Animal Senses

Watching our pets, it’s easy to see that the way they interact with the world is much different from humans. Has your cat ever sniffed you for 20 minutes after you dared to pet a different cat? Has your dog ever suddenly become anxious for seemingly no reason, until you discovered that a smoke detector two stories away has been chirping due to a low battery? Knowing what your pet’s sensory life is like can help you understand how to make their life more enriching and less scary!

Hearing: Dogs and cats have hearing that is about 4 times as sensitive as humans. This means that a sound we can pick up from 10 feet away, a dog or cat can hear from 40 feet away. Dogs can hear about an octave higher than humans, and cats can hear almost another octave above that. Dogs have nearly 20 muscles in their ear flaps and cats have almost 30. These muscles control the shape and position of their ears, which can be useful both for picking up sounds and for communication with other animals or with people.

Taste: The sense of taste is one area where humans are more sensitive than our pets. We have about 9,000 taste buds. Dogs typically have about 1,700, and cats only have about 470. Dogs share the same types of taste buds as humans (sweet, bitter, sour, and salty). Cats lack the taste receptors for sweet, but are capable of more nuanaced taste for proteins and fats due to their carnivorous nature.

Vision: It’s a common myth that dogs and cats can’t see color. They are capable of seeing some colors. Dogs can see blue and yellow, but not red or green. Cats can see blue, yellow, and green shades, but not red or orange. Both dogs and cats have wider peripheral vision than humans and are better able to see in low light. Because their retinas contain more rods than ours, cats and dogs are more sensitive to motion. Imagine how irritating or scary it might be to watch something like a flapping flag all day if you were extra sensitive to movement! Humans normally have 20/20 vision. Both dogs and cats are nearsighted. Dogs see at about 20/75 (a dog needs to be 20 feet away to see something as well as a human can see it from 75 feet away), and cats are about 20/100 (a cat needs to be 20 feet away from something to see it as well as a human can see it from 100 feet away).

Smell: Humans have about 5 million scent receptors in our noses. Cats have about 10 times that many, and dogs have a whopping 300 million receptors. The portion of the dog’s brain that is devoted to smells is about 40 times larger than in humans. Dogs can detect odors in part per trillion (which equals one droplet of a substance in an Olympic-sized swimming pool)! While dogs have a much more sensitive sense of smell, cats are better able to discriminate between different types of smells. 

Touch: Dogs are most sensitive to touch around their muzzles, while cats most sensitive areas are their whiskers and paws. Too much touch in these sensitive areas can lead to overwhelm, causing pets to either run away or lash out to get the touch to stop. Not all pets enjoy being petted, but be especially cautious in these sensitive areas. 

Now that you are more familiar with your pet’s sensory experiences, take a moment to consider their environment. Would your kitty enjoy a bird feeder to stimulate his sense of sight with lots of motion? Would your dog appreciate some soft music to help reduce the noise of the busy street outside? Could you help reduce boredom in your dog this winter by teaching him some nosework to keep his brain busy? Enjoy enriching your pet’s life or reducing their anxiety by spending a little time imagining life in their sensory world!

Kennel Cough

We’ve been seeing an increase in cases of kennel cough recently. Kennel cough, also called Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis, is a highly contagious, acute disease caused by one or more infectious agents, including the viruses canine adenovirus-2 and parainfluenza virus, as well as the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica.  Other secondary pathogens may also be involved. Vaccination for Bordetella reduces the risk of catching kennel cough, but because there are so many possible causes, vaccination does not completely prevent infection.

Most affected animals have a history of being exposed to other dogs at a dog show, boarding kennel, doggy day care, pet store, or obedience class.  The most common clinical sign is the sudden onset of a very severe hacking cough that is often made worse with excitement, exercise, or the pressure of the collar around the neck.  Gagging, retching (which may be confused with vomiting), and nasal discharge may also be present, but other signs of illness are rare.  If it is an uncomplicated infection, these dogs have no change in appetite or energy level and otherwise appear very healthy. Dogs who are at higher risk of severe infection include very young dogs, geriatric dogs, and dogs who are brachycephalic (such as pugs, bulldogs, and Boston terriers). If you suspect your dog might have kennel cough and you are concerned, please call your veterinarian for further guidance.

Clinic News

Minnesota State Fair: Dr. Megan Schommer will be performing surgery at the MVMA Surgery Suite in the Pet Pavillion on Wednesday, September 1st at 2 pm and 4 pm. Stop by and say hello!

Clinic Closures: St. Francis will be closed on the following dates:

Saturday September 4th through Monday, September 6th (Labor Day Weekend)

Tuesday October 26th from 12:30 pm to 6 pm (Staff Workshop)

New Website: We’ve been working hard on a new and improved website! We are excited to share it with you this fall. Stay tuned on Facebook for updates!


Congratulations, Becca Harnack: Becca has been with St. Francis since 2016, and has constantly been committed to learning about veterinary medicine, improving her technical skills, and providing excellent care to her patients. We are thrilled that she has enrolled in the Penn Foster program to earn her Certified Veterinary Technician degree. Congratulations, Becca!