The second episode of Pets: Wild at Heart, “Secretive Creatures,” depicts the hidden powers of pets and how they use their senses to communicate. One storyline follows the nocturnal mission of a hamster in search of soft bedding material for his cage, in this case, toilet paper. As the hamster moves, glands on his belly lay down a scent that leaves a sensory map he can follow with his heightened sense of smell. It will guide him home once his mission is accomplished.
But when it comes to the power of smell, dogs take the top prize. While humans have six million smell receptors, a dog’s nose contains 300 million. Filmmakers use Schlieren photography, which makes smells visible, to visualize how dogs breathe. It illustrates the unique two-way current that allows dogs to pick up a scent almost continuously. They can zero in on those smells of special significance, such as picking up the scent of a female in heat. The film also points out that cats, to a lesser degree, also have a strong sense of smell and can detect the scent of catnip in just one part per billion. It only takes a few bites of this mind-altering plant for most cats to fall under its spell. Even big cats, such as leopards and tigers, react in the same way. Once we learn to recognize how our pets have learned to live alongside us, as part of the family, yet in very different worlds, we may never look at any of these amazing creatures in quite the same way again.