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Why do cats walk sideways? Because it’s the way they see, says the world’s first CAT-Ologist
Cats are known to walk in a sideways fashion. Why? Because it’s the only way they can see, says the world’s first CAT-Ologist.
The feline species has always been the subject of controversy. They are revered as household companions and as an effective guard against wildlife, but some cat experts feel that cats are misunderstood and have been put in an unfair position by their human caretakers.
One famous and well-respected expert is Mark Roper, the world’s first CAT-Ologist and author of the book The Cat Whisperer. He believes that cats are as much a victim of their environment as they are the source of mischief and problems.
'It is all about their vision, and this was the result of their development - they don't walk straight. As a result, they are the only mammal that can see in a sideways manner,' says Roper.
'Other mammals, as we have shown in this study, have an almost perfect 360-degree vision by moving their eyes in a straight line. Cats, however, have to have their eyes move in a sideways fashion to be able to see the whole thing in a 360 degree rotation, and when they do, they see the whole thing.'
How does he explain this phenomenon?
'From a young age, cats' vision is not as sharp as that of dogs, although they are more intelligent than dogs,' he says.
'In order to keep up with their cat-like intelligence, they need to have a different way of seeing and hearing the environment.
'As a result of their development, they have a sideways vision that allows them to see 360 degrees of everything around them. Therefore, they have an excellent understanding of how the world works and they are very aware of the world around them.'
He says that his work has led him to the conclusion that cats have a 360-degree vision that is not as sharp as that of dogs. They may not be as smart as dogs, but they are certainly more aware and intelligent.
'What they see is not 100 per cent focused. What they see is more like a 30-degree vision. They can see the whole thing but they are not sharp and they can tell everything that they see.
'I am sure that this is what allows them to see their prey and their surroundings without a problem.'
Roper is an animal psychologist, so how did he reach the conclusion that cats see in a sideways fashion?
'Because I saw cats move their eyes in a sideways fashion,' he explains.
'When cats move their eyes sideways, it shows me that they can see the whole world and therefore I can conclude that cats see things in a different way. They see around their prey and around their surroundings as opposed to us who see in a front fashion.
'It's an angle that is unique to cats, because no other species of animal has that particular skill. If we want to see something in three dimensions then we have to have a front vision. But cats can see in a different way.
'This is why cats know where to take food from their prey. We don't.'
It sounds bizarre, but does this mean that cats can see into the future?
'Yes, cats can see into the future. When they eat, they know where they can take the food from and they are able to remember.
'They look at the future. But of course, that's only a hypothesis. We will have to wait for the world to see if cats can foresee things.'
Reneé also revealed that she often finds herself looking at her pet as though she were his owner.
'Sometimes I can see my dog as if I were looking at him, it's like I am looking at him as if I were his owner. That's my theory.
'When a dog is looking at me, he is looking at me as if I were his owner and it's something that, to me, it's very special.'
She says that as she takes her dog into work, he sits by her window at the top of the stairs as though he can sense something, and as soon as he comes home, he goes to his window at the top of the stairs to look out for her.
'Every evening, when I come home, he's at his window, and that tells me that he's looking for me.'
Reneé has worked as a dog and cat caretaker for over 20 years
The researcher believes that as their brains develop, young animals learn and memorise things quickly, and that in time their brains will change and they will see the same things and think the same thoughts as humans do.
This, she says, is why cats are more like humans and why they can be great pets.
Reneé also believes that even though cats are in the top of the food chain, dogs have a better relationship with humans because they have been domesticated.
'Cats have a better understanding with humans than do dogs. Cats, for example, are cats and they would have been domesticated for thousands of years.
'Cats were the last ones to be domesticated, because they are the most similar to wildcats and that has affected the way they see the world and how they act towards us.'
In total, the research team have spent 17 years following the lives of 20 different cats over the age of ten, taking samples of their saliva every two hours.
'The goal of the project is to develop technologies that will help people to understand animals,' said Prof Jane Goodall.
The research has taken place over the course of 17 years, as the researchers monitored the day-to-day lives of 20 cats for 17 years.
She believes that we can learn a lot about people from studying animals like cats
'It's been a tremendous project to do. It has consumed many lives.'
The saliva samples taken in the course of the study reveal much about the lives of the cats.
In each case, there were clear peaks and troughs in the cat's behaviour, depending on how much it was interacting with its human, and with the rest of the world.
The researchers also found that the longer the time cats spent with humans, the more relaxed they became.
'The only thing they want is to spend time with us, even if it's very brief,' said Prof Jane Goodall.
'I feel very proud and privileged to be able to work with these amazing cats.'
Feline research: The research, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, has taken place over the course of 17 years
The work could help to determine whether or not cats can be trained to become pet therapy animals.
These therapy cats are specially trained so that they can provide support and comfort to sick or disabled people.
The work could help to determine whether or not cats can be trained to become pet therapy animals. Cats are the world's second most popular pet, with one in every six households owning at least one cat, according to the Global Pet Product Review 2015.
'Cats and dogs are very similar - in many ways they are even more alike than dogs and wolves,' said Jane Goodall.
'This study is helping