A paper published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science says, cats may hold even more potential than dogs when it comes to sniffing out missing persons, bombs drugs and diseases.
According to experts, cats may even be superior than dogs in this role, since their genes indicate they have the better olfactory discrimination power than dogs do.
Never underestimate the power of cats (c) nanozine
"Given the importance of olfaction in cat sensory perception, cats could be trained to discriminate between a variety of odors, therefore serving in working roles for detecting specific humans, medical scent detection, bomb sniffing, or drug sniffing," said Kristyn Vitale Shreve in a statement
. Shreve co-authored the paper with Monique Udell. She's also a researcher in Oregon State University's Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences.
"Given the popularity of cats, with cats outnumbering dogs by almost 10 million in the U.S. alone, cats may be an untapped resource for this type of work," said Shreve.
Shreve said that the V1R receptor gene variants is believed to predict the mammal's ability to discriminate different odors. Domestic cats have around 30 V1Rs compared to just nine in dogs.
Like rats, which has 120 V1Rs, cats too can squeeze into tight places, have the ability to climb, maintain good balance and more. All of these qualities could serve them well in search and rescue missions.
Though cats are difficult to train, Shreve said this problem could be solved if we let "socialize the cat to experiences outside of the home, find rewards or experiences the cat most wants to work for, and use positive reinforcement to reward those behaviors you are trying to train."
"I think the public perception of the 'un-trainable' cat stops many people from trying to train them for more complex tasks," she said. "In our kitten classes, adults and children have taught cats to sit, stay, go to mat and stay, stand, spin, high jump, ring a service bell and much more."
However, not all cats are destined for search and rescue work.
Shreve said, "Just like dogs and humans, cats show variability in their social behavior and personalities. So, just like not all dogs or people may be equipped to go out in search and rescue missions, not all cats will either."