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article imageCats and mice, it's all down to chemicals

By Tim Sandle     Jul 5, 2015 in Science
Moscow - Cats chase mice, mice hide from cats. This is the game played out throughout the places where cats and mice co-exist. New research suggests that mice can be chemically programmed to be controlled by cats.
From Tom and Jerry, to the cat that you have at home, the cat-mouse interaction has been going on for thousands of years. Perhaps "game" is a better phrase, given that most cats do not simply catch and kill a mouse, but often play with it first before triumphantly finishing off the cornered rodent.
New research suggests there is a chemical basis to this hunter and prey relationship. A study suggests that cats can call upon chemical warfare as part of their anti-mouse arsenal. This is down to a chemical contained within their urine.
An experimental study found that when young mice pup are exposed to cat urine, they are far less likely to avoid the scent of cats later in life. The recently identified chemical is termed, appropriately, felinine. This is an amino acid (chemical formula (R)-2-amino-3-(4-hydroxy-2-methylbutan-2-ylthio)propanoic acid.) This pheromone has been known of for several years but not all of its properties have been revealed.
When adult mice sense the smell, and where they have not previously been exposed to the scent, they become fearful and their levels of stress hormones increase. However, baby mice exposed to cat urine during their very early days and months, react very differently when they are adults. A research group, BBC Science summarizes, exposed 30-day-old mice to felinine over a two-week period. As adult mice, these mice did not become stressed and they did not flee the scene when they sensed the chemical.
Given that mice tend to live around humans, and many humans own cats, the mice are generally at a disadvantage because they become more docile where a cat has spayed urine. The cat is probably quite happy with this state of affairs, having a regular supply of mice less likely to scarper when the cat wants to play at being the hunter.
The finding was presented by Dr Vera Voznessenskaya, at the Society for Experimental Biology's recent meeting in Prague. Dr Voznessenskaya works at the AN Severtov Institute of Ecology and Evolution in Moscow.
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