Tag Archives: sound

Q&A: The Silent Meow

Q: Why does my cat look like he’s meowing, but no sound comes out?

A: When I first started researching cats, I was surprised that no one had checked to see if those silent meows were actually silent, or just too high for us to hear. It’s only recently that we’ve been able to show that most cats do, in fact, make a noise while “silent” meowing, we’re just unable to hear it.

Those “silent” meows, often used when the cat is hungry, have been recorded at as high as 22 kilohertz, and since very few researchers have recorded these silent meows, it’s quite possible that they go much higher.

The higher end of their hearing range helps them hunt. They can hear all those squeaky little animal noises that we humans, and even dogs, cannot hear. For more on cats’ hearing, and how even deaf cats can hear in the ultrasonic range, see this article: Of Cats and Crinkle Noises)

It’s pretty well established at this point that cats can in fact hear up into the 65 kilohertz range.

We can’t know the entire vocal range of cats, mostly because different cats have different voices, and some are more prone to make high pitched sounds, and some have a lower pitch. We have only officially differentiated 16 different types of vocalizations (caterwauling, yowling, purring, chattering, growling, hissing, chirping, trilling, meowing, etc.), despite a lot of data that says there are many more. Cats can make over 100 distinct sounds.

There isn’t really a great deal of research on the topic of feline vocalization ranges either. But, yes, when he looks up at you with those big eyes and it seems like he’s silent meowing, he is making a noise. He doesn’t know you can’t hear it.

Q&A: What to Do When Kitty Stops Using the Litter Box

Q: My cat stopped using the litter box. What do I do?

A:  This is a problem I’m thoroughly familiar with, so this is going to be as detailed as possible because anyone who owns a cat, or is thinking of owning a cat, needs to learn how to think like a cat. Too many cats are euthanized every day in this country because people don’t want to take the time to work with the animal and gain a deeper understanding of their furry friend, which can lead to a much deeper connection that will benefit everyone involved.

Part One: Know What You Know, and Know When That Knowledge Isn’t Enough

Congratulations! Step one is already done. If you don’t know what to do, ask for help. You’ll probably get tons of different advice, and that’s a good thing, because there are so many different reasons that cats might display a single behavior. The worst thing a kitty caretaker can do is approach any problem as if there is only one way to solve it, and if that doesn’t work, they give up and declare the cat a lost cause. This is rarely ever the case. I have yet to meet a lost cause kitty. Cats are complex beings, just like people. And you can’t just sit down with a family therapist to talk it out. So, how do we figure this out?

Before we go any farther, you need to take your cat to the vet. There is a very good chance that this is due to a physical problem. Spaying/neutering, if not already done, should be your first order of business. There can be any number of health-related causes. Cats often don’t show any outward signs of pain or illness, and when they do, it often appears as what seems like odd, aberrant behavior to the observing humans. If your cat is suddenly acting differently, especially with litter habits, something is wrong. Pain (a hurt paw, UTI, constipation, or even just a bit of litter digging into the paw) is a leading cause of this type of behavior.

If you have a new cat that has never used the litter box, skip to Part Four: Solutions.

Part Two: Work Out the Timeline of Events Before and During the Problem

The second step is to try to work out the initial trigger for the behavior. This won’t always work, but the closer you can get to the reason, the faster you’ll get results. What was going on around the first time the cat didn’t use the litter box? The obvious place to start is: what changed? Cats know when we’re stressed, they know when we’re sick, and major disruptions in the household can cause the cat’s sense of security to falter, and that leads to problematic behavior. Other indicators of this could be a change in personality (is s/he more needy or standoffish? Is s/he displaying more sensitivity to noise, people coming and going, or showing signs of aggression or fear?).

If that doesn’t seem to be the case, try to think of something that may have startled or scared the cat while it was using the litter box: another pet, a loud noise (passing truck, someone shouting, a dog barking, etc.), the smell of another animal (if you’ve got cats outside, the cat inside will be able to smell any marking that’s going on around the perimeter of the house, you may also have tracked in some animal scent), or seeing another animal from a window or doorway. Third, a dirty litter box; all of these things can create a negative association with the litter box. Sometimes there is no clear answer, so you have to do some detective work.

Part Three: Gather Data

1. Where is the cat doing its business? Are there one or two consistent spots, or is it all over the place?

  • If s/he has a few spots he likes, figure out why those spots are significant to him/her. For example, interior doorways (bedrooms, halls, etc.) are places of power for cats. If the cat is leaving those unwanted gifts near doorways, this can be like putting a big sign on the door saying, “MINE!” And that means that we’re dealing with some insecurity or a territorial dispute with another pet in the home. Even cats that have gotten along for years can suddenly have a falling out over territory.
  • Try to observe the cat (if you have your phone handy, try to record it) while it is doing its business. Does s/he seem to be in pain? Is s/he straining? Is s/he looking around or appearing paranoid? Note any clues you see. Even if you don’t see anything out of the ordinary, go ahead and write down what happened. Every move you remember the cat making. If you recorded it, watch it back, writing down what happened in a play-by-play. This will help your mind work on the problem. Maybe you didn’t realize something at the time, but it might click later. And if a second trip to the vet is necessary, or the vet visit is scheduled several days away, make sure to take any notes or video you have to the appointment.
  • Outer doorways are also places of power. If s/he’s using the outer walls or places near windows and exterior doors, this likely means that someone or something out there is what’s bothering him, and he feels the need to mark his territory. This is also a sign of insecurity, but likely due to things happening outside, although I have seen some cases of this when the source of stress is separation anxiety. It’s not as common (the pooping and peeing on outer doors and windows aspect, separation anxiety itself is fairly common, especially with a new family), but it does happen.
  • When cats urinate/defecate on personal items like laundry, bedding, your favorite spot on the couch, etc., people often incorrectly attribute it to the cat being vindictive. Cats don’t think like that. But if s/he’s soiling these spots, it’s because s/he’s insecure about his place in the family. S/he wants so badly to let everyone know that you are a part of his/her family. Your scent is the strongest on your things, and s/he’s insecure, so s/he’s going to want to mix his/her smell with yours.
  • HOWEVER, if all the places he’s peeing are soft places (laundry, bedding, soft furniture), this could also be indicative of a urinary tract issue. The pain is sharp, so they think that the pain is caused by where they are peeing. If you’re a cat, you want to counteract that sharp pain with soft things. So you pee on the bed, the laundry, the plush bathroom rug, etc.

2. Did s/he sometimes use the litter box after that first out-of-the-box foray, or is this a full strike of the litter box?

  • If s/he’s using it sometimes and not others, pay close attention to what is going on when s/he’s doing his/her business both in and out of the box. If it’s not clear, mark each spot with a sticker or colorful tape (write the time and date on it) until you see the pattern emerge. This is critical data.

3. Does s/he have options? One litter box isn’t enough. Your cat needs at least two. If you have more than one cat, a good rule of thumb is number of cats plus one. So, if you have 3 cats, that means 4 litter boxes.

Part Four: Solutions

You’ve taken your cat to the vet, you’ve gathered data, and now you’re going to take all that data and figure out a plan.

1. In the areas where your cat is usually doing its business, put down small litter boxes. You might begin with a dozen or just a few, depending on how many places your cat is doing its business. Put down a couple puppy pads around each small littler box and check them frequently to keep track of progress. For areas where you can’t put down a litter box, use a puppy pad or restrict access.

  • Try a variety of different litters (cedar, sand, soil, etc.). You may find that your cat simply prefers another kind of litter.
  • Reward success immediately using whatever motivates your cat (treats, toys, affection, etc.). NEVER punish a cat for failure to use the litter. The cat doesn’t think like humans, and it will likely make the situation much worse. Cats will refuse to return to a place where they have been punished, and if the cat was punished near the litter, bye-bye progress, hello stinky carpet. They don’t see their actions as either good or bad, which is why punishment never works.
  • Stay positive. The last thing the situation needs is more stress. It’s a distressing situation already, so do your best to keep things on track. If you have a setback, take a time out and then begin again.
  • Keep lids off the litter boxes. You want kitty to have an open invitation to use the litter.
  • Scoop the litter daily, change the liner and puppy pads if needed, but try to avoid using completely fresh litter when possible.

2. If there are no specific places where your cat is doing its business (this is extremely rare, especially if the vet finds nothing wrong with your cat), you’re going to need to designate a room and keep your cat in there with at least one litter box (number of litter boxes should depend on the room size. As many as you can fit without being ridiculous about it). The room should be small, but not a closet or tiny bathroom. The idea here is to give kitty only one option. Make sure bedding, food, and water are away from the litter box.

3. If you think the problem may be with animals outside, pick up some animal deterrents for your yard at your local hardware store (lawn and garden section). In this case, it’s best if the cat is unable to see the ground outside, but they should be able to watch birds and get some sunlight, so tape something over the lower portion of the window.

4. More specific problems (health issues, separation anxiety, etc.) will require treatment for the specific problem. Once you deal with the main issue, your cat may or may not require litter re-training (items 1 & 2).

5. If none of this is working, it’s time for a second opinion. Call around to find a vet that is willing to work with you to find out what’s going on. Look for a vet that makes house calls. Further tests may be needed at this point.

Q&A What’s Wrong With My Cat?

Q: I have been a cat owner a long time. They are extremely curious and stick their nose in every drawer or hole. But this one sits still and has no interest in his surroundings. He is 2 years old now. He is also anxious and does not like us petting him. The vet examined him and run some blood tests when he fell down from 7th floor. All was good. He survived from this incident with little scratches. The vet said he is a very strong cat. This happened 4 months ago. So we took him to vet after he fell down from the balcony. We adopted him from street when he was 1 month or so. He was almost dying but still very playful.

My mum actually is authoritarian and she tries to educate him by yelling. So let’s say he poured a bottle of milk, he would be scolded. She loves him but that’s her way. I believe he thinks he will be punished if he accidentally breaks something. If he hears a noise above certain level (door bangs or closing a cupboard) he startles and hides under the bed. He is also defensive. He does not let us pet him a lot. For your comfort, I show him sooo much affection and actually my mum does as well. But still.

A:  Where to begin? I have a few questions and observations.

  • When he fell from the 7th story, did the vet take X-rays and do neurological tests, or just a physical exam and blood work? This is important. It’s okay if you aren’t sure.
  • How much and how often do you play with him?

I’m concerned that your cat is in pain. A young cat that doesn’t move much, and does not want to be touched, is either in pain or depressed, or possibly both. This is serious. This is not normal behavior for a young cat at all, even a skittish one. If it’s just depression, then play is the best way to boost a cat’s confidence and mood. No matter what it is, you need to get your cat back to the vet ASAP. The question above about what the vet did or did not do will determine whether going back to the same vet is a good idea or not.

You mention that he’s skittish already and that your mother yells at him. Yelling at a cat does nothing to correct behavior, it only makes them afraid of you. Your mother needs to know this. If you can’t tell her this, then when you schedule his next check-up (again, ASAP), you be the one to call, make sure your mother is there when you take him, and ask during the call if they can tell the vet that he’s skittish, and your mother yells at him when he does something that she doesn’t like. The vet, if s/he is competent, should be able to work that into the conversation.

You should use positive reinforcement to teach a cat what it should be doing. Every time you say “no” to a cat, you should provide a “yes” solution. Yelling will only make the problem worse. For example, if a cat likes to climb, and does so on the kitchen counters, simply pick the cat up and take it to a place where it is allowed to climb (like a cat tree). Then praise the cat like it was his idea. You have to do this every time. And every time the cat does use the tree instead of the counter, you should reward it with praise and a toy, or perhaps a treat (if weight is not an issue. If it is, you can use some kibble as treats). Again, you have to do this every time until the cat is no longer doing the unwanted behavior.

Let me know if you have more questions. Good luck!

Q&A: Does the cat remember me?

Q: I’ve moved, and my new church has got a church cat. I’ve met him a few times, had some nice interactions. But I wonder. He must see a lot of humans at the church. How many of us can he actually fit into his tiny little kitty brain? Does he remember me meeting to meeting?

A: Cats have fantastic memories. Their brain structure is much more similar to ours than a dog’s brain. If you have a cat that spent its formative years (2–7 years) in a particular place, then you move, then you take the cat back to that place a decade later, it will remember all the paths it used to walk, where to get food, whom to avoid, and whom it can sweet talk (or meow) into giving it last night’s chicken leftovers.

To learn more about cats’ memory, read my post on the topic here.

Cats have an advantage that we don’t: they rely on smell (which is closely tied to memory, even in our minds, though we don’t use it when we meet people), as well as body language, the sound of that person’s voice, facial recognition, and other distinguishing characteristics to remember individuals. It doesn’t matter if it’s another cat, a dog, a possum, a human, or a goat. They use all those things to remember each individual. Every time. We rely heavily on sight coupled with a short word (the person’s name) to try to remember the people we meet.

A cat is much better equipped to remember you as an individual than any other person in that church.

Fireworks Safety for Cats

There are a lot of dangers for cats around holidays, and July 4th in the U.S. is one of the worst.

More pets go missing during the 4th of July than any other day of the year. Make sure your cats are microchipped and wearing tags with up-to-date information.

If you let your cats outside, it’s important to keep them inside from the 3rd to the 5th. Even cats who would never usually run away can become scared and disoriented by the fireworks, and they can get lost very easily under these circumstances. They also may try to bolt out the door if given a chance.

If you know your cat is upset by fireworks, make a cozy place (inside a padded box, a closet, or other space where they will feel safe, and can ride out the worst of it in peace.

Not only are the sounds scary, they can be dangerous. As we explained in our previous article, Of Cats and Crinkle Noises, high-pitched noises can cause siezures in cats. We learned this sad truth last year when our precious hero, Kagetora, had a seizure after a rapid-fire succession of fireworks went off. I snapped this photo a few seconds after the seizure.

Kagetora Post-Seizure

Thankfully, he suffered no lasting effects, but we will be playing whale song this year to drown out the noise of fireworks.

littlecatdiaries.com
Fireworks Safety for Pets

Q&A: Can Cats Recognize Their Owners in Photos or Videos?

Cats rely a great deal on smell to identify individuals. That’s not the only factor, but it’s a main one. Many photos are also too small, and the idea of having a small, flat piece of paper being a representation of the real 3D world is not a natural assumption.

Cats do recognize faces. In a study published in Journal of Vision, it was shown that cats, but not dogs, can recognize the faces of their owners. They are better at recognizing the faces of other cats, but they can pick out their owner’s face from a line-up of life-sized head shots 54% of the time. That’s pretty good.

Cats also rely on body language, the way a person moves, and other things to recognize individuals. But most of them do recognize their owner’s voice.

A 2013 study published in Animal Cognition showed that cats also recognize their owners’ voices, and can tell them apart from stranger’s voices. Their hearing is much much better than a dogs’ or humans’ hearing (PDF), so they aren’t usually fooled into thinking the sounds from TV, computers, radios, etc. are real when they are adults. But they can still recognize the sound of their owner’s voice, or things like their mother cat’s call.

I had a video of a cat we fostered. Her name was Freya, but we called her Bunny. She was 6 months old when we began fostering her, and it turned out that she was already pregnant. (More on that later.) She was Stiles’s mother. The video had audio of Bunny calling her babies, and also a bit of Stiles’s sister, Cleo. When Stiles heard the video, he ran in, and started pawing at the speakers, and was in great distress because he couldn’t find them. I put him on my desk, and he watched that video 3 times, but I decided it might be doing more harm than good, so I took him in the other room and played with him until he was sleepy.

The video: https://youtu.be/5NwINsxG13c

Our oldest cat, who is 18, is strongly bonded with my daughter. She spends most of her time in my daughter’s room. My daughter went out of town with my sister a few weeks ago, and Kagome wasn’t doing well. So my daughter recorded some videos, and I put on one of her unlaundered shirts, then played the video. Kagome listened very carefully. I played it again, and she started purring immediately.

And finally, two of my cats, Kikiyo and Stiles, will come running every time they hear elephants, whales, or David Attenborough.
kiki-stiles-tv

Of Cats and Crinkle Noises

Cats love soft rustling sounds, and the sound of paper and plastic bags crinkling. They have ultrasonic hearing (there is actually pretty good evidence that even deaf cats can hear in the ultrasonic range). This helps them hunt, especially small rodents like mice or rats who make noises in that range. It’s a sort of soft rustling, crinkly sound that they like.

So they like noises in that range when playing, but they also like it when they’re looking for a nice place to nap. The sound can mimic that of a bed of dry grass and brush, which make a nice place for a cat to sleep. 3 of my 4 cats love the sound.

However, you should be cautious, especially with older cats. The higher pitched sound of tinfoil (AKA aluminum foil) crinkling can cause seizures in cats. Colloquially referred to as Tom and Jerry Syndrome, its official name is Feline Audiogenic Reflex Seizures (FARS).

Other sounds that can cause seizures are clanging spoons, clanging pots, metals on ceramics, and clinking coins, among a long list of noises in that range.

The lead author of the study that uncovered this problem, Dr Mark Lowrie of Davies Veterinary Specialists, said in an interview:

“The sounds responsible are high-pitched sounds, often relatively quiet sounds, with increasing loudness and persistence of a sound only serving to enhance the severity of the epileptic seizures.

“Avoiding these sounds eliminated the seizures in 72 out of 96 cats.

“The reason for cats being so sensitive to these seemingly benign high-pitched sounds may have its origin in the ultrasonic hearing range of the species.

“Mice and rats communicate in the ultrasonic frequency range and it is believe that cats developed a secondary ultrasonic sensitive hearing range presumably as an evolutionary advantage in catching rats and mice, their natural prey.”

Further reading:

Feline Audiogenic Reflex Seizures in Cats

‘Tom and Jerry syndrome’ causes seizures in old cats

Audiogenic reflex seizures in cats