Female domestic cats respond particularly quickly to urgent kitten calls

Female cats responded about 10 per cent faster to kitten calls that conveyed high arousal – greater urgency – than to kitten calls that conveyed low arousal
Female cats responded about 10 per cent faster to kitten calls that conveyed high arousal – greater urgency – than to kitten calls that conveyed low arousal. Image: MikeB.
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A study found that female domestic cats responded about 10% faster to kitten calls which conveyed to them a high level of urgency compared to kitten calls which were assessed as non-urgent.

Females evaluate kitten’s emotional state

The conclusion of the researchers was that female cats are able to evaluate the emotional state of a kitten. Interestingly, in part of the study they used kittens that were unrelated to the females. This was an objective assessment by the mother of the quality of the call and deciding as to whether it was urgent or not.

Males can’t do this

And perhaps as expected, male domestic cats did not differentiate between urgent and nonurgent calls by kittens. This is supposed to be because male domestic cats don’t get involved with kitten raising. The study in this regard makes a mistake in my opinion because sometimes male domestic cat do indeed get involved in kitten raising.

It is not an absolute state of affairs. In fact, observations of European wildcats which belong to the same species as a domestic cat reveal that males sometimes actively participate in rearing their young. We can expect the same sort of thing happening with male domestic cats from time to time. But males appear not to be hardwired to instinctively respond to urgent kitten calls.

When kittens made a nonurgent call which provoked a low arousal in the receiver, both female and male’s responded in the same way. But the females adjusted their responsiveness if the quality of the sound made by the kitten provoked a heightened arousal.

Inherited

They deemed the difference between male and females to be an ingrained gender difference that is not triggered by experience.

Urgent or non-urgent sounds

High or low arousal in the female to a kitten call depended upon its duration and pitch (frequency). They responded more quickly to faster changes in frequency.

The researchers acoustically analysed the calls from 14 selected kittens to confirm the differences.

The calls were played to 17 adult cats, nine males and eight females. They were aged between one to eight years. Half of the females had not previously raised kittens.

Some of these females had neither raised kittens and neither were the kittens calling related to them. This was just an innate, inherited behavioural trait which is hardwired into their brain.

The researchers managed to elicit low arousal calls from the kittens by separating them from the mother and siblings for three minutes and then left undisturbed. They solicited high arousal calls from kittens by taking them out of the nest box for three minutes and then turning them on their back.

Study details

Konerding, W.S., Zimmermann, E., Bleich, E. et al. Female cats, but not males, adjust responsiveness to arousal in the voice of kittens. BMC Evol Biol 16, 157 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12862-016-0718-9

Humans!

It is the turn of humans. How do women and men compare in terms of their responsivity to baby cries. Well, about 3 minutes of internet research tells me that women are more sensitive to baby cries compared to men.

Researchers at the US-based National Institutes of Health found in a new study that women are more responsive than men when they hear a crying baby. – Bounty Parents

It looks like women’s and men’s brains work differently in responding to a baby’s call for attention as is the case for domestic cats.

Kitten cries for mother and she runs in from 200 meters

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