seen a house cat track anything by smell as a dog does.
@Mr166
i wonder how much smell accounts for the selection process when hunting at all

if you run into any studies that specifically get into the details of it, let me know
I will post it here if i run into any

Good talk, too!
thanks for sharing points

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