A new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology may settle the age-old argument amongst pet owners: Who’s smarter, cats or dogs?
After watching his own cat drink milk from a bowl one night, MIT engineering professor Roman Stocker got to wondering how exactly the milk got from the bowl to his cat’s mouth. Do cats use their tongues like ladles, as dogs do, to scoop the water into their mouths?
To those of us who live with cats, the answer is not surprising. Cats have a more sophisticated way to do the job—and they do it better.
For the next 3½ years, Stocker and colleagues from MIT, Virginia Tech, and Princeton used high-speed video cameras, a robotic cat built from a prototype created for use on the International Space Station, ten domestic cats, and four big cats at zoos to find out how cats drink. The study, published Thursday in the journal Science, reports that cats extend their tongues downward into liquids in a J-shape, with only the tip of the tongue dipping into the water or milk. Then, the cats create a column of liquid by pulling their tongues back into their mouths at lightning-fast speeds and close their mouths at just the right moment to trap–and drink–a portion of the column.
“Cats know just when to close their jaw to get the most water,” said researcher Pedro Reis, a fluid mechanics expert at MIT (and an obvious cat lover). In fact, it’s as if “they’re doing the equations in their heads.”
The team theorized that cats maximized the amount of liquid they drank in each sip by lapping at a speed that “exploits fluid inertia to defeat gravity.”
So next time you start to make the case that dogs are smarter than cats, just think about those physics-loving felines taking a drink. And, I should point out, they don’t use toilet bowls, either.