Kittens really are adorable. Beneath all that cuteness, however, your little feline friend is a highly evolved predator. They may not be living alongside their big cat cousins, but they're hardwired just the same, with hearing, sight, touch, smell, taste and movement all perfectly adapted to life as a hunter.
At the low end of the scale, your kitten’s hearing is similar to yours. But with high-pitched sounds, their hearing is a lot sharper, extending 1.6 octaves above your range. It’s this ultra-sensitive hearing that allows your kitten to pick up squeaks from tiny rodents. It also helps them stay hidden from their prey right up until the moment they attack.
Your kitten’s ears have a huge range of movement too. They can swivel their outer ear flaps – called pinnae – one at a time, or together. That means they can pinpoint their prey through 360°.
In the wild, big cats prefer to hunt at dawn and dusk. Your kitten is no different. To prove it, take a look at your kitten’s eyes in the early evening. You’ll see that their pupils are much bigger, letting in lots of light.
There’s also a special layer of cells – called the tapetum – on the backs of your kitten’s eyes. This reflects in even more light, and gives your kitten those characteristic night-time shining eyes. Your kitten’s very sharp eyesight is also great at picking up the tiniest movements – ideal for hunting small creatures that move fast.
When they're first investigating something new, you’ll probably notice your kitten checking things out with their paw. Their pads aren’t very sensitive to temperature, but they are extremely sensitive to vibration.
After that, your kitten will use the coarse hairs on their upper lip, around their chin and above their eyes to help them gather more information. And let’s not forget those all-important whiskers! These incredibly sensitive and super-mobile sensors are just like the ones their big cat cousins use for efficiently catching and killing prey in the wild.
Smell and taste
In the wild, big cats use a complex system of scent trails to communicate with each other. These trails help them establish social bonds, mark their territory, and avoid potential threats. Your little feline friend uses scent in exactly the same way.
Your kitten’s sense of smell is about ten times stronger than yours. They even have a special scent organ in the roof of their mouth, called the Jacobson’s organ. This picks up lots of complex chemical messages which help them make sense of their world.
Also like their big cat cousins, your kitten has a tongue that’s super-sensitive to both temperature and taste. In the wild, this amazing sensitivity would help them decide what’s safe to eat. So, if your kitten refuses that tasty treat you bought them, they're probably just being cautious about something they haven’t encountered before!
You’ve probably noticed that your inquisitive little kitten is a born gymnast. They have amazing coordination, they can jump from a standing start, they can climb almost anything and can balance in the most precarious places. These astonishing abilities make them very entertaining to watch, but they’re also what makes them a brilliant hunter. Satisfy your kitten’s hunting instincts by playing with them a lot. And don’t forget to keep stroking them– that way they'll know you’re impressed with their many talents!