Strange human voices can disturb domestic cats

From a couple of well-documented studies, we know that human voices frighten wild animals, even large, top-of-the-food-chain species such as lions. All human voices spell danger to most wild animals.

The domestic cat is slightly different but not that different. They are very used to the sounds made by their caregiver which is why they respond so well to them. The caregiver’s voice usually signals a reward of some sort and they respond positively.

But if I am watching a video on my laptop of a professional golfer being interviewed after a golf tournament, as I was this morning, my cat who was cosily snuggled up on my legs, promptly gets up and disappears outside.

If I want him to stay by my side and play videos with human voices I have to wear headphones. It is a simple as that. The only reason is that the voices of human strangers make him slightly anxious. He can no longer relax and snooze on my legs which is his purpose of being there. So, he leaves.

It is a reminder that for cats sounds are very important. Their hearing is acute as we know. They pick up sounds that we can’t. And they can link strange humans to other sounds.

Take, for instance, my front doorbell going off. Whenever it does, he runs for cover. It’s because he associates the sound of the doorbell with strangers entering his home.

The sound of the doorbell can signal the imminent presence of a strange and dangerous human to a resident domestic cat
The sound of the doorbell can signal the imminent presence of a strange and dangerous human to a resident domestic cat
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If he hears me talking to the stranger, he may join us after about 15 minutes, once he is completely sure that I have ‘vetted’ the alien human.

Adult domestic cats are very defensive. They are very protective of their safety. This contrasts somewhat with naive, toddler cats who can get into trouble as they lack experience.

It is why, for example, the indoor/outdoor cats most likely to get run over by road traffic are young males, outside at night exploring but being unaware of the dangers.

Young cats are less likely to recognise the potential danger signalled by the sounds of strange humans.

I think caregivers should be aware of this sensitivity. As mentioned, I usually wear headphones when I am in bed on the laptop with my cat by my side. That’s my gift to him.

Cats are individuals. Some are more confident than others and less concerned by strange human voices.

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