Domestic cats don’t see faeces as humans do. They are not squeamish about it. Their poop is a very useful communication tool which is why it is deposited above ground sometimes at central areas which might be regarded as toilets in respect of wild cat species. It is the smell from cat poop which communicates to other animals and which is socially important for the cat in order to successfully occupy their home range.
A recent study carried out extensive work on the substances which create these particular scents in cat faeces. It extended our knowledge on the way microbes produce odour in mammals generally including for foxes, dogs and for example hyenas. I’ve got to mention humans as well.
Volatile organic compounds
The scent from cat poop comes from a mixture of volatile organic compounds. These include ketones, esters, alcohols and aldehydes.
Many of the smells created by the substances are undetectable by humans but they are critically important to the behaviour of cats in terms of their interactions with others.
Anal glands (sacs)
The study took three years and concerned anal gland (sac) secretions. The anal glands are either side of the anus and secretions from these glands are deposited into cat poop before it exits the cat.
The scientists used DNA sequencing, microbial culturing and mass spectrometry to analyse these chemicals and the microbes.
Twenty-three domestic cats participated in the study with their owners’ consents. They were attending the UC Day Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital for veterinary procedures such as dental cleaning.
Dominating the types of bacteria found in cat poop were five genera namely: Corynebacterium, Bacteroides, Proteus, Lactobacillus and Streptococcus.
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The microbial make up varied between cats particularly between older and younger cat. There may also be a difference between cats of a good weight and those that are obese but more work is required in that regard. Diet, health and overall living conditions also affected the microbial make up.
The word “microbial” means “relating to or characteristic of a microorganism especially a bacterium causing disease or fermentation”.
In a cat’s anal glands there are hundreds of different organic compounds which were detected in this study. And they concluded that the bacteria living in the anal glands could be responsible for making these compounds.
We could therefore say that it is bacteria which is behind these all-important scents emitted from cat poop which are so important to the social life of the domestic cat.
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