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Why do cats gag at combs? Does it hurt them?

The Internet is full of funny videos, from creative pranks to videos of animals doing incredible pirouettes. In particular, cat videos are viral because they are doing something incredibly adorable or because they make us laugh. Who hasn’t seen a video of a cat trying to jump from one place to another and falling because it didn’t measure the distance well enough? How about those films of cats jumping in fright at the sight of a cucumber or gagging at the sound of a comb? Wait. What? Why do cats gag at combs?

We tend to label as strange those feline behaviors that we don’t understand, but in reality, there is nothing weird about them. Most of them are natural reactions to stimuli that we may not be able to perceive. An example of a “nonsense” action with a super simple explanation is the case of a cat gagging when someone runs its fingers through a comb.

why do cats gag at combs - sound frequency

The answer is straightforward, but it will help us understand our cat better. You will be able to take better care of Mittens with this knowledge.

Why do cats gag at the sound of a comb?

The answer to this great mystery is explained by cats’ incredible sense of hearing, which is 3 times better than humans. Regarding high-frequency sounds, cats reach up to 77,000 Hertz, while we barely reach about 19,000 Hertz. What a big difference!

Having overdeveloped hearing gives them many advantages, especially if we consider that they are animals that, in their natural environment, have to hunt to survive, so they must have a very acute audition to detect even the slightest movement.

Their ability to detect vibrations or high-frequency sounds is the natural evolution of their species, which developed this ability to hear the ultrasonic sounds through which rodents communicate. By ultrasonic sound, we mean anything above the frequencies of audible sound (for humans), i.e., 20,000 hertz.

And if you’re wondering where I’m going with this, let me tell you that running our fingers through the bristles of a comb produces a high-frequency vibration, which, even if we don’t hear it, is a highly irritating sound for your kitten. This sound triggers the gag reflex, just as scratching a chalkboard leaves us with a very unpleasant sensation. I’m sure you didn’t expect it, did you?

Can the sound of a comb be dangerous for a cat?

Although a brush alone doesn’t harm your cat, the sound the bristles make when you run your fingers through them can be pretty harmful to your feline, especially if you have an older cat. Studies have shown that specific high-frequency vibrations can be so disturbing to a cat as to cause seizures. This form of epilepsy is known as Feline Audiogenic Reflex Seizures or FARS. It affects cats older than 14 or breeds such as Birmans, which are more susceptible to this medical condition.

why do cats gag at combs - is it dangerous

Seizures are sudden, uncontrolled bursts of electrical activity in the brain that cause changes in the animal’s behavior, movements, sensations, and levels of consciousness. These seizures can last seconds or even minutes. Because they suddenly incapacitate the animal, the cat may self-injure by falling out of a tree, hitting itself, biting its tongue, choking while having the seizure, or falling prey to another animal or car.

What other sounds can cause a cat to gag?

In addition to the sound of your fingers running through the bristles of a comb, many other sounds stress and irritate your cat due to the high-frequency vibration they emit. Many of these sounds will cause him to gag, and some can even trigger FARS.

  • Sound of plastic or paper bags
  • The crinkling of tin foil
  • The clinking of coins and keys
  • Tinkling of glass
  • Repeated human tongue clicks

To avoid stressing your cat and giving it a hard time, and even to protect it from a seizure, it is crucial that you never make these sounds for fun or to record a “hilarious” video of your poor cat in distress.

Why does a cat gag?

If your cat gags often, regardless of whether you make irritating noises, you should pay attention to its overall behavior to determine if these reactions could be a symptom of an illness.

Other situations that cause a cat to have a gag reflex include respiratory problems, hairballs, allergies, dental problems, and even feline asthma. Please pay attention to your cat and don’t hesitate to take him to the vet for proper treatment.

why do cats gag at combs - other sounds

Why do cats gag at combs? The bottom line

As you can see, the reason your cat gags when you run your fingers through the bristles of the comb makes perfect sense. Now that you know this is a highly irritating sound, we encourage you not to repeat it or encourage anyone else to do it just for fun. The good news is that you now have more information to understand and know your feline friend better.

Does your cat show signs of distress when it hears certain high-frequency noises? Have you ever taken him to the vet because his gag reflex seemed excessive or strange? We would love to hear your story and chat with other cat lovers who, like you, want to know more about their furry friends! Let us know in the comments!

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