Sunday, April 4, 2010
By Linda Cole
We know how important our sense of touch is to us. Snuggling next to the one we love makes us feel good, safe and warm. Our pets respond to our touch in the same way when we give them a scratch behind the ears. My dogs love a good ear scratch so much, they will lay their head in my hand and close their eyes in response to the good feeling they are experiencing. Each dog has a sweet spot that gets their back leg kicking in pure pleasure when you rub their tummy, and you know when you've found your cat's favorite spot along her back or under her chin. The sense of touch for pets is just as important to them as it is to us.
Cats and dogs have very sensitive whiskers which help them “see” in the dark. As air moves around couches and chair legs in the home, their whiskers act like little radar detectors picking up changes in the air movement. This also helps them locate prey in the dark. Dogs have a higher sensitivity to touch around their mouth which aids them when they mouth objects to determine what they are. Cats have whiskers on their legs to help them determine where their prey is and if it's still alive. Since they can't see things right under their nose unless they detect motion, a cat depends on their sense of touch to compensate.
Since dogs are social animals and are accustomed to living in a pack social structure, they use their sense of touch while socializing with each other. That's one reason why your dog likes to lay beside you on the couch, your favorite chair or at your feet. It's important for them to be with the rest of the pack and they like to be close enough to touch us. My dogs like to gather around me on the couch and lay with their head on my leg. It gets a little crowded sometimes when all of them are trying to find a vacant area on my knee.
A cat's sensitivity to touch is their most sophisticated of all their senses. Nerve endings are connected to pressure sensitive receptors that constantly send messages to their brain giving cats the ability to always be on top of what's going on in their world – even when they appear to be sound asleep. Their amazing sense of touch is a big reason why cats can react with a split second reaction time.
Some people believe that an animal’s sense of touch is so sensitive they can feel vibrations in the earth prior to an earthquake. Researchers have been trying for years to determine if our pets have a sixth sense that could warn of an impending earthquake, but so far, the answer has been elusive. However, there is speculation that cats especially may be able to feel vibrations through their paw pads because their pads are so sensitive to touch.
As a general rule, cats don't like us to mess with their feet because they are sensitive, but as long as you are gentle, they do like to be tickled between the toes and pads on their feet. You know you are doing it right when they spread their toes apart so you can gently scratch in between their pads. I've yet to find a cat who doesn't enjoy a good between-the-toes tickle massage every now and then.
If you've ever given your dog or cat a massage, you know how much they enjoy it. Not only do they benefit with better circulation and stress relief, they love the feel of our hands on their bodies. Our touch can have a calming effect on a dog who feels insecure or frightened. Have you ever watched your sleeping dog or cat when they seem to be dreaming? Dogs will move and jerk their legs as if they are running and will sometimes whine, and a cat's whiskers will pull forward as if they are stalking a mouse or bird. Who knows what they are dreaming about, but if you gently lay your hand on their side and slowly pet them, it calms them down. So they apparently are aware of our touch even when they are asleep.
Like us, our pets have a keen sense of touch and they use it every day. They feel pain, and understand the pleasure a gentle stroke gives them when we pet them on the head or scratch behind their ears. All you have to do is notice how they respond when you scratch them between the eyes and down their nose to understand how much they enjoy the feel of a gentle touch.
Read more articles by Linda Cole