Of course the easiest explanation would be that cats hate water and think you are in danger, but the truth may be a little more complicated than that.
The short truth is that nobody really knows why cats meow at you while you shower, but there are some probable reasons put forth by both professional and amateur researchers.
Cats Are Afraid Of Water
Some people have theorized that cats meow at you when you shower because they think you are in some sort of danger. However, if this is true, it may not be due to the water involved because if they aren’t seeing the water (such as when you have closed the bathroom door), then how would they know about it?
If the meowing is indeed a meow of caution or concern, then it could have nothing to do with water at all and more to do with their general behavior in regards to you, their owner.
Cats and Closed Doors
A concerned meow is usually due to what cats tend to perceive as danger, but after ruling water out, what are we left with? A number of other factors come to mind, especially their notorious separation anxiety. Many cats will follow you around the house, and if yours is one of them then think about the sudden shock of closing a door between you and them.
Cats tend to meow on one side of a door because they hate to be trapped. Think of putting a cat in a bedroom, basement, bathroom, closet, etc, and remember the sound of their cries. Sounds a lot like the same type of meow you hear when you take a shower, doesn’t it?
Showers Make High Pitched Sounds
Cats can hear very high pitched sounds. That’s why they created cat whistles, to get a cat’s attention. So one theory that makes sense is that a shower tends to cause the pipes to make fairly high pitched noises consistently throughout the shower. If you heard an annoying high pitched sound for a long period of time, that might make you go crazy as well!
A number of fake news websites dedicated to spiritual topics, holistic health and conspiracy theories push a fake but somewhat convincing narrative that cats and dogs can see spirits because they can see ultraviolet light
However, there is no data that suggests any animal can see beings made of light, and there’s a really easy way to prove it — with ultraviolet goggles.
The narrative of cats seeing spirits started after popular science sites like Live Science published articles discussing a research paper regarding ultraviolet light in mammals that suggest cats could see ultraviolet light. There’s just one problem: the study which Live Science mentions doesn’t say anything about proof of seeing light beings at all. That didn’t stop sites like The Mind Unleashed and Disclose TV from speculating about seeing spirits and running with it.
The study, published in 2014, concludes that some mammals can see UV light because of the way their lenses are shaped and structured.
We examined lenses of 38 mammalian species from 25 families in nine orders and observed large diversity in the degree of short-wavelength transmission. All species whose lenses removed short wavelengths had retinae specialized for high spatial resolution and relatively high cone numbers, suggesting that UV removal is primarily linked to increased acuity. Other mammals, however, such as hedgehogs, dogs, cats, ferrets and okapis had lenses transmitting significant amounts of UVA (315–400 nm), suggesting that they will be UV-sensitive even without a specific UV visual pigment.
A search through the study, however, does not suggest that it can see ghosts, or even any sort of light beings at all.
The simple truth is that if these UV light empowered mammals could see some sort of beings made of light that humans can’t, then all it would take for a human to confirm the existence of these beings would be to wear UV goggles or capture video with UV cameras. Alas, the fact that this hasn’t happened means these websites are simply pushing an exciting narrative to get you to click and make them some money.
UV Light In Mammals: The Actual Science
Just because there’s no evidence of cats seeing ghosts doesn’t mean the science isn’t still pretty cool! And it doesn’t mean cats don’t see things that we can’t. At least in terms of how much of a light range from the electromagnetic spectrum they can see versus that of humans, the research suggests that some mammals can in fact see UV light, which allows them to “see in the dark” despite having some trouble seeing in brighter daylight the way humans can.
As one paper from biologists R. H. Douglas and G. Jeffery at the Royal Society of Biological sciences says, although ultraviolet sensitivity is widespread among the animal kingdom, it is still considered very rare in mammals, being restricted to just a few species which have a visual pigment maximally sensitive below 400 nanometers. However, it also says that even animals without such a pigment will be UV-sensitive if they have ocular media that transmit these wavelengths, as all visual pigments absorb significant amounts of ultraviolet light if the energy level is sufficient enough to allow it.
The researchers also showed us that hooded seals native to the Arctic Ocean and North Atlantic have eyes that are extremely sensitive to ultraviolet light. This allows the seals to actually spot polar bears hiding in the snow as UV is reflected by snow and ice but absorbed by the bears’ white fur.
Daniel the “emotional support duck” is a pretty big deal, both in the animal and human world. His 15 minutes of fame began after he was spotted on a flight in the US – from Charlotte to Asheville, North Carolina – waddling around the plane in a nappy and some stylish red shoes.
He is said to help his 37-year-old owner, Carla Fitzgerald, battle the post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) she has had since an accident in 2013.
The use of “emotional support animals” has become big business recently – particularly in the US – and it’s not just ducks like Daniel that humans have claimed make a helpful addition to their day-to-day lives.
There have also been reports of emotional support pigs, cats, turkeys, chickens and even miniature horses. It seems that all types of animals are increasingly being used to assist patients – in the belief they can help people with autism, PTSD and other conditions function in their everyday lives.
But of course, despite this new wave of popularity, interacting with animals has long been considered to be good for people. There has also been issues raised with the number of animals used in this way – with some animal researchers raising animal welfare concerns. Therapists have also expressed their concern at the rise of “emotional support animals” – with many in the profession feeling not all of the animals used are legitimate “support animals”.
“Emotional support animal” or “pet” aside, it is maybe obvious that one of the main benefits that comes from a friendship with animals is that they are a source of “non-verbal” and “non-judgmental” companionship for both adults and children. These are friends who will be there for us day in day out. Friends who will always be up for a walk or a chin rub, or a game of fetch.
Many pet owners also describe the “social lubricant” effect of their pet – reporting lower incidences of loneliness and depression.
Contact with animals is also widely regarded as an essential and natural part of childhood. I still remember my very first pet rabbit with deep affection. That rabbit “Fiver” – yes, I was a Watership Down fan – represented my first real responsibility for another living being. She was also a great friend and confidant.
And it is this realisation, that animals can be good for children’s development that explains why so many recent studies have focused on animal and children interactions.
But while dogs and horses are the most commonly used species for therapeutic and educational interactions, a range of other animals – ducks and miniature horses aside – have also been used successfully.
A recent study, for example, examined how interactions with classroom guinea pigs impacted on children with autism. And it was shown that for these children, spending time with the guinea pigs resulted in significantly improved social skills and motivation for learning.
There are also other identified developmental benefits for children interacting with animals. Evidence suggests that children exposed to animals may have improved immune systems and a reduced incidence of allergies.
But of course, despite the benefits to both children and adults, the welfare of animals used in therapeutic, educational or other interactions, is also important.
Swimming with dolphins and direct encounters with other exotic species has previously attracted attention for therapeutic value – especially for children with physical and intellectual disabilities – though recent gudielines now strongly advise against the use of such species. This is both due to animal welfare concerns and concerns for human participants.
This is why any animal involved in such interactions needs positive and ethical training, along with high health and welfare standards. All of which will help to make sure that the animals people are engaging with in these environments are happy animals – which can then in turn help to create happy humans.
Over the past few years, cats have increasingly attracted media attention due to a number of scientific studies reporting that a Toxoplasma Gondii (T. Gondii) infection is linked with mental health issues, including schizophrenia, suicide and intermittent rage disorder. Since domestic cats are the primary hosts of T. Gondii – that is, they provide an environment within which this parasite can reproduce – it is often speculated that cat ownership may put people at increased risk of mental illness, by exposing them to it.
However, only a handful of small studies have found evidence to support a link between owning a cat and psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia. And most of these investigations have serious limitations. For instance, they relied on small samples, did not specify how participants were selected, and did not appropriately account for the presence of missing data and alternative explanations. This can often lead to results that are born out of chance or are biased.
To tackle these limitations, we conducted a study using data from approximately 5,000 children who took part in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children between 1991 and 1992. Since then, these children and their families have been followed up to gather information on their health, as well as on their demographic, social and economic circumstances.
So, unlike previous studies, we were able to follow people over time, from birth to late adolescence, and address a number of the limitations of previous research, including controlling for alternative explanations (such as income, occupation, ethnicity, other pet ownership and over-crowding) and taking into account missing data.
We studied whether mothers who owned a cat while pregnant; when the child was four years old; and 10 years old, were more likely to have children who reported psychotic symptoms, such as paranoia or hallucinations, at age 13 and 18 years of age. Although most people who experience psychotic symptoms in adolescence will not develop psychotic disorders later in life, these symptoms often indicate an increased risk for such disorders and other mental illnesses, including depression.
So are cats bad for your mental health? Probably, not.
We found that children who were born and raised in households that included cats at any time period – that is, pregnancy, early and late childhood – were not at a higher risk of having psychotic symptoms when they were 13 or 18 years old. This finding in a large, representative sample did not change when we used statistical techniques to account for missing data and alternative explanations. This means that it is unlikely that our results are explained by chance or are biased.
While this finding is reassuring, there is evidence linking exposure to T. Gondii in pregnancy to a risk of miscarriage and stillbirth, or health problems in the baby. In our study, we could not directly measure exposure to T. Gondii, so we recommend that pregnant women should continue to avoid handling soiled cat litter and other sources of T. Gondii infection, such as raw or undercooked meats, or unwashed fruit and vegetables. That said, data from our study suggests that owning a cat during pregnancy or in early childhood does not pose a direct risk for offspring having psychotic symptoms later in life.
Imagine you’re a cat, and, every time you meowed, the loud voice of a snooty-sounding British gentleman kindly informed your human guardian of your every thought and feeling (well, the thoughts and feelings you had before you were terrified by the sound of the voice).
A new product called the Catterbox – the world’s first talking cat collar – purports to do just that, using Bluetooth technology, a microphone and a speaker to capture a cat’s meow and translate it into an English-speaking human voice.
It’s not a joke; nor is it the first time a company has tried to use technology to translate cat meows for humans. A few years ago, the Meowlingual promised to interpret feline vocalization and expressions, but it didn’t exactly fly off the shelves or revolutionize our relationships with cats.
Still, the fact that these devices exist speak to the obsession humans seem to have with figuring out what their cats are thinking and feeling. Cats have a reputation for being hard to read – their mind is a “black box” – and some animal scientists have suggested that cats are just too challenging to even study.
But while a talking cat collar isn’t likely to solve the mystery of the meow, scientists have already discovered a few helpful things about human-cat communication and cats’ environmental needs.
A 20,000-year head start
Domestication of both dogs and cats has likely had a huge influence on their behavior, especially the way they interact with humans.
Because cats have had a much shorter period of coevolution with humans than dogs, they’ve been subject to less selection for facial expressions that we translate in dogs as “easy to read” and “human-like.” For example, we see something as simple as “eyebrow raising” in dogs as a sign of sadness and vulnerability.
For this reason, many will either dismiss cats as inscrutable, or use venues such as LOLCats to imagine what cats’ thoughts might be (mostly disparaging toward humans, it appears).
Our pet cats have meows that are shorter and of a higher pitch than their wild cousins. Humans tended to rate domestic cat cries as more pleasant and less urgent, showing that humans can identify which meows are from domestic cats and which are from a closely related wild cat. Meanwhile, a 2009 study demonstrated that humans could discriminate an “urgent” purr (one made by a cat while soliciting food from its owner) from a nonurgent one.
Many cat owners already assign meaning to meows, depending on their context. When your cat woefully cries at 5 a.m., you might be certain he wants food. But what if it’s just petting? Or wants to go outside?
This is where the cat-human communication seems to break down. People know their cat wants something. But they don’t seem to know just what.
Nicastro did another study that found people were just so-so at being able to assign meaning to a meow. Experimenters recorded cats when hungry (owner preparing food), in distress (in a car), irritated (being overhandled), affiliative (when the cat wanted attention) or when facing an obstacle (a closed door). Participants could classify the meows at a rate greater than chance, but their performance wasn’t great (just 34 percent correct).
A similar study in 2015 by Dr. Sarah Ellis showed that even when the cat belonged to the participant, only four out of 10 humans could correctly identify the context of the different meows. And no one performed better than random chance when classifying meows of unfamiliar cats.
This suggests a few possibilities: meows might all sound the same to humans; perhaps some sort of learning occurs when we live with a cat that allows us to be slightly better at recognizing their meows over those of unfamiliar cats; or we might rely very heavily on context – not just the meow – to tell us what our cat might be thinking.
I have to admit, I’m not one of those people who finds cats difficult to understand. I accept that all cats have different needs than I do – and those needs include mental and physical stimulation (such as vertical space and play with interactive toys), appropriate outlets for normal feline behaviors (such as multiple litter boxes and scratching posts) and positive interactions with people (but as research has shown, in order to be positive, the interaction almost always needs to happen on the cat’s terms).
My bet? Those “urgent” 5 a.m. meows most often come from cats who either have learned that meowing is the only way to get attention or are not having their environmental and social needs met. But providing for those needs is going to be a lot more effective than trying to get your cat to talk to you through a novelty collar.
In its press release for the Catterbox, Temptation Labs claimed the device will “inject more fun” into a cat’s and human’s relationship. I can’t imagine it will be much fun for cats (who have much more sensitive hearing than humans do) to be subjected to a loud sound near their ears every time they meow.
At best, the Catterbox is a sorry attempt at a humorous ad campaign to sell cat treats. At worst, we have a product that does nothing to help us actually understand cats.
Instead we have a cat collar that promotes anthropomorphism and will probably simultaneously terrify the cats that are wearing it.