We all know that sound, teeth chattering, little beats of meows going in and out. But have you ever wondered why it is that your cat will chatter? You may have seen your cat perform this interesting behavior when they are staring out the window at a bird or some other sort of small animal that they wish they could hunt. But it turns out, there are a few interesting reasons why a cat will chatter. Read on and find out…
A classic video of the famous cat chatter we all know and adore…
Focus, Focus, Focus
For your cat, when they are intensely focused on desirable prey, they will make this sound effect. Teeth chatter as their eyes deadlock onto their fixation. If you watch closely, you may notice that their tail might begin to twitch with delight as their chattering goes into full effect. While excitement fuels your cats actions, their frustration of knowing that they are not permitted to catch said prey could be the cause for all that chatter.
While it is true that not all cats perform teeth chattering, any cat has the ability to do it. Some cats, as we know, just have a higher prey drive than others so those will likely be the ones you hear it most from.
British zoologist and ethologist Desmond Morris refers to this as a “vacuum activity.” He refers to it as such because he believes the exact reason your cat is making this sound is because they are not allowed to carry out their instinctive behavior, therefore performing a chatter since what they really want to do isn’t a possibility.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
A recent study conducted out of Brazil found something even more interesting about cat chattering that makes purrfect sense if you ask us. Wildlife Conservation Society researcher Fabio Rohe suspects that cats can copy the calls of their prey. We all know that cats are truly brilliant beings, so really, does this come as much of a surprise to you? Well, even if it’s not entirely surprising, the reality is that this vocal manipulation is actually not easy for a cat to perform.
The chatter “trance” they use is typically seen when they are closely watching birds. Your cunning cat will observe and then think to mimic this sound as best they can hoping that perhaps the bird will come closer in search of the familiar sound that they suddenly hear. Now, if your cat is sitting somewhere that’s not restricted, don’t be too astonished if their mastery works!
Fun Fact: Cats do not have the ability to move their jaws from side to side, only up and down. Want to know more cat facts? Check out our article 25 Interesting Facts About Cats!
Aside from luring birds in, there are a few other theories as to why a cat would chatter. Certified cat behavior consultant Marilyn Krieger, also known as The Cat Coach, believes that a cat will make this sound in anticipation and when they are frustrated. They also perhaps do this in response to a surge of adrenaline coursing through their body.
Could the Answer Simply Lie In Our Cat’s Incredible Anatomy?
According to Kathryn Primm, DVM, the answer for this chattering sound could lie in your cat’s anatomy. She says:
“Your cat has modified scent glands on the roof of his mouth just behind his nose. These are called Vomeronasal organs (VMO for short). When he chatters or chirps he could be moving air across these glands to better get an idea of his prey. He may be saying “I see you, but I cannot smell you”. The way birds move and flit about certainly triggers his predator instinct. He is surely interested and would like to know more about the birds.
Other times when we think that cats are especially utilizing their VMOs are those times when your cat pauses with his mouth agape and seems to be reflecting on what he smells. This response is called Flehmen response and many animals do it.”
Whatever the case may be, this is a sound that does not mean that your cat is in harm or that they are ill. It’s a purrfectly normal feline behavior that cats have been performing for centuries, and if you see your cat chatter just watch and listen in amazement. After all, cats were once worshipped, and they haven’t soon forgotten it!
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