When you hear a cat going silent, you can count on the cat to come up and whistle at you, too.
That’s the sound a cat makes when it is quiet, says Jennifer Jones, a clinical psychologist in the psychiatry department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
It’s a sound that a cat would be happy to play with.
“If you’re in a dark room and you’re close to your neighbor’s cat and you have a cat in the house and you hear them whistling, that’s going to be the sound they’re going to make.
If you’re sitting in a different room and they’re whistling in the hallway, that means they’re not in the dark and are just listening to the sounds in the hall,” Jones said.
That is a very important difference between humans and animals.
It is different from a sound of an animal, where the cat is going to do its own thing, Jones said, but cats are social animals.
“That is something that the animal is going on about, and the cat thinks is important to the person.”
The sound of the cat’s whistle is different, too, but that’s what you hear.
Jones said she would be amazed if a cat were able to hear sounds as well as humans.
“What we have with cats is an extraordinary ability to detect and understand the human voice,” she said.
The cat’s whistling can help the cat keep track of time.
“I think a cat’s going into hibernation and the only way that it can communicate is by whistling,” Jones explained.
“But if it has a human voice, they can hear that.”
Jones said that if a person whistles at a cat, it means the cat will do the same, or maybe even a little bit more.
Jones said she had a cat that was a great whistler.
She said her cat would get up, put her ear to the wall, and then go silent.
When it stopped whistling she was surprised by what she saw.
“It is a beautiful, almost angelic, whistle,” she remembered.
“It’s like you can see her face, but you can’t see her eyes.”
Jones said that cat owners are very lucky to have cats that are very vocal.
They do not want to get bitten, she said, because if you bite a cat you may scratch its face or scratch its paws.
“I think the reason why cats are so vocal is because they’re in harmony with their environment,” she explained.
“That’s really what it is about.”
Jones told ABC News affiliate WLOS that her cat, Bumblebee, would also start whistling if she heard the sounds of her neighbors barking.
“She would start whistles and go quiet, but if we were at the door, she would start to wail,” Jones recalled.
“So it’s really about that sense of communication, and she’s really just doing her job.
She does not think about anything else other than the sound.”
Jones noted that cats are able to tell if you are close to them, and even tell when you are outside.
“The only way a cat knows when you’re outside is if you’re nearby,” she stated.
Jones suggested that a person can help a cat hear the noise of the outside world by not letting it whistle.
“People should try to avoid making noises, or you’re going be creating noise,” Jones advised.
Jones also recommended a cat keep their eyes open and not look away.
“There’s no reason to do that,” Jones stated.
“You need to be aware of where your cat is and if they are going to come back and bark or how they’re looking at you.”
Jones explained that when a cat whistles, it may be a cue that something is happening in the room, but not what is happening.
“If you are walking through the house, you might hear a barking dog, or a cat or a human being,” Jones stressed.
“And the cat knows it’s coming and they are just looking for something.
So you should just stay focused on the noise.”
Jones also encouraged cats to be gentle with their human family.
“A cat that is quiet is very easy to pick up on, so the cat should not be loud or be overly friendly,” she advised.
“They are more than a cat.”
Jones and Jones have been teaching cat owners how to treat their cats, and their work has helped save lives in the animal shelter system.
They hope their teaching techniques can also be used to help people who want to treat pets for behavioral issues, and they plan to teach cats in other shelters.