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Individual differences in visual and olfactory cue preference and use by cats ( Felis catus)

By E. R. E. Mayes, A. Wilkinson, T. W. Pike, D. S. Mills

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Animals are constantly presented with stimuli through different sensory challenges, which may sometimes contain contradictory information and so they must decide which is more salient in a given situation. Both vision and olfaction are extensively utilised by the domestic cat ( Felis catus) in a variety of biological contexts, but which modality tends to take priority when the two channels contain information of similar potential value is unknown, as is the tendency for different individuals to use different cues in relation to the same situation. Such individual difference may have important clinical implications as it may help to explain why animals living within the same house may respond differently to the same environment. For example a change in the olfactory features of the environment may be stressful to an individual who has a bias towards using this sensory modality, but have no significant impact on individuals who rely more on visual cues for orientation. Eight cats were trained in a T-maze using a two-alternative forced choice procedure. The positive and negative stimuli presented both visual and olfactory information. Thus, there were two cues that the cats could use in order to make the discrimination. After reaching criterion for their training stimuli the six successful cats were presented with a feature mismatch test in which the positive visual stimuli were combined with the negative olfactory stimuli and vice versa. This investigated which cues were of greater salience to them. Four out of six cats showed a significant preference ( P=0.022-0.006) for the visual cue, but one individual showed a consistent preference for using the olfactory cue ( P=0.019). To investigate whether the cats using visual cues had learned anything about the olfactory stimulus, four were given an additional test in which they were presented with the olfactory stimulus alone. Three out of four cats successfully made this discrimination, ( P=0.006-0.003, unsuccessful cat P=0.076). This demonstrated that the cats had the potential to use olfactory cues in the absence of visual ones. These results highlight the importance of considering sensory preferences as an individual trait, which may vary substantially from population level effects.

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 173
Pages 52-59
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2015.01.003
Language English
Author Address Animal Behaviour, Cognition & Welfare Group, School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, Lincs LN6 7DL, UK.dmills@lincoln.ac.uk
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animals
  3. Carnivores
  4. Cats
  5. Clinical aspects
  6. Effect
  7. Mammals
  8. odors
  9. peer-reviewed
  10. Pets and companion animals
  11. Stress
  12. training
  13. vertebrates
  14. vision
  1. peer-reviewed