Male cats respond to crying kittens. But female cats out-parent them by reacting more quickly to a fluff ball in distress. Also, females’ ears are much more finely tuned, according to a new study.
Female cats in the study reacted more quickly than males. And they were much better at detecting different levels of urgency in a kitten’s call, according to the study published in the open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology. This special maternal talent was observed in all female cats, regardless of whether they were mothers. The findings were reported in Science Daily and mainstream media, including the Daily Mail and the Washington Post.
“Surprisingly, male and female cats did not differ in their overall responsiveness to low arousal calls, but female cats adjusted their responsiveness if the state of arousal changed,” said Wiebke Konerding, first author of the study, who was quoted in the Daily Mail. “Male cats did not do so.”
The study was conducted by researchers at Hannover Medical School and the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hannover, Germany. According to the Washington Post, evolutionary biologist Wiebke Konerding designed the cruelty-free study using 17 cats and 16 kittens. Konerding separated kittens from their mother and siblings for three minutes, then recorded their “low arousal” calls. Next she made things a bit more stressful by lifting them up or turning them onto their backs, and recorded the “high arousal” sounds they made.
Researchers gave the adult cats some milk and water to drink, then played the recorded kitten calls and timed the adult cats response as they turned around. “From behind we played the kitten call,” Konerding told the Washington Post. They then measured the reaction time. The male cats consistently took notice, but didn’t respond any differently or more quickly when they heard an urgent kitten call.