Think you know cats and dogs? How they perceive taste, touch, sight, smell and sound? Here’s your chance to prove it! I’ve created a quiz below that tests your knowledge of which animal─cat or dog─rules for each of the five senses. Take it alone or better yet with family and friends. See below for the Answer Key and some fun animal facts. Win or lose, I guarantee you’ll learn something!
Who has the best sense of taste?
Who has the best sense of touch?
Who has the best sense of sight?
Who has the best sense of smell?
Who has the best sense of sound?
1b. Dogs have about 1,700 taste buds compared to cats who have only 473. Note that humans have a whopping 9,000! The theory holds that dogs evolved from ancestors who lived in diverse environments offering an array of meat and plant-based food options. As scavengers, these scrappy pack animals ate many things (and many, many more things as we domesticated them), which is reflected in their proliferation of taste buds.
Felines, on the other hand, came from desert-dwelling ancestors where meat from birds, rodents and lizards was plentiful with little competition. However, not much else was available. As obligate carnivores to this day, cats have had no need to develop a broader set of taste buds.
2a. and 2b. This was a trick question because cats and dogs have an equal sense of touch. They both use highly sensitized whiskers (or “vibrissae”) located on the muzzle, above the eyes and beneath the chin to sense movement, air flow and to measure distance, which helps them know where they are spatially. Cats also have these specialized “touch receptors” on the backs of their lower forelegs.
When in contact with an object whiskers vibrate, which relays information such as the object’s shape and texture. Cats and dogs can move their whiskers as well, which comes in handy for more precise navigation.
One should never cut whiskers as they play a vital role in tactile sensation.
3a. Cats edge out dogs when it comes to sight, but this sense has many facets that differ between the two animals. For instance, while dogs have a slightly larger field of view than cats─seeing hand signals up to a mile away─cats see better than dogs up close. In fact, dogs can’t see objects closer than about 10 inches away.
Cats also have better visual acuity (ability to focus) and night vision, using light about twice as efficiently as dogs.
Both cats and dogs don’t see color very well. Dogs appear to have red-green color blindness. Some researchers believe cats see color similar to dogs, while others say their vision is limited to blues and grays.
Researchers do agree that cats rely more on pattern and brightness than color. Researchers also agree that, while the vision of cats and dogs is better than that of a human’s, both animals rely more on smell and hearing.
4b. If we’re strictly basing this on highest number of olfactory receptors, dogs win. I’d give half a point though to anyone who guessed a cat and here’s why. The best canine sniffer is the Bloodhound with about 300 million scent receptors. The average cat has about 200. However, this tops some dog species, such as Fox Terriers and Dachshunds.
Cats can also better discriminate between a wider variety of smells than dogs. With our measly 5 million scent receptors, both cats and dogs crush a human’s sense of smell.
Cat and dog schnozzles have a number of other fascinating abilities. For instance, dogs can separate air through their nose, thus identifying scents and breathing simultaneously. They can also simultaneously take in and breathe out air.
Cats have a “flehmen response,” which you may recognize as an open-mouthed contorted expression in mid-smell. This is to smell things better using unique sensory organs in their mouth. Cats also use scent glands located in their cheeks and paws to mark territory.
Both dogs and cats can detect chemicals called pheromones emitted by the same species. These pheromones, found in saliva, feces and urine, are a bumper-to-bumper information highway relaying everything from age and sex to temperament and diet. Cats and dogs also pick up on human pheromones found in our sweat, urine and skin glands. Not only can they sense our fear, anxiety and joy, research shows that some cats and dogs can detect human illnesses such as cancer.
While both cats and dogs have a highly developed sense of smell, cats are especially sensitive to strong odors and particularly dislike citrus and tea tree oil. Avoid strongly scented litter, air deodorizers and very concentrated oil diffusers (no more than 1 percent concentration).
I know this section was long but here’s my justification with a final factoid: Smell is the strongest of all the senses in both cats and dogs.
5a. Cats are the definitive winner when it comes to hearing. While cats don’t hear lower frequencies quite as well as dogs and humans, their ability to hear higher frequencies far exceeds both. Consider that humans max out at about 20 kilohertz on the high end, compared to dogs who hear into the 40s and cats up into the 60s. This may mean that some cats find the female voice more soothing.
Both cats and dogs can rotate their ears independent of one another, but cats have about thirty muscles in their ears compared to dogs who have about 15. This enables cats to distinguish between the tiniest variances in sound, which helps them hunt prey.
Both cats and dogs can detect sound about four to five times further away than humans. But while all cats have erect ears, dogs with floppy ears sacrifice some degree of auditory skill. Dogs do have a unique ability to shut off their inner ear to exclusively focus on the sounds they want. Not to be outdone, a cat’s inner ear features a sense organ that helps it keep its balance. This explains how a falling cat manages to right its position at lightning speed before hitting the ground.
When training cats and dogs (yes, cats can be trained), pay close attention to tone and pitch. In their world, these out-weigh your actual words.