More or less: spontaneous quantity discrimination in the domestic cat

Abstract

We examined spontaneous quantity discrimination in untrained domestic cats in three food choice experiments. In Experiment 1, we presented the cats with two different quantities of food in eight numerical combinations. Overall, the subjects chose the larger quantity more often than the smaller one, and significantly so when the ratio between the quantities was less than 0.5. In Experiment 2, we presented the cats with two pieces of food in four different size combinations. Again, subjects chose the larger piece above chance, although not in the combination where the largest item was presented. In Experiment 3, a subset of the cats was presented multiple times with two different quantities of food, which were hidden from view. In this case, the cats did not choose the larger quantity more often than the smaller one, suggesting that in the present experiments they mainly used visual cues when comparing quantities. We conclude that domestic cats are capable of spontaneously discriminating quantities when faced with different numbers or sizes of food items, and we suggest why they may not always be motivated to choose the larger quantity. In doing so, we highlight the advantages of testing spontaneous choice behavior, which is more likely to reflect animals’ everyday manner of responding than is the case when training them in order to test their absolute limits of performance which may not always coincide with their daily needs.

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Acknowledgments

Financial support was provided by a research grant from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (DGAPA- IN205513), to O. B. by the Postdoctoral Fellowship Program of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and to A. U. by a student grant from the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología, Mexico. We thank Carolina Rojas for excellent technical and bibliographical assistance, and cat owners (Rebeca Cruz, Cecilia Echeverría, Marlene Flores, Valeria Flores, Joel Güemez, Vanessa Hernández, Elisa Jacinto, Santiago Ortega, Sofía Ramírez) for allowing us repeated access to their homes and cats. Special thanks to Irene Urrutia for the design of Figure 1.

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All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.

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Correspondence to Oxána Bánszegi.

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Bánszegi, O., Urrutia, A., Szenczi, P. et al. More or less: spontaneous quantity discrimination in the domestic cat. Anim Cogn 19, 879–888 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-016-0985-2

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Keywords

  • Cognition
  • Number discrimination
  • Size discrimination
  • Spontaneous responding
  • Ecological relevance
  • Felis silvestris catus