Does your cat look “achoo” funny when you sneeze? Does he race away like he’s being chased by a giant vacuum cleaner? Maybe he meows or makes that cute little chirpy sound? There have been accounts of kitties reacting in all of those ways — and more — when that sharp, crazy sound rockets from our faces and into the air. In general, cats and sneezing don’t mix. Here’s why cats react so bizarrely to human sneezes and some variations (from funny to serious) on how they respond:
Cats love routine and don’t like loud, especially excessive noises. This is part of why they often jump or run away when we sneeze. When a cat’s ear detects loud or sharp noises, tiny muscles in the middle ear contract in order to lessen sound transmission and protect the delicate inner ear. Sneezes, gunfire or firecrackers popping occur too quickly for the reflex to provide adequate protection.
If your cat is especially jumpy when you sneeze, it could be because human sneezing reminds him of a negative experience. Family Pet Animal Hospital in Chicago explains: “While the exact cause of loud noise aversion is unknown, it may be due to lack of exposure in early development, a genetic predisposition for emotional reactivity or result from a traumatic event. Often, pets with noise aversion or phobias also suffer from other anxiety disorders.” If you believe your cat’s jumpiness is related to past trauma, consult with a veterinarian for a strategy to help kitty feel more relaxed and comfortable.
Many have reported their cats looking straight at them and meowing upon hearing them sneeze. Because meows are how kitties communicate with people, some believe the responding meow is an “are you OK?” or even “bless you” reply. Of course, we humans love to have “conversations” with our kitties, so we may return with an “I’m fine, kitty — don’t worry,” or a “thank you!” (Admit it — you totally have two-way conversations with your cat.)
You know that chirpy little vocalization cats make when they see a squirrel or bird? Some cats also use it in response to human sneezes.
Some cats completely freak and can’t race away fast enough when we let loose with a giant sneeze. If they’re quietly cuddled in our laps, we sometimes get the “claws out” treatment as they scramble away from us. It’s as if someone rang a doorbell — a very loud, mortar fire-like doorbell.
If a cat doesn’t make noises or run away when we sneeze, they’ll usually at least show signs of agitation. They’ll sport the flattened “airplane ears,” look at us with complete disgust or change positions in passive-aggressive fashion: “I guess I’ll just flip over to this side and try to go back to sleep. No — don’t worry about me. I’m fine.”
A few people have indicated that their cat becomes aggressive following human sneezes. Cats may go so far as to purposefully bite or scratch — sometimes drawing blood. Since some sneezes sound like hissing, experts think that cats react in an attack-like fashion. If this aggression is a new behavior, or becomes a pattern, consult a vet to make sure there aren’t any medical issues at play.
It’s true: some cats don’t budge when they hear a sneeze — even a loud or sharp-sounding one. Like humans, cats react to situations in a variety of ways for a multitude of reasons. Sometimes we just have to hang up our hats and realize we will never fully understand felines.
Let’s talk cats and sneezing: How does your cat react when you sneeze?
Thumbnail: Photography by hwongcc/Thinkstock.
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