Research shows cats more efficient than dogs at drinking
Animals use their tongues like a whip to lap up water
High speed cameras used to measure animal drinking habits
It’s an age-old question that has worried countless animal lovers – cats or dogs?
Now scientists have used super high speed cameras to side firmly with felines, at least when it comes to lapping up water.
All humans know that to drink we simply lift a glass, hold it to our mouths and, with the help of gravity, pour the water in.
Defying gravity: The dog will then snap its mouth shut before the water can fall out of its mouth
However, our animal friends are unable to do that, nor are they able to suck, and until very recently scientists were unsure of just how dogs and cats do drink.
Once super high speed cameras were used to closely film animals drinking, it was initially thought that dogs bent their tongues backwards, like an inverted ladle – dipping down and scooping up water using its tongue as a pulley.
But when scientists looked more closely they found that the scoop was merely a delusion, as most of the water doesn’t actually reach the dog’s mouth and mostly slips back into the bowl.
Researchers have found that instead of a ladle, the tongue acts as a sticky whip to which a stream of water will attach to and follow the tongue upwards.
Just as gravity is about to kick in the dog snaps its mouth shut.
As for cats, their tongues work in the same way but far more delicately, lapping up water or milk around four times per second – too fast to see even with a high speed camera.
Now that scientists have been able to measure exactly how they animals drink they have found that cats can take in more liquid with less spillage than dogs, in the same amount of time – making them more efficient at taking in fluid than dogs.
Research carried out by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Virginia Tech and Princeton University in the United States used observational data gathered from high speed digital videos of domestic, and big cats, and slowed them down to establish the speed of the tongue’s movements and the frequency of lapping.
They also created a robotic version of a cat’s tongue to move up and down over a dish of water, enabling researchers to explore different aspects of lapping and identify the mechanism behind it.
‘The amount of liquid available for the cat to capture each time it closes its mouth depends of the size and speed of the tongue,’ said Princeton’s Jeffrey Aristoff.
‘Our research – the experimental measurements and theoretical predictions – suggests that the cat chooses the speed in order to maximise the amount of liquid ingested per lap.
‘This suggests that cats are smarter than many people think, at least when it comes to hydrodynamics.’
The work began three-and-a-half years ago when MIT’s Roman Stocker, who studies the fluid mechanics of the movements of ocean microbes, was watching his cat, Cutta Cutta, lap milk.
‘Science allows us to look at natural processes with a different eye and to understand how things work, even if that’s figuring out how my cat laps his breakfast,’ said Professor Stocker.
‘It’s a job, but also a passion, and this project for me was a high point in teamwork and creativity.’