A study has explored the role of bacteria in the production of scents used by domestic cats to communicate.
The research revealed how cats produce odours, mainly undetectable to humans, using bacteria in their anal glands to send signals to other cats.
This study, at the University of California – Davis, involved researchers conducting DNA sequencing, mass spectrometry and microbial culturing to identify the chemicals in the anal gland secretions, as well as the microbes that produce them.
The scientists investigated 23 domestic cats, which were being seen for elective procedures such as dental cleaning at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, during the three-part study.
The results discovered five genera of bacteria that were most common across all subjects: Corynebacterium, Bacteroides, Proteus, Lactobacillus and Streptococcus. However, it also revealed a highly variable microbial makeup between individual cats.
This included older cats generally having a different microbiome to younger animals, and obese cats potentially also displaying some differences – although the sample size meant this could not be confirmed.
The microbial populations could also be related to other factors, including the cat’s health conditions, diet and overall living conditions.
Researchers detected hundreds of organic compounds in the chemicals being produced in the anal glands. Further genetic analysis suggested that the bacteria living in the anal gland could be responsible for producing the compounds.
Previous research has explored the relationship between microbes and odour in cats, as well as other mammals, in emitting scents vital to social interactions such as marking territory, attracting mates and repelling rivals.
However this study, led by postdoctoral researcher Connie Rojas alongside Professor Jonathan Eisen at the UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology and Genome Center, develops the understanding of the molecular mechanisms and bacterial species responsible for these odours.
The researchers consider that further expansion could involve the study of more domestic cats, and investigations of other species.
The full study has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Image © Shutterstock