After the major earthquakes in California a few weeks ago, seemed fitting to cover this on the site. We also had an interesting discussion on Facebook when I mentioned that this post was happening - many folks in New Zealand weighed in.
There are many urban legends out there about how cats can predict earthquakes minutes or even hours before they actually happen. Having your very own furry earthquake detector can be extremely useful, no doubt, but just how accurate is it? Can cats actually feel a quake coming before it actually happens? Here are a few things about cats' abilities to feel earthquakes coming in:
Are Cats Living Earthquake Detectors?
According to the Seismological Society of America (SSA), not quite. While there is some evidence to suggest that cats are actually sensitive to seismic waves, it is impossible to generalize and assume that any cat is perceptive to earthquakes.
There is one theory suggesting that cats are sensitive to the static changes that occur right before an earthquake. Theoretically, so are humans, but the feeling of it can be quite easily confused for a simple headache or discomfort.
Another theory points out that cats are able to perceive the small vibrations that occur in the earth just before the quake through their paw pads, which are extremely sensitive to even the smallest movements.
How do cats react before an earthquake?
So, there is a chance that your cat will be able to predict an earthquake, but how will you know that it's doing it? How do cats react when they feel an earthquake coming?
Here are the main signs to watch out for:
- The cat becomes suddenly agitated.
- It is suddenly jumpy and runs around looking for cover.
- Its pupils are dilated and it is hyperventilating.
- It is extremely alert.
If you see your cat suddenly jumping from where it was sitting, with its tail all fluffed up, running around the room looking for a place to hide, something wicked might be coming your way. It could be an earthquake, but, maybe you should take cover for a few minutes, just in case. Here is a video of some cats reacting to an earthquake, just so you can see what to out for.
This does not mean that every evening run around the house is an earthquake alert. Your cat will be noticeably scared if an actual quake is coming, which is different from the regular running about.
Is there any scientific evidence?
The SSA mentioned a research project published in their scientific journal that has studied the accuracy of animal sensitivity to earthquakes. It seems that the vast majority of instances when cats and other animals have displayed notable reactions before an earthquake were single observations and anecdotes, which can't actually be tested properly.
They studied 729 reports of abnormal animal behavior in relation to 160 earthquakes. They aimed to determine if the link between the animal behavior and the earthquake was due to some clearly definable parameters, such as the magnitude of the earthquake or the animal's distance from the earthquake. To do this, they also had to determine if the animals were healthy at the time of the quake, if the behavior they displayed was maintained after the quake as well, and many other things.
However, it was not possible to get detailed information about the surrounding details of each case, which made it very difficult to build a steady database. “The animals may sense seismic waves—it could P, S or surface waves–generated by foreshocks,” said Heiko Woith, the leader of the study. “Another option could be secondary effects triggered by the foreshocks, like changes in groundwater or release of gases from the ground which might be sensed by the animals.”
What Happens During the Earthquake?
While your cat may or may not feel an earthquake coming miles away, it is definitely going to feel it while it is happening and it is going to have a reaction to it, and a strong one at that. Here are some things you can expect your cat to do during a quake:
- Run to find cover
- Go from one potential hiding place to another
- Meow loudly
- Stay hidden when it finds a more stable hiding place
How to Take Care of your Cat During an Earthquake
This is most difficult part of all because you have to be very alert yourself. During an earthquake, you will have very little time to think and limited options available, all depending on where you are the moment it hits.
Ideally, you should keep your cat with you during an earthquake to keep it safe, but this may not be possible. Your cat will be highly distressed and extremely agitated, which means that it might not let you hold it in your arms. It might even scratch and bite you. If you do manage to hold her, go to the steadiest places in your house and wait out the quake there.
If you can't hold the cat, you can try putting it in a carrier, if that happens to be very close. However, chances are you won't have time to get to the carrier. Use any type of clothing or cloth you can reach, such as a t-shirt, a sweater, a blanket and use it to immobilize the cat. Make sure it can still breathe and seek cover for the both of you.
If you can't hold the cat and have none of these items at your disposal at that moment, let your cat find a safe place and start looking for one for yourself. Earthquakes can have devastating effects in a matter of seconds, so you will have almost no time to deal with this.
If you are outside with your cat, then your main objective is to find an open place that is not close to buildings that might collapse or cables that might fall on you. You have to drop to the ground as soon as possible to make sure that you don't fall.
If your cat is in a carrier, leave it inside even though it will be extremely agitated. It will be much safer inside. If you are outside with your cat in the garden or the park, try holding it as we have explained above, but you are most likely not going to be able to keep it in your arms.
To sum up, if you see your cat getting agitated all of a sudden, then run over those earthquake safety rules in your head, just to be sure. There is a chance that it might be signaling something. And if it does happen, try to keep your cat close to you, but if it does not let you, then let it find its own safe spot and start looking for yours!