Cats May Nose Ahead Of Dogs as the Better Sniffers

Dogs have long been using their noses in a working capacity. But experts now say that cats may be even better than dogs as search and rescue animals.

New research from the Applied Animal Behavior Science Journal shows that cats have better olfactory discrimination power than dogs do. This means felines may be even better than dogs when it comes to sniffing out particular odors that would make them fabulous working animals.

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Kristyn Vitale Shreve, Oregon State University Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences researcher and co-author of the paper, said that considering cats have a better olfactory system than dogs. And since it’s a given that dogs successfully work in detecting roles for humans, cats may also be trained to do similar sniffing duty. In fact, felines may even be better at these roles than dogs, and since cats outnumber dogs by almost 10 million in the United States alone, cats could be an untapped pool of service animal resource.

There are three families of receptor proteins in the mammalian scent detection organs: V1Rs, V2Rs and FPRs. A mammal’s ability to discriminate different odors is believed to be predicted by the number of V1R receptor gene variants the mammal has. Humans have two V1Rs, while dogs have nine and domestic cats have 30. Incredibly, rats have 120 V1Rs, which is why they are used in landmine detection, and excel in tests that required them to locate human beings in a simulated collapsed building (research is also being conducted to determine how to use rats in tuberculosis detection).

Related: Does Your Dog’s Nose Hold The Key To Early Cancer Detection?

Because cats are able to squeeze into tight places and have excellent balance and climbing ability, they may be better suited to participate in search and rescue missions, provided they can be trained. Felines typically have a reputation of being independent, but Shreve believes given the right motivation and methods, cats can be trained. Shreve conducts kitten training classes where kittens are taught to sit, stay, stand, spin, high jump, and more, and they also seem to prefer more intangible rewards such as play or social interaction.

And while cats may have better sniffing abilities, not all cats would make good search and rescue workers. Shreve is quick to point out that as in humans and dogs, cats come with their own unique personalities. Not all dogs are suited for search and rescue work, and not all cats would be either.
Lori Ennis
Lori Ennis

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