20 facts about the cat’s nervous system

Here are 20 facts about the cat’s nervous system. It is a condensed set of facts which might be useful to people who are looking for an overview of this aspect of the cat’s anatomy.

Cat jumping - controlled by the voluntary nervous system
Cat jumping – controlled by the voluntary nervous system. Image in public domain. Words added by MikeB.
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  1. The cat’s nervous system works with the hormonal system (endocrine system) to coordinate a cat’s natural functions.
  2. Hormones have slow but lasting effects while the nervous system works quickly.
  3. The cat’s nervous system is both voluntary such as jumping up onto a platform and involuntary such as breathing. The latter works at a deeper unconscious level and is called the autonomic nervous system.
  4. The autonomic nervous system has two parts to it: sympathetic and parasympathetic.
  5. The sympathetic autonomic nervous system stimulates activity while the latter dampens it down.
  6. When a cat is relaxed the parasympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system controls involuntary activity such as the heart rate and breathing which would be slow and regular.
  7. When a cat becomes stressed the sympathetic system takes over. It triggers the hypothalamus and the pituitary in the brain to stimulate the adrenal glands. This is the fight-or-flight response. It causes the heart rate to speed up and the pupils to dilate. Blood flows from internal organs into muscles to allow them to function more vigorously.
  8. A perceived threat triggers this activity in the autonomic nervous system. And if the threat subsides or has been mis-assessed the parasympathetic nervous system tells the body to stand down.
  9. Sensory nerves tell the brain how a cat feels and so the information travels from the senses at the extremities to the brain while motor nerves carry information away from the brain to the rest of the body providing signals to take certain actions.
  10. The nervous system is divided into two parts: central and peripheral. The central nervous system includes the brain and spinal cord. The brain is the command centre and the spinal cord is the highway. It has two-way traffic.
  11. The peripheral nervous system is situated on the peripheries of the cat i.e. the extremities and it receives information about pain, touch and ambient temperature, for example, and it delivers this information to the brain which then sends a signal to respond by sending information to the muscles.
  12. The spinal nerves exit the spinal cord along its length and link the extremities of the cat’s body to the central nervous system.
  13. The nervous system is made up of nerve cells which are called neurons and support cells that provide structure and produce myelin.
  14. Nerve cells are called neurons. Neurons are covered with branch-like structures which receive messages from other cells. Each cell has a tail-like structure which is called an axon. Axons send messages to other nerve cells or directly to organs.
  15. The messages are transmitted by neurotransmitters which are chemicals produced in axons. These chemicals navigate the tiny gap between nerve cells.
  16. The speed at which these signals travel varies but it is up to around 200+ miles per hour
  17. At any one moment a cat’s nervous system in sending and receiving a huge number of messages. Any one cell is sending messages to thousands of other cells.
  18. A cat’s nerves can be damaged by diseases such as rabies, panleukopenia, and feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). Poisons can also damage the nerves as can parasites such as toxoplasma. An injury caused by a road traffic accident, for example, can damage the spinal cord by pulling on the tail which can break it.
  19. Severed nerves cannot repair themselves by reconnecting.
  20. Damaged nerves can slowly repair themselves over months and years but it depends on the degree and type of damage. Supplements are available to help repair damaged nerves causing neuropathy.

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Cat Nervous System
Cat Nervous System. Collage by Michael at PoC
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