Tag Archives: ultrasonic

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.

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

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