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Ask A Vet: Why Does My Cat Chatter At Birds?

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Have you ever noticed your cat hanging out in the window, watching birds and chattering with his mouth? Did you ever wonder why he does this?

The answer may lie in feline anatomy. Your cat has modified scent glands on the roof of his mouth just behind his nose. These are called Vomeronasal organs (VMO for short). When he chatters or chirps he could be moving air across these glands to better get an idea of his prey. He may be  saying “I see you, but I cannot smell you”. The way birds move and flit about certainly triggers his predator instinct. He is surely interested and would like to know more about the birds. Other times when we think that cats are especially utilizing their VMOs are those times when your cat pauses with his mouth agape and seems to be reflecting on what he smells. This response is called Flehman response and many animals do it. Some species roll their lips back to better expose their VMOs.

Other people have guessed that chattering is a sign of frustration at your cat’s inability to truly capture the birds. No one can say for sure, but it is an interesting behavior. Either way, your cat cannot truly catch the birds through the window, so it might be best for you to distract his attention from them onto a toy when he chatters, so he can have the opportunity to actually chase down and catch something, just in case. Plus, playing with cats is fun!

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Written by Dr. Kathryn Primm
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