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I’ve often wondered how well the cats hear.  Googling ‘cat hearing’ I have learned that cats can hear sounds at 64 kHz, nearly 1.6 octaves higher than we humans; a full octave higher than dogs hear.  How accurate is their hearing? At a distance of 91 cm their ears can focus the hearing on an object to within 70 mm.  (So that’s how the Big Guy can track the occasional spider that dares challenge him on his turf.)

But, if their hearing is so good, why don’t they hear me?

I’ve tried a number of things to test their hearing and have come to the conclusion that they hear what they want to hear.  The other senses do a pretty good job of warning them about the approach of danger, the availability of food and what corner of my freshly tilled garden plot makes the best bathroom.

But hearing?Blutto2

To test the theory that they hear just fine I conducted a few tests:

1)      The sound of Tidy Cat being dumped into a clean box.  Cat owners know that most cats prefer to utilize a ‘clean’ and well-manicured box if at all possible.

2)      The sound made when I slowly twist off the lid from the treat jar.

3)      The sound of the alarm clock.

The Big Guy would argue that what I see as reactions to sounds are not Pavlovian responses, the actions of cats trained to respond to certain events. He would say that they are responding as they believe the humans would want to see them respond.  When asked to explain he offered the example of the ‘treat jar’.

I have a jar filled with Friskies Party Mix; a cat treat that comes flavored with salmon, tuna, cheese or some other taste they are expected to like.  I’ll slowly twist the lid off and put a few treats on the table; cats appear as if my magic and devour the treats before slinking off.  Per the Big Guy, they are getting rid of the snacks before they can attract flies and mice.  Just looking out for the humans; wanting to keep the house clean.

If that were true, if they really cared about the house then why do they leave hair balls scattered about on the floor?  Seriously?

The alarm clock heralds the new day and a reason to dash about the house for 10 minutes, ensuring that all human occupants are woken up.  They hear the clock and use that as an excuse to sprint from one end of the house to the other, knocking things off tables, tipping plants over, slamming into each other (which sets off a fair amount of hissing and whining,eventually  freaking out the squirrel who begins to bark.

It doesn’t matter how quiet the alarm is or when it goes off (I move the time around just to see if I can throw them off). They hear it and begin to make their presence known.  Precious the cat has tried to convince me that it is the dawn that inspires them to celebrate the return of the sun with wild abandon but I know better.  If I set the alarm to ring at 11:00 at night, I’ll get the same performance.  They hear the alarm and go into ‘wild’ mode.

Once again, they are responding with antics that we ‘like’.

Do you see a trend developing?  I can trigger a response by creating a sound.  It doesn’t need to be day or night; if I make the sound, they respond accordingly.  They hear the sounds.

However, if I call to a cat who may be sitting a few feet away, she’ll not respond.  This is a 13 year old cat who has gotten accustomed to hearing the name; who can start purring as I say the  name and brush her fur.  She knows the sound of the name. But, as she needs to demonstrate her lack of hearing, no response.

I called out the kitten’s name the other night and she turned her head.  One of the older Preciouscats went over and smacked her on the back of her head, reminding her that cats do not respond.

The sound of dinner. The quiet little ‘pop’ when you pull up on the tab on a can of Friskies wet food and the cats will hear it, no matter how far away they are.

The gray cat doesn’t like canned food but he comes running, just the same.

On more than 1 occasion I’ve seen the Big Guy run in from behind the shed (100 yards away) at the sound.  Yeah, he hears. He knows the sound of the cat food can pop top and can hear it over the sounds of the factory next door, the commuter train tracks a few hundred yards  away and the drone of C-130 aircraft overhead.

FattyAnd the litter box. Changing the powder triggers a celebratory visit to the box by each of the Court Cats; accompanied by much flinging of sand, extensive landscaping and what I can only describe as terraforming (and you thought the Chinese Government was the only group who could create a land-mass out of sand?). Just the sound the  lid generates as it is being removed from the bucket of powder  is enough sound to rouse the cats from a deep sleep and call them to the party.

So, do cats hear? Yes, I believe they hear just fine.  

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