When the phone rings, does your cat come running? At our house, we still have a land line with a long cord, in addition to our cell phones. My Karma-Kat tries to bite through the phone cord whenever I’m in a conversation. Some cat lovers report that their kitties become aggressive around the telephone.
Thankfully, most cats don’t take their phone frenzy to aggressive extremes. With the advent of cell phones, the hazard of cords has mostly been removed. Still, many cats turn into pests as soon as that ring-tone sounds.
Why do cats have a love-hate relationship with the phone? Are cats jealous of you chatting (or texting) with your BFF?
Why Cats Are Phone Pests
A cat’s acute sense of hearing allows him to hear subtle sounds, including a weird disembodied voice coming from your cell phone. While Kitty might recognize some voices, it’s not likely she’ll understand the concept of long-distance communication. It’s much more likely that your attention to the phone, and the sounds it generates, prompts curiosity. For cats who react with aggression, the sounds might cause fear or even a predatory reaction.
Other times, the cat simply associates your attention and interest with a benefit for Kitty. Cats repeat behaviors that provide a benefit to them, so ask yourself: How is my behavior rewarding my cat? Is my reaction predictable? Your cat very likely has trained you!
For instance, in the case of my land line phone, Karma knows when I answer the ring, I’m tied to that location for the duration of the call. The coiled cord bounces and stretches in a decidedly cat-tempting fashion that no self-respecting cat could resist. With cell phones, perhaps you pace as you talk, the way I do, offering moving targets for cats to chase. And when you text a lot, your cat may decide you’ve stared at the phone and ignored her long enough.
Further, when you speak on the phone the cat sees only you. Cats quickly learn that humans talk to communicate. That’s why they target us so successfully with meows. But when we talk on the phone and nobody else is there, cats may decide we’re talking to them. Therefore, when owners pick up the phone, cats respond with attention-seeking behaviors such as meows, head rubs and rolling.
When we respond to the cat’s solicitations, we reward the behavior. It doesn’t matter if our response is gentle petting, fun chasing across the room, or angry demands. Any attention can be better for Kitty-Kins than being ignored. This attention increases the likelihood that the next phone call will bring on even more meows and “pet me” demands.
Be strong. Do not give into the cat’s demands for her own cell phone. And offer an unlimited plan of petting at your own risk.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT