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Noises Cats Love. Noises Cats Hate.


cat on a piano

What sounds do cats like and what sounds do they dislike?


Purr. Meow. Squeak. Hiss. Squeal. Yowl. Caterwaul. Chirp. Chatter.

cat meowing

Cats have a surprisingly broad vocabulary of sounds that they make to communicate their moods, preferences, and emotions to us and to other cats. Some of these noises (purring, for example) are extremely pleasing to their owners who will go to great lengths to elicit them from their cats. But there are other cat sounds most humans find to be disturbing, the feline equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard. The yowl, for example, which is a kind of loud, long, drawn out meow, is especially disconcerting to most people.


Would it surprise you to learn that our cats feel the same way about the noises people make?


How sensitive is a cat’s hearing?


One of the reasons cats are so particular about sound is that a cat’s hearing is extremely sensitive. We hear noises in a range of 20-20,000 hertz. Cats can hear sounds from 45 to 60,000 hertz. That’s almost two octaves higher! Even though dogs are known for being able to hear a high-pitched “dog whistle,” cats can actually hear higher frequencies than dogs. There is a whole world of sounds that our cats can tune into that we (and our doggie friends) can’t even imagine.

cat turning its ear

Cats can also hear distant sounds better than we can. They can perceive sounds that are 4-5 times farther away than human ears can detect. And they can distinguish tiny, tiny differences in sound, too. This ability helps a hunting cat know the type and size of the prey animal making the noise.

grey and white cat with large ears

A cat’s physiology contributes to their superior sense of hearing, too. A cat’s outer ear, called the pinna, stands up straight and is funnel-shaped to catch and amplify every passing sound wave. And thanks to 32 sets of muscles devoted just to ear movement, cats can rotate their cone-shaped ears 180 degrees like little satellite dishes so they don’t miss a thing. (For comparison, humans have only 6 sets of ear-moving muscles.) Cats' ears actually move independently of each other and can rotate in one direction while the cat’s body rotates in the other.


(Cats use the position of their ears to communicate their moods. Read more about it in this post, "Why do cats put their ears back?") 


What sounds do cats hate?



What noises are offensive to cats? Given their ability to hear noises that are inaudible to humans, cats can be annoyed by sounds we don’t even know exist. Many of our electronic devices emit noises that are vexing to cats: our computers, televisions, smoke detectors, and even remote controls produce high-frequency sounds that we can’t necessarily hear but are extremely abrasive to cats.


What we don’t know is how this cacophony of electronic sounds affects our cats’ health. There are some clues. Jeremy G. Turner and his fellow researchers at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine studied the non-auditory effects of noise on lab mice (in this study: Hearing in Laboratory Animals: Strain Differences and Nonauditory Effects of Noise) and concluded that noise caused changes in the animals’ cardiovascular and endocrine systems, and affected their sleep, susceptibility to seizures, and social behavior.


A small study on Audiogenic Reflex Seizures in Cats aimed to identify a new epilepsy syndrome called FARS. In this syndrome, seizures in certain elderly cats seemed to be triggered by “sensory stimuli,” mostly sounds. This study is not conclusive evidence that environmental noises are not just annoying to cats, but might be downright harmful, but it is something to think about.


Hissing Sounds

hissing cat

Sounds that mimic hissing are also bothersome to cats. It’s not surprising: cats employ hissing noises themselves to confront or scare off other cats. A mother cat may hiss at a cat approaching her kittens. A cat in pain might hiss to prevent another cat from coming near.


We can only speculate, of course, but it is possible that hissing sounds may evoke a feeling of being threatened in your cat. What kinds of things in the human world remind a cat of a hiss? A sprayed aerosol can, a “swishy” windbreaker, a rustling plastic bag can all be misconstrued by your cat to be an angry hiss.


For more information about hissing, read, "Why do cats hiss?"


Loud noises



Loud noises are extremely bothersome to cats and their sensitive ears. There are noises that are painful to our ears – a loud fire alarm, for example. But the threshold for “loud” is a lot lower for a cat. Our everyday loud noises, like a passing ambulance, a motorcycle, a running vacuum cleaner, or thunderclap, can be startling and painfully loud for your cat.


Cats have a special reflex to minimize exposure to sounds that are too loud. Tiny muscles in a cat’s middle ear can contract to protect the inner ear from loud noises. But sudden loud noises, like fireworks, happen too quickly for this reflex to take effect and provide protection.


What sounds do cats love?

sheet music

Cat music

There are sounds cats like, too. As it turns out, they actually like music – just not our music. A study published in Applied Animal Behavioral Science concluded that cats like sounds that sound, well, like other cats. (Download the whole study, Cats Prefer Species-Appropriate Music here.) The study referred to these sounds as “species-specific music” that reflected the tempo and frequency of cat vocalizations. Cats in the study enjoyed a song that was composed just for them: a fast-paced tune at 1380 beats per minute that mimicked purring and included tones from cat vocalizations. How did researchers know that the cats were enjoying their cat music? Cats listening to their new jam turned toward the music, purred, and rubbed themselves against the speakers.


A team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin composed a number of songs to appeal to a cat's tastes. One of the most famous tunes is called Cosmo's Air. You can listen to it here:


Cat-toy sounds that mimic prey 

cat with toy mouse

For cats, play is serious business. They hone their hunting skills through play. Every opportunity they get to pounce, chase, and stalk is a chance for them to engage their natural instincts (and fine-tune their technique) in the important work of trapping and capturing prey.

cat hiding in leaves

The toy sounds they enjoy most are the ones that add a bit of realism to the mock-hunting adventure. The rustling sounds made by some crinkly foil balls might resemble the sound of a chipmunk scurrying through a pile of leaves. Toys that gently squeak when rolled, chewed, or batted might call to mind a captured mouse for your little hunter. 


Not all cats are alike. Some cats like sounds that other cats hate.

cat wearing bells


Interestingly, every cat and every household is unique, and that's a factor when it comes to toy preferences. Some cats, for example, are stimulated by the tinkling sound of toys that contain little bells. But in a household where the family cats wear bells on their collars, bell sounds mean something else. A bell-containing toy might have less appeal for those cats. As always, every cat and every household is individual.


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  • Anything is possible with cats. But the only way to know whether it is a medical problem, or something more psychological like a sound bothering her, would be to take her to the vet. I highly recommend you do that. Distressed meowing is a red flag and could indicate pain. Warm ears could be anything, but a vet can help you rule out fever. I am not a vet and don’t play one in my blog. Get the advice of a veterinary professional.

    Dawn LaFontaine
  • My neighbours have installed a jacuzzi in their garden which is just the other side of my fence. When I came home tonight my cat was making very strange distressed meowing sounds underneath their car. Her ears also feel very warm. Could it be the constant noise that is bothering her. She can’t seem to settle even indoors.

  • Eun – your comment just warmed my heart. Your love for your cat just shines through! I don’t even know you or your cat, but I know that she is a lucky, happy creature because of how your care for her. She will definitely become used to a continuous noise like cars rushing by, if she hasn’t already. Do not worry about this a moment longer. Just the fact that you gave her a special place to hide means that she already has what she needs when she needs to “get away from it all.”

    Dawn LaFontaine

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