How solitary cats find mates

Cats rely less on smell to hunt than dogs but they have genes related to an alternate form of smell that helps them find mates, an analysis of the cat genome reveals.

IANS| Last Updated: Nov 11, 2014, 11:39 AM IST

Washington: Cats rely less on smell to hunt than dogs but they have genes related to an alternate form of smell that helps them find mates, an analysis of the cat genome reveals.

These genes help our feline friends detect chemicals called pheromones which allow them to monitor their social environment, including seeking out the opposite sex, the findings showed.

“This ability is not as important to dogs, which tend to travel in packs. But it is crucial in cats, which are more solitary and may have more difficulty finding mates,” the researchers noted.

Although cats and humans have shared the same households for at least 9,000 years, they are more solitary than dogs.

"Cats, unlike dogs, are really only semi-domesticated," said senior author Wes Warren, associate professor of genetics at Washington University.

"They only recently split off from wild cats, and some even still breed with their wild relatives,” Warren added.

The researchers compared the genomes of domestic cats and wild cats, finding specific regions of the domestic cat genome that differed significantly.

The scientists found changes in the domestic cat's genes that other studies have shown are involved in behaviours such as memory, fear and reward-seeking.

These types of behaviours -- particularly those when an animal seeks a reward -- generally are thought to be important in the domestication process.

Cats also have better hearing than most other carnivores, including an ability to hear in the ultrasonic range to better track prey. Their vision is also exceptional in low light.

"Cats tend to be more active at dawn and dusk so they need to be able to detect movement in low light," said the study's first author Michael Montague from Washington University.

The study appeared in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.