Can Cats Hear Dog Whistles? The Mysterious World of Cat Hearing

What are dog whistles and how do they work?

A dog whistle is a whistle that emits sounds in the ultrasonic range, which humans cannot hear but dogs can. The frequency of most dog whistles is between 23 kHz to 54 kHz, well above the hearing range of humans, which is typically 20 Hz to 20 kHz (1). Dogs have much more sensitive hearing and can detect sounds up to 65 kHz (2).

Dog whistles work by producing high-pitched tones that get a dog’s attention. The whistle sound activates receptors in a dog’s inner ear, allowing them to hear the sound even from far away. Dog whistles are often used for dog training and recall. The whistle gives a cue that dogs associate with commands or rewards (3). For example, a dog whistle can be used as a “come” command when calling a dog back from a distance.

Overall, dog whistles produce high frequency sounds that humans cannot hear but dogs can. This allows the whistles to be used for communicating with and training dogs from a distance.

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dog_whistle

(2) https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/training/how-to-use-a-dog-whistle-for-training/

(3) https://www.quora.com/How-far-can-a-dog-whistle-be-heard

Cat hearing range compared to humans

Cats have a significantly larger hearing range compared to humans. Research has shown that the hearing range of the domestic cat for sounds of 70 dB SPL extends from 48 Hz to 85 kHz, giving cats one of the broadest hearing ranges among mammals (Heffner, 1985). In comparison, the human hearing range is typically 20 Hz to 20 kHz.

This means cats can hear frequencies more than two octaves higher than humans are capable of hearing. Not only can cats hear higher pitched sounds, they are also able to detect much lower frequencies than humans can. Their wide hearing range allows cats to perceive various sounds inaudible to us like high-pitched squeaks from rodents and low rumbles from larger animals.

There are some differences in hearing ranges between cat breeds as well. For example, Siamese and Burmese cats have been found to have a slightly lower hearing range compared to other breeds, especially at higher frequencies. However, all cats significantly surpass the human hearing range. Their evolved sensitivity allows cats to effectively hunt prey and be alert to dangers in their environment through sounds.

Evidence of cat whistles existing

a cat with perked up ears

There is clear evidence that cat whistles do in fact exist as commercial products sold specifically for cat training and interaction. Popular online retailers like Amazon, Walmart, and Etsy all offer a variety of cat whistles for sale:

Examples of commercial cat whistles for sale:

– The Acme Silent Dog Cat Whistle is sold on Amazon and emits an ultrasonic sound to train dogs and cats (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07V2YWZZJ)

– PetSafe Ssscat Ultrasonic Cat Training Deterrent Repellent is a cat whistle used to deter cats from unwanted areas (https://www.walmart.com/ip/PetSafe-SSSCAT-Cat-Spray-Control-System/16598699)

– Many handmade metal cat whistles are sold on Etsy from independent sellers (https://www.etsy.com/market/cat_whistle)

In terms of patents and documentation, there are records of cat whistles being patented and conceptualized specifically to interact with cats:

– US Patent 5542464 filed in 1994 for an “Apparatus for communicating with a pet” that describes an ultrasonic synthesizer to transmit signals detectable by cats (https://patents.google.com/patent/US5542464)

– US Patent 6378458 filed in 2002 for a “Device for communicating with animals” utilizing adjustable ultrasonic frequencies for cat training (https://patents.google.com/patent/US6378458B1/en)

The existence of various commercial cat whistles and patented cat whistle devices confirms that these products have been specifically developed to emit sounds detectable by and used for communicating with cats.

Do cat whistles work like dog whistles?

There are some key similarities and differences between how cat whistles and dog whistles work. According to veterinarian Dr. Olivia Graham, “The basic concept behind dog whistles and cat whistles is the same, in that they emit a high-frequency sound outside the range of human hearing but audible to the intended animal.” [1] However, cats have a wider hearing range than dogs, able to detect frequencies 1.6 octaves higher.

Anecdotal evidence from cat owners suggests that cat whistles can be effective training tools, but may not work as reliably as dog whistles. As cat owner Emma L. shared, “I tried using a cat whistle to train my cat Cleo to stop jumping on the kitchen counter. It definitely got her attention at first and made her pause, but didn’t stop the behavior entirely. She’d just wait until I wasn’t around and jump up again when the whistle wasn’t sounding.”

According to certified cat behavior consultant Marilyn Krieger, “Cats can be more aloof and not as motivated by praise as dogs, so the whistle may interrupt them but not reinforce the desired behavior.” [2] She recommends combining the whistle with positive reinforcement like treats to shape cat behavior more effectively.

Training cats with whistles

One method for training cats to come on command or perform other behaviors is by using a whistle. The technique is similar to clicker training, but instead of using a clicker device to mark desired behaviors, the trainer blows a whistle. The sharp, high-pitched noise serves as an audible marker to let the cat know they performed the right action and a treat is coming.

To train a cat with a whistle, you first need to condition them to associate the whistle sound with receiving a reward. Start by blowing the whistle and immediately giving your cat a tasty treat. Repeat this several times so they learn the whistle means a treat is coming. Once they expect a treat after hearing the whistle, you can start using it to mark desired behaviors and reward those behaviors.

For example, say your goal is to teach your cat to come when called. Get their attention, say their name and “come,” and as soon as they start approaching blow the whistle and give a treat. Use the whistle right as they initiate the desired response of coming toward you. With consistent training, the cat will learn that coming when called leads to the whistle sound and getting a treat.1

a cat staring intently at a whistle

The main advantage of whistle training over clicker training is the whistle sound carries over longer distances. This allows cat owners to practice recall and other training outdoors where clickers may not be loud enough for the cat to hear. However, clicker training can still be very effective for indoor training. Both methods take repetition and positive reinforcement to yield successful training.

Risks and precautions with cat whistles

While cat whistles may seem harmless, there are some risks and precautions to consider before using them.

One major concern is potential hearing damage. Cats have very sensitive hearing and can detect frequencies up to 64 kHz, while humans only hear up to 20 kHz 1. High-pitched whistles designed for cats may go into ranges that could irritate or harm their ears over time, especially with repeated or prolonged exposure.

Another consideration is stress or behavior issues. Some cats may find whistles annoying, frightening, or confusing. The noise could cause anxiety, fear, or other negative reactions. Using whistles too aggressively could also undermine trust between an owner and cat.

To reduce risks, cat owners should closely monitor their pet’s reaction to whistles. Start with short, limited sessions to gauge the cat’s tolerance. Watch for signs of agitation like flattened ears, hiding, or aggression. Stop immediately if the cat seems distressed. It’s also best to limit whistle use overall and rely on other training methods as much as possible.

While cat whistles can be an option for some owners, they should be approached with care. Considering a cat’s sensitive hearing and temperament helps minimize any potential harm.

Alternatives to Cat Whistles

If you’re looking for ways to train your cat without using a whistle, two popular alternatives are clicker training and bells.

Clicker training is a reward-based system often used for dogs but suitable for cats as well. It involves using a handheld device that makes a distinct clicking sound to mark and reward desired behaviors (source). The clicker acts as a bridge to let the cat know it did something right in that exact moment. It is paired with giving a treat so the cat learns to associate the click with receiving a reward.

a cat wearing headphones

With persistent training, the clicker can be used to reinforce commands like coming when called. The key is timing – clicking immediately when the cat performs the wanted behavior. Clicker training takes patience but can be effective for teaching cats without using whistles.

Bells are another option. Attach a small bell to your cat’s collar so you can hear when it moves around. Ring the bell before feedings so the cat learns to associate the bell with meals. Eventually the cat may come running when it hears the bell ring (source). Though not as precise as clickers, bells provide auditory signaling to summon cats.

While whistles can work, consider clicker training or bells as alternative ways to train cats using sound cues.

Case studies of cat whistles

Many owners report success using cat whistles for behavior training. Susan N., an experienced pet owner, described her experience whistle training her cats to come when called. She used a silent whistle paired with a food reward, and over time her cats reliably responded to the whistle for recall. Other pet owners on forums like Reddit discuss using whistles to train their indoor cats to come back inside or transition between activities.

Professional cat trainers also leverage whistles in their training programs. According to cat behavior consultant Marilyn Krieger, whistles can be quite effective for recall training, but notes the technique requires time and patience just like other training methods. The whistle sound must be introduced properly and paired consistently with rewards to get the desired behavior. With persistence, Krieger states that most cats can learn to respond to whistle cues for actions like coming when called or jumping up on furniture.

Expert perspectives on cat whistles

There are mixed opinions among veterinarians and professional cat trainers on the safety and effectiveness of cat whistles.

Some veterinarians caution against using ultrasonic whistles as they can potentially cause hearing damage in cats if misused. As cats have very sensitive hearing, loud high-frequency sounds from a cat whistle used at close range or for prolonged periods can be harmful. Veterinarian Dr. Jeff Werber recommends not using whistles and relying on other training methods instead (Amazon).

However, other vets believe whistles can be an effective training tool if used appropriately. Veterinarian Dr. Gary Richter notes that whistles should be used sparingly, at a distance, and never directed right into a cat’s ear. With those precautions, whistles may help reinforce training such as discouraging scratching furniture or getting off counters (Whistle).

Professional cat trainers also have varying opinions. Famous cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy warns against using whistles due to cats’ sensitive hearing and the difficulty predicting their reactions. Alternatively, trainer Mikkel Becker says whistles can work for some cats as part of a training plan using positive reinforcement (Whistle).

Overall, experts agree cat whistles should be approached cautiously and only utilized by experienced cat owners as part of a careful training regimen. Their potential risks mean whistles are controversial and opinions remain divided on their appropriateness for cats.

The bottom line on cat whistles

a cat and dog looking at each other

In summary, the evidence shows that cats can hear high-frequency sounds like those made by dog whistles. Their hearing range extends into the ultrasound frequencies above 20 kHz, allowing them to detect sounds inaudible to humans. However, cats’ hearing is less sensitive at the highest frequencies compared to dogs.

While specialty cat whistles do exist, they may not be quite as effective for training cats as dog whistles are for dogs. The very high pitch of traditional dog whistles is less noticeable to cats. Lower frequency whistles around 10-20 kHz are more likely to get a cat’s attention. However, cats cannot be trained as reliably through whistle commands like dogs.

Using whistles does come with risks like startling the cat or potential hearing damage from loud or prolonged exposure. Reward-based training and alternatives like clickers are typically recommended over whistles for cats. But whistles can be used sparingly and safely on some cats that are not easily startled. Overall, the evidence shows cat whistles can work like dog whistles to get a cat’s attention, but may require different frequencies and work less consistently for training cats.

Sources:

https://www.quora.com/Can-cats-hear-dog-whistles-1

https://alt.cats.narkive.com/1nU5nCgN/is-there-such-a-thing-as-cat-whistle

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