Is it true that cats can tell that conductor rails are live but dogs can't?

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AY1975

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Following on from the now-closed thread on the recent incident with a cat on a Pendolino roof at Euston at https://www.railforums.co.uk/threads/unusual-reason-for-delay.214780/ I recently heard somewhere that cats can usually tell that conductor rails are live and know to avoid them, but dogs can't. Does anyone know if this is true, and if so, why this is? I would guess that it is to do with the frequency of sounds (including that of electricity) that cats and dogs can hear.

I presume this also applies to overhead power lines.

Obviously, if this is true then dog owners who live in third rail territory would be well advised to keep their dogs on a lead when walking them across a level crossing or foot crossing to stop them from straying onto the track.
 
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eMeS

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I've never owned a cat, but don't cats use their whiskers to measure whether they can squeeze through an opening? Possibly suggests that cats' whiskers are quite sensitive? and perhaps to a few hundred volts in 3rd rail land.
 

jamesst

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I'd actually agree with this. Sadly I've seen a fair few dogs get a shock from the live rail, unfortunately they tend to try and attack the thing that's shocking them which doesn't end well.
On the other hand I very often see cats on and around the line but never near the live rail .
 

gallafent

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Do dogs have whiskers?

If not, this could be the important difference. I only have a cat so I can't check straightforwardly ;)

The effect of the very pointy thing (the whisker) being attached to a place on the cat's face which has a lot of nerve receptors in it, might mean it can sense a “tingling” when it gets near the rail as a current flows through the whisker due to the cat's paws being at zero potential relative to the third rail, and the consequent electric field in which the cat finds itself as it gets close to the rail. That the whiskers would “amplify” this experience for the cat relates to the fact that electric field strength (potential gradient) is stronger near a “spike” …


A third characteristic of conducting objects at electrostatic equilibrium is that the electric fields are strongest at locations along the surface where the object is most curved.
 

LSWR Cavalier

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Best to keep a dog on a lead when crossing any railway line, even without without third rail. Cross briskly and close the gate after.
 

AlterEgo

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Cats are superior creatures so this is hardly surprising. But it would be interesting to know if the whiskers hypothesis is true...
 

WatcherZero

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They both have good sense of smell but their vision are tuned for distant objects and are both far sighted. To counterbalance it they have evolved additional close proximity senses.

Dogs noses are sensitive to heat and they can see heat sources upto a couple of meters away with it like thermal night vision goggles.
Cats whiskers are highly sensitive to vibration and they can feel even the slightest air currents, this gives them a limited radar like sense of nearby objects as they feel the disruption in air currents caused by their presence.

A highly charged object would be causing disruption to air currents so its quite possible a cat could see it.
 

chappers

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I remember doing my PTS initial in third rail country, and the instructor said that you quite often find badgers and foxes fried by the third rail. His view was as their tail passes over the juice rail it gets a little “zap”, which leads the animal to think it’s being attacked so it turns round and gives it a good bite........that’s normally enough to see them off.
 

noddingdonkey

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There is a theory that cats have a "natural compass" that they use to find their way home etc, the magnetic field associated with the third rail could disrupt that perhaps?
 

John Luxton

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Interesting point. Birkenhead North station used to have an ancient station cat which featured in the local press, that had obviously coexisted with the Merseyrail third rail for a long time and had come to no harm.

Did a bit of Googling and found a photo from 2010 posted on Flickr. Noddy the station cat | Noddy the Birkenhead North station c… | Flickr

She certainly looked ancient back then.

There was another post about the station cat "Owen" at Bromborough (again Merseyrail) who live to a ripe old age as well before succumbing to illness - again obviously had no 3rd Rail Problems.
 
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gimmea50anyday

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Best to keep a dog on a lead when crossing any railway line, even without without third rail. Cross briskly and close the gate after.
Sadly the fatality at Morley a few years ago was as the result of a dog not on a lead running off along the tracks s it's 16 year old owner tried to retrieve it. Fortunately that crossing has now been closed and a bridge replaced the one a little further along
 

D6130

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Has anyone ever seen a cat step on a normal rail head...?
In my driving career - and as a lineside/platform observer while off duty - I have often see cats step on, walk on and lie on rails on hot summer days. They are attracted by the heat of the rail and once they have made themselves comfortable they have a tendency to doze off, letting their normal sense of alertness drop considerably. This, unfortunately, is what leads to most feline fatalities on the railway.
 

Kingspanner

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Has anyone ever seen a cat step on a normal rail head...?
Yes there is a black cat at Dinsdale which actively prefers the rail head over the ballast or sleepers to stroll along at least while proceeding east-west. Presumably more comfortable on the paws...
 

D6975

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There's a cat that frequents Westbury (Wilts) station who does this too, walking along the rail rather than the ballast.

ps the rabbits tend to avoid the rails entirely, hopping clean over them.
 

Farang

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I've never owned a cat, but don't cats use their whiskers to measure whether they can squeeze through an opening? Possibly suggests that cats' whiskers are quite sensitive? and perhaps to a few hundred volts in 3rd rail land.
No-one has ever owned a cat. Dogs have owners but cats have staff.
 

packermac

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No-one has ever owned a cat. Dogs have owners but cats have staff.
As shown by the fact we now have a cat that used to live in the next road. They had some building work done that the cat took umbrage to and moved in with us.
Goes back occasionally apparently and woofs all the food for the other 3 cats that reside there.
 

matacaster

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Isn't there a cat flap at Huddersfield station for Felix
Yes, but that's in the booking hall. Felix is often behind ticket office windows and I once saw her on the customer side of the counter window! Both can be seen frequently on platform 2.
 

Grecian 1998

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I recall reading a story on Ceefax (which gives you an indication it was a while back) about 20 years ago of a fox leading a pack of hounds over the line through the New Forest near Brockenhurst. The fox avoided the third rail; several hounds didn't. A train also arrived around that time so the third rail was presumably rather charged at that point.

After a quick search, I managed to find the story: it's here.


No idea if the fox got lucky or if it had learned what the third rail can do.
 

swt_passenger

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A train also arrived around that time so the third rail was presumably rather charged at that point.
Not really, the third rail is permanently “charged” or live, it isn’t dependent on trains being present.

( I think it’s worth pointing that out for safety’s sake...)
 

John Luxton

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No-one has ever owned a cat. Dogs have owners but cats have staff.
As someone who has a cat in the house - I tend to agree. Whilst they can be affectionate towards their "owners" - they are very independent
 

swt_passenger

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As someone who has a cat in the house - I tend to agree. Whilst they can be affectionate towards their "owners" - they are very independent
My daughters cat reckons it owns the house, apparently it asked to be first name on the census...
 
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