When you sneeze you’d expect a cat to be startled, but to see them meow? What’s up with that!
Most people view the cat’s meow as a sign that a cat wants something from you or is showing affection, but that doesn’t really make sense in the context of a sneeze. Every cat will react differently to these sorts of situations.
Your cat may stare at you, wide-eyed and not breaking eye contact until you move to comfort it. Your cat may make a series of meows at you after you sneeze. Your cat may even bolt if you sneeze suddenly enough.
With this being said, one may think that sneezing is not something that should disturb a cat this much. After all, cats sneeze too, so it’s not an unfamiliar concept, right?
Cats can have an interesting range of reactions to sneezes, and it all depends on your cat’s own personality and even what it was doing at the time that you sneezed.
Before you can look at why your cat reacts the way it does to you sneezing, you also need to understand how your cat communicates with you.
How Cats Communicate With Others
One thing you may notice if you have more than one cat is that cats typically don’t meow to other cats. This is because it is not in a cat’s nature to meow as a first form of communication.
Cats communicate primarily through nonverbal signals including tail twitches, ear and whisker positioning, and widening eyes.
Another thing to keep in mind is that cats do not seem to distinguish that humans are a completely different species from them. Studies have shown that cats will perceive their human companions as being kitten-like creatures or the adult cat of the group.
What this means is that cats will often start out “communicating” with you through these nonverbal signals as they would with any other cat because that’s what you are to them: a large, bald cat. Depending on how smart your cat is, it will pick up on the fact that you do not recognize these signals, so it will turn to meowing as a form of communication.
In the cat world, meowing is reserved for kittens and mother cats. Kittens meow to call for their mother’s attention and likewise, mothers meow to guide their kittens who have not learned the ways of nonverbal signals.
When your cat meows at you, it is the cat communication equivalent of yelling at the top of its lungs to get your attention, treating you like either the kitten or mother cat that it sees you as.
With this in mind, it may become a little bit clearer as to why cats react the way they do when they hear you sneeze.
The Immediate, Bewildered Reaction to a Sneeze
It goes without saying that a cat’s hearing is far better than a person’s hearing is. Sounds that may not be loud or disruptive to you may be considerably loud and unpleasant to the cat. Sneezes are already fairly loud by human standards and they are a sudden noise that sounds a lot different than the occasional cat sneeze.
When a cat hears you sneeze, chances are that its first reaction is to be startled as to what the noise was. When they register that it was from you, they may be confused or concerned.
Your cat may meow as a way of saying “Yes, I hear you,” as if you were meowing to the cat. Your cat could be meowing as a way of saying “Don’t do that again,” especially if the sneeze was startling to the cat.
Just think about the times your cat makes a strange noise and you talk to the cat. This is your cat’s way of reacting to the strange and sudden noise of a sneeze.
The Types of Meows
Depending on your cat’s personality and what it was doing when you sneezed, you might get different kinds of meows.
Some meows may sound more like chirping, while other meows may sound almost as if your cat is laughing. Some cats may even hiss at you as a response to your sneeze. All of these meows are forms of communication that your cat is trying to convey.
1. The Chirping Meow
Meows that sound similar to chirps are commonly seen when cats are hunting prey but cannot reach the prey, such as watching birds through the window. This means that if your cat is the type to pine after the prey it can’t reach outside and it hears you sneeze, it may think that the noise of the sneeze was the call of a bird and the cat is now trying to find that bird.
2. The Laughing Meow
Some cats may make a strange, cackling sound after hearing you sneeze. This is somewhat less common and may be worrisome if you have never heard your cat make a sound such as this before.
This reaction isn’t fully understood yet since cats cannot directly verbalize why they make the noises that they do. One of the leading theories as to why cats will “cackle” after hearing you sneeze is that your cat is trying to mimic the sound you just made.
3. The Hissing Meow
Other cats, especially ones that are more skittish and defensive, may turn around and hiss at you after you have sneezed. Most cat owners know that hissing is an aggressive sound that cats make to warn others that they are close to attacking.
You may be saddened to hear your cat hiss at you when you have done nothing to the cat, but keep in mind how startling a sneeze is to the ears of a cat. Cats do not understand why people sneeze, so cats that are more defensive may think that the noise you made is threatening.
If your cat does hiss at you after you sneeze, you may want to give the cat a bit of space so that it can realize that you mean the cat no harm.
Other Ways Cats React to Sneezing
Cats communicate in nonverbal ways most of the time, so they may have other reactions to your sneezing besides meowing. More often than not, immediately after the sneeze, your cat will either bolt away or run toward you. The action your cat chooses depends heavily on your cat’s own personality.
As you might be able to imagine, your cat will choose to run away if it is more prone to being startled. It will likely run away for similar reasons as to why a cat would turn around and hiss at you. Sneezing is a sudden and loud noise.
If your cat is sitting on you, then there’s also the movement associated with the sneeze that can scare the cat away. Most cats will run away if they have a more flighty, skittish personality.
On the contrary, cats may choose to run toward you if you sneeze. This is often seen in cats that are more caring and affectionate toward the person who sneezed. This is often because of how startling of a noise sneezing is combined with the fact that cats do not understand why sneezing happens.
From your cat’s perspective, you could be injured or hurt. This may be a noise you make when you are in danger. As such, your cat will be running toward you to make sure that you are okay.