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Orange Girl Cats Must Have Orange Cat Dads -- and 8 More Feline Science Facts

You want cat science, you got it. Here are some of the coolest kitty trivia I’ve dug up so far.

 |  Jun 25th 2013  |   20 Contributions


How does genetics affect fur color? Are cats really half-blind? Did you know cats’ whiskers aren’t just on their face? Want to learn some crazy facts about feline genitals that you probably never wanted to know? Here’s a roundup of some of my favorite cat-science tidbits.

1. Female orange cats must have orange fathers

For a female cat to be orange, she must inherit two orange genes, one from her mother (orange, calico or tortoiseshell) and one from her father (who must be orange). A male cat only needs one orange gene, which he gets from his mother, because the gene that codes for orange fur is on the X (female sex) chromosome. Like humans, females have two X chromosomes and males are XY. Want to know more about feline genetics? A while back, I interviewed a geneticist for my blog, and she dished out a lot of other cat color science.

Orange female cats aren't as rare as you think. Check out Kissy's interview of a geneticist for the full scoop.

2. Cats can’t see as well as we can

In the back of the eye is an area called the retina, where images and light are transmitted to the brain. The retina has two types of receptors: rods, which detect light, and cones, which detect color. Because cats have more rods and fewer cones in the back of their eyes than we do, their eyes are geared to detect movement and operate in low light and they don’t perceive details like leaves on trees or writing in books in the way that we do. Want to know more about cat eyes? Check out this article.

The cat's slit-shaped pupil changes size in response to light much more quickly than our round pupils. Close-up of a cat eye by Shutterstock

3. Cats have whiskers on their legs

When cats catch their prey, whether that prey is a mouse or their favorite feather toy, they need some way to sense that their prey is in the proper position for the fatal bite. The whiskers on the back of your cat’s forelegs, and to a lesser extent, those on her chin and the sides of her nose, are crucial for that purpose. More kitty whisker factoids here.

This cat was able to figure out where to administer the death bite, thanks to the whiskers on his legs. Cat holding a mouse in his mouth by Shutterstock

4. A kitten’s age can be determined by her teeth

Like humans, cats have two different sets of teeth. A set of 26 “baby teeth” comes in between the ages of two and four weeks. Between the ages of three and four months, the adult teeth come in. When all is said and done, adult cats have 30 teeth. What else is up with your cat's teeth? Find out here.

Judging by how many teeth she has, this kitten is probably about 4 weeks old. Kitten meowing by Shutterstock

5. Cats can get morning sickness

For the first two weeks of a cat’s pregnancy, she may eat less than usual because she’s feeling nauseous. By the third week she should start eating again and begin gaining weight. If not, see your vet to make sure she’s all right. Find out what else to expect when your cat is expecting.

This cat looks like she's just about ready to pop. What stage of pregnancy is she in? Read this article to find out. Pregnant cat sitting on a table by Shutterstock

6. Heartworms aren't just a dog problem

Cats can get heartworms, too. Although they don’t survive as well in cats as they do in dogs, the larvae grow inside the lungs and cause severe, chronic problems. Heartworm-associated respiratory disease is often misdiagnosed as asthma or allergic bronchitis. Learn more about heartworms and cats here.

U.S. heartworm incidence map, courtesy of KnowHeartworms.org

7. Clitorises and barbs, oh my!

Like all mammals, female cats do have a clitoris. The difference between ours and theirs is that theirs is on the inside, close to the opening of the vagina -- in just the right place for those barbs to really hurt! Get more kitty TMI here.

Graphic of female cat reproductive system from a presentation given to a University of Florida animal sciences class.

8. Cats and figure skaters have a lot in common

At least when it comes to landing on their feet after a fall, that is. Watching a cat fall from a distance is a living lesson in the principle of the conservation of angular momentum. The awesome nerds at Smarter Every Day show us how.

Image: Screen capture from Smarter Every Day video

9. Cats have blood types

Cats have one of three blood types: A, B, or AB. Type A is the most common; it’s found in 94 to 99 percent of domestic cats in the United States. Type AB is by far the rarest. Find out more about why knowing your cat’s blood type could save her life.

Somali cats are more likely than average to have the rare Type AB blood. Ruddy Somali cat by Shutterstock

You know you want more weird science, so ask me anything … about cats, that is. Share your oohs, eeews, and questions in the comments!

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their cat advice column, Paws and Effect, since 2003. JaneA dreams of making a great living out of her love for cats.

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