Whether you have an allergy or a one-off sneeze, people all let out a loud “achoo!” from time to time. What many cat owners discover is that in response to this uncontrollable expulsion of air, your cat might act a little strange. Some will run away, some will run to you, and some will start to hiss!
One of the most common responses to sneezing, especially if the cat knows and loves the people sneezing, is for them to meow. This curious behavior leaves owners pondering over what their cat is trying to communicate. Have you annoyed them? Are they making sure you’re okay?
If you’ve found yourself asking the question “Why does my cat meow when I sneeze?” then look no further – in this article I run through all the possible reasons why. Before getting into the nitty-gritty of it though, I’ll also cover why cats meow in the first place. The better we understand our cats’ curious behaviors, the better we can communicate and ensure they are living happy fulfilling lives.
Why Do Cats Meow at Humans?
Everyone is familiar with a cat’s distinctive meowing call. Kittens start to meow when they are young and do so to communicate with their mother and call for help. As cats get older, they no longer meow to each other to speak but instead communicate through scent and other vocalizations.
There is one exception though: the domestic cat. Domestic cats usually continue to meow throughout their lives as a way of communicating with humans. They retain their meowing instinct as they essentially never grow up! Their owners baby them and look after them for their entire lives, explaining why they keep this meowing vocalization.
In most cases, cats are meowing as they want something from their human. This could be that they want to be fed, want to play with their toys, or simply want a cuddle. Cats also meow to humans if they are feeling lonely, sick, or startled. Alternatively, they could be excited to see you and meow to let you know just how happy they are that you’re home.
The take-home points here are that cats only meow to other humans and always do so as a form of communication. Which leads us to the next section of this article: why do cats meow when you sneeze? As you’re about to find out, the answer is not as straightforward as it initially seems…
Why Does My Cat Meow When I Sneeze?
The answer to this question can be difficult to put your finger on. Although we can get some idea of what a cat is trying to communicate based on the situation and their body language, cats can’t tell us for sure what they are trying to say. As such, we can only speculate as to why cats meow when we sneeze.
Below I have listed some of the top theories behind this behavior. These ideas have come from me, several comprehensive online searches, and ideas from other friends of mine that have cats as pets. Chances are that multiple of the possibilities listed below are true! This all adds to the curiousness of these beautiful creatures.
Remember though, all of the reasons listed below are guesses, but it makes for a great and fun discussion nonetheless. So, let’s get started!
1. They Are Surprised and Startled
Everyones’ sneezes sound different; some are explosive and loud whereas others are more delicate and gentle. If you have a particularly loud sneeze, your cat could meow when you sneeze as it has caught them off guard and surprised them.
However, even the quietest and cutest sneezes could startle a cat thanks to their highly sensitive ears. Cats have extremely sensitive ears that can pick up the tiniest of noises. In the wild, this helps cats to stalk their prey and warns them when predators are close by. You’ll often see your cat’s ears alert and switching, trying to hear as much as possible.
As such, sudden noises that don’t sound scary to other people – such as sneezes or even coughs – can really confuse your cat! This is especially true if you have a very shy and timid cat that is known to cower from other loud noises, such as the vacuum or fireworks.
Aside from being a loud noise, a sneeze can startle a cat for several other reasons, including:
- The sound surprised them and caught them off guard
- The sneeze woke them up from a nap
- Your cat has never heard a sneeze before
- Your cat can’t work out where the sneeze came from
You can usually tell if your cat is meowing because they are startled as they will also run away from you. Having caught them by surprise, running off to a different room, or finding a quiet, sneeze-free place, will help them relax and feel safe again. They may also retreat to a dark corner, hide under the bed, or slip under the sofa. Enclosed areas like this can make a cat feel calmer and at ease.
However, this isn’t always the case! Sometimes, cats that are startled by sneezes will run towards you. As a cat owner, the one person your kitty will turn to when they are startled, surprised, and confused is you. They love and trust you and want you to know they’re feeling a little shocked because they know that you care and will be there to look after them.
Whether your cat runs towards you or decides to retreat, they will soon relax once you have stopped sneezing. Your cat isn’t scared of your sneeze exactly, but is rather slightly startled as they didn’t see the big “achoo!” coming. It won’t take them long and they’ll have recovered from the initial shock and will be back to their usual happy selves.
2. They Are Copying You or Other People
There is a possibility that your cat meows when you sneeze as they are trying to copy you. As your cat loves you, they might be trying to be just like you – sneezes and all! Their “meow” might not sound much like your “achoo” to us, but as a cat, this could be the best impression they can muster.
Additionally, cats are clever creatures. Although they cannot speak actual words, they can still pick up on human behaviors. If they frequently hear people saying “bless you” after a sneeze, there is a chance that they have learned this is the polite thing to do. Perhaps they have heard your friends and family say “bless you” and are trying to imitate this with their meow.
This might sound a little far-fetched, but several scientific studies have found cats that are constantly around humans will pick up human habits. For example, one experiment found that a cat called Ebisu copied her owner when touching her paw and/or face to a box more than 81% of the time. However, there are still discussions among scientists over whether this is truly a cat imitating behavior or not.
So, is my cat meowing when I sneeze an example of my cat imitating human behavior? There is no way for knowing for sure and more studies are needed, but the evidence so far points to it being a definite possibility!
Read more: Cat Keeps Sneezing But Seems Fine: Why & When To Worry?
3. They Mistook Your Sneeze for a Hiss
Meowing is only one of the many noises cats make. Another noise you might hear escape your kitty’s lips is a hiss, similar to the noise made by a snake. This sound is usually reserved for situations in which cats feel threatened or are upset about something.
To cats, a human’s sneeze may sound quite a lot like this hissing noise. As such, your cat may think that you are trying to communicate to them that you are upset or scared. Your cat always has your back, and so they may meow in response to try and figure out what could possibly be wrong. They are simply asking “Are you okay, human?” as they love and care for you.
In other cases, a cat that mistakes a sneeze for a hiss may hiss right back at you. If so, try not to be alarmed. As your cat may think you’re upset or scared, this can make them upset and scared in return. Or, if they think you are angry at them, they could be hissing from fear. As such, their hiss is their way of crying back.
4. They Are Annoyed or Irritated
As all cat owners know, our kitties can be undeniably sassy! And these furballs have no issues telling their owners that they’re annoyed. Perhaps you decided to stroke them the wrong way, aren’t giving them the food that they want, or they have had enough playtime.
Sneezing can also irritate these sassy little furballs. Maybe your sneeze woke them up from a peaceful slumber or rubbed them up the wrong way! If the sneeze also surprised them and they know the sound came from you, they could be annoyed with you for giving them such a scare.
Annoy your cat – be it with a sneeze or for any other reason – and you’ll likely know pretty promptly. Cats can express this annoyance in many different ways, one of which is by meowing at their owners. So, if your cat meows when you sneeze, it could be their way of showing their disapproval for your sneezing behavior.
Thankfully, a sneeze is unlikely to cause too much disruption and upset to your cat and they won’t hold a grudge. As soon as the sneezing has subsided, they’ll probably return to their happy mood and stop being irritated with you. They will continue with whatever activity they were doing before and will soon forget you’ve annoyed them.
5. They Are After Some Attention
Picture this: you’re in a room with your family and you sneeze. What happens next? Everyone looks at you, says “bless you”, offers you a tissue, and checks that you are okay. In other words, you are getting all the attention from the people in the room who are caring for you.
Therefore, your cat might also meow when you sneeze as they are an attention seeker that is after all the limelight. They don’t like the rest of your family giving you all the attention instead of them receiving it! By meowing, your cat is could be saying “I’m here too, don’t forget about me!”. This response is more common in needy cats that are used to having everyones’ full attention.
You can usually tell whether your cat is after attention when they meow by looking at their body language. If your cat throws itself on the ground, rolls around from side to side, and makes plenty of loud and repetitive meowing noises, you can be sure they’re after some lovin’.
If your cat is meowing for attention, they won’t reserve this behavior solely for post-sneezes either. Every time you cough, sniff, talk too much or seem to have forgotten about your furry friend a little longer than they’d have liked, you will be greeted with their meowing attention-grabbing display. Make them happy and give them that attention they crave.
6. They Think It’s Playtime
Meowing isn’t the only response to sneezing we may see from our cats. Another common reaction is for cats to chirp when you sneeze. You have probably heard your cat chirp before – it is similar to a meow but sounds like a short little trill that is comparable to a bird’s song.
Often, this is the noise your cat will make when they see prey. For example, they may chirp having seen a little bird outside the window or a mouse scurry past the skirting board. Real prey is not the only thing that can make your cat chirp though, as chirping and trilling are also common ahead of an exciting play session with their favorite toys.
Although we often hear cats chirping, scientists still don’t fully understand what cats are trying to communicate with this noise. However, the most widely accepted explanation is down to excitement. They are excited to have seen their toys or prey and instinctively let out a little trill to express their joy and interest.
So, why does my cat chirp when I sneeze? Is my sneeze making my cat excited and happy? Well, some people think that to a cat, your sneeze might sound like a bird chirping or a mouse squeaking. This can get them excited as their instincts tell them there’s some prey nearby that they can stalk.
Other people believe that your cat may think your sneeze is your way of communicating that you’re ready to play with them. This can be all it takes for their instincts to kick in and for them to get in the mood to pounce! If your cat is chirping after you sneeze, try getting out their toys and playing with them for a few minutes – they’ll thank you for it!
7. They Are Chattering Back to You
Just as cats can mistake a sneeze for a hiss or the sound of prey, they could also mistake it for you talking to them. After all, cats cannot speak a human language and so to them a sneeze may sound like many other words in the English language.
As already mentioned, meows are a cat’s way of communicating exclusively with people. Therefore, if your cat thinks you’re talking to it, a sociable feline may respond with meows in an attempt to chatter back. How likely this explanation depends on your cat and how chatty they are.
If you are used to your kitty meowing at you when your speak to them, interpreting the post-sneeze meow as a way of chatting makes sense. However, if you have a cat that rarely meows in reply to a human’s verbal cues, you can rule this explanation out pretty quickly. Instead, their meowing is probably down to another reason on this list.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
As you can see, there are many theories and possible explanations as to why a cat meows when you sneeze. They could be startled or scared at this sudden and unanticipated loud outburst and meow in response. Alternatively, they could be annoyed, after some attention, or simply want to play.
Your cat meowing when you sneeze could also be them trying to mimic you. They could be copying your sneeze, or trying to say “bless you” in cat language! If you’ve got a particularly chatty kitty, they could take your sneeze as you trying to strike up a conversation and are nattering back in return.
Each of the theories listed makes sense and holds some kind of truth. But unfortunately, we will never know the real reason for they meowing, chirping, and hissing after a sneeze with 100% certainty. This is just one of the curious and unique quirks that our cats keep us guessing about!