by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Recently I read an article on how cats use sound to understand where their prey is hiding. That leads one to wonder about the effect of too many sounds and too much loud noise on our house cats.
In our houses there is constant noise generated by electrical appliances such as fridges and computers. Then there are sounds that happen at specific times such as cooking and bathing, and random sounds such as the telephone and doorbell. Every time we walk around, move something or talk it creates a sound. This must seem like complete overload to our cats, yet they can still hear a tin being opened 3 rooms away! Continuous loud noises, or sudden very loud noises, can cause pain, and prolonged exposure to loud noises can result in deafness in cats.
Cats have an amazing sense of hearing. They can hear higher pitched sounds than dogs and almost down to the lowest level a dog can hear. They can move their ears independently through 180 degrees to allow them to pinpoint even the softest of sounds. The furnishings, or hairs on the ears, help to direct sounds into the ears.
When hunting cats tend to keep still and wait for prey to make the first move. They can pick up the sound and, based on a number of criteria, know if that sound was made by prey or predator, where it is and about how big it is. These are essential calculations needed for survival. Cats can pinpoint almost exactly where a sound comes from within 1 metre, and can hear sounds up to 5 times further away than we can.
Even while sleeping the cat’s ears and brain are working to process sounds that may indicate danger or an opportunity to catch a snack.
It is known that human ears have the capability of filtering out common sounds, so I would hope that animals can do the same. This would allow them to have the capacity to listen to the really important noises that may have an influence on their safety or next meal.
With such a special and delicate ability to hear it must be quite overwhelming for many cats in our environment. Noise pollution is a real threat – cats that are sensitive to noise may be labelled unfriendly, fearful, timid, or skittish when they just can’t deal with the level of noise in the environment.