Cats rule the Internet. Every Internet user comes across a lot of pictures of funny or cute cats every day. Photos of smiling cats often become viral. However, are the animals we see in the pictures and memes actually smiling and expressing satisfaction? Does their anatomy allows them to smile? Answer is not easy to give. However, we will try to explain the issue of a cat’s smile in this article.
Let’s start with the most important information – cats do not smile like people do. Therefore, even if they sometimes seem to smile, we must be aware that when cat is raising his mouth corners, it means a completely different kind of emotion.
Cats show happiness in many other ways. However, this has nothing to do with our human smile. This is mainly due to the fact that people show their teeth in a smile – this is very unusual in the animal world. Most species – including cats – show teeth to frighten the opponent. Dogs, tigers or even baboons show their teeth when they want to look dangerous.
Why do we show our teeth when we smile?
According to the researchers, the smile appeared to show submissive behavior – it was supposed to mean the complete opposite of grinning fangs. People used a smile to not seem threatening.
The animals, showing their teeth, open their mouths to give a signal that they are ready to attack. While people when smiling usually have their jaws closed. In this way we show that we have friendly intentions. Such kind a smile is a characteristic only for people. We don’t have to learn a smile – we have it in our genes. That is why even people who were born blind can smile.
Well, we already know how smile works in human world, but how does all this relate to cats? Can they smile?
Cat’s face muscles, from the anatomy point of view, can do a grimace resembling a human smile. Cats can lift the corners of the mouth and show teeth. However, it’s not a sign of friendship. What we interpret as a smile can mean something completely different. Most often this is an aggressive message.
Why cats “smile”?
A grimace reminiscent of a human smile can appear on cat’s face for two reasons. It could mean aggression or a reaction to a new environment that a cat is trying to explore.
Cats have a very sensitive sense of smell – and to recognize the odors they use not only their noses, but also the whiskers, i.e. the cat’s mustache, which are located above the top of the lip. To better recognize the smell, cats move whiskers and this makes them look as if they were smiling. If a smell intrigues them, they open their mouths and examine it with the whiskers.
Sometimes it looks like a smile, sometimes like a grimace. It may even seem to us that our cat is suffering, but such way of sniffing is completely normal. Scientists call it the flehmen response – behavior in which an animal curls back its upper lip exposing its front teeth, inhales with the nostrils usually closed, and then often holds this position for several seconds. It’s a way to gather more information about the odor.
We should observe cat’s body language to recognize why the cat is grinning. If it is accompanied by a hissing and ruffling a fur, cat probably wants to show readiness to attack. However, if cat is dealing with a new object and sniffs a lot, it is the flehmen response.
So how are the cats smiling?
Cat’s face muscles can make various grimaces. Kittens can squint their eyes, move their nose, or make various movements with a face. Since we already know that grinning does not mean a smile, it is worth knowing how cats can actually show that they are satisfied. Pleased cat will rub against you, touch you with his nose, raise his tail and purr.
It is worth remembering that each cat has its own unique temperament, which is why it’s Caregiver can best recognize his emotions.