Noises Off: An Introduction to Cat Flatulence

Have you ever listened to the sound of a flatulent cat?

If you have not, it is probably something  – just for curiosity’s sake –  you should hear just once before you shuffle off this mortal coil. Quite extraordinary.

To fully appreciate a noisily flatulent cat it is necessary to have a rudimentary understanding of an orchestral reed instrument.

The Ancient Greeks hit upon the idea of using two pieces of reed to set up a vibrating column of air within a tube – the Aulos.. Imagine blowing across a piece of grass to get one of those ungainly squawks, and then attaching the whole business to a tube to regulate the pitch.

Pictures depict professional Aulos players exerting themselves considerably, with huge puffed cheeks. It took a mighty pair of lungs to set one reed vibrating shrilly against another.

Daniel R Raichel talks about reeds vibrating in The Science And Application Of Acoustics . You blow a nice steady column of air towards a pair of pieces of reed, which sit comfortably, slightly apart.

The column of air sets up a sort of oscillating cycle in which the reeds are forced together and then spring apart, and then back again. The reeds fluster the air. It’s all of a dither. And the sound which emerges is not like the genteel blow-across-a-hole sound of the flute or the robust lip-parping of the trumpet: no, it is this insistent, wailing whine.

Back in 1940, Curt Sachs, in his History of Musical Instruments, described the aulos as “penetrating, insisting and exciting”.

Picture,then, a bedroom on the first floor of a humble family home somewhere in England where a mother and father sleep, for it is the early hours of the morning.

And suddenly, from nowhere, the mother wakes up to the sound of an oboe on the bed.

Well, not exactly an oboe, but a high-pitched wail which must, surely, have two small reeds as its source. Some mini oboe, an oboe musette which has had a bad day and is informing us all of its excessive pub crawl.

She is puzzled in two respects: firstly, how has an oboe got onto the bed; and secondly, what in heaven’s name is an oboist doing there?

Her husband has a more incisive mind when half asleep. She fires out a bleary question: “What was that?” and he rejoins, only just troubling to rise out of his sleep cycle, “It was the cat…”

This is true. The cat, unbeknown to the pair, has crept upon the bed during the night. She has thieving tendencies, and has plundered the kitchen for something – no-one has any idea what – which has created an excess of gas in her small luxuriously furry tummy.

Remember the puffed cheeks of the Aulos players? Cat flatulence is like the perfect storm. It needs excessive gas,lots of it, and requires a cat who i) cannot regulate its intake and ii) chooses to eat highly inappropriate food.

A word about the cat sphincter. I had a feeling that someone, somewhere might have done some research: and J. Crier, T.Adams and R.A.Meyer stepped up to the podium with their seminal work: Physiological, Morphological and Histochemical Properties of The Cat External Anal Sphincter.  

When we talk about the reed effect, we need to bear in mind twitch contractions: the time it takes to get from relaxed to reed-tense. Adams, Crier and Meyer actually measured this, though God help the cat who was their subject. Those of us who know the feline world well will know that it will never, ever forgive them.

Apparently it takes just 20-29 microseconds for this unfortunate cat’s sphincter to get from relaxed to something called half-maximal twitch force. The cat’s sphincter, my friends, is a formidably fast-twitch muscle.

And so our cat, on a bed in the middle of the night somewhere in England, is experiencing a large volume of gas and is the proud possessor of a fast twitch muscle which moves lightning-fast into action and oscillates much like a double reed instrument. It flusters the surrounding air molecules and the couple are treated to an insistent, wailing solo.

As the wife lies there, still floating in the nether layers of consciousness, she hears another sound: her husband’s utterances. For the gas does not just disappear, and it is diabolically sulphurous. It drifts not in the wife’s direction, but in the husband’s, and immediately sleep is impossible.

An unforgettable moment. Ours, of course.

One which came to mind last night, about 2am, when we were sure there was a cat in the room, yet Kit Kat was safely downstairs.

Closer inspection revealed that the whining noises were  coming from the dog’s stomach.

I will not even begin to think about the physics of that one.

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30 thoughts on “Noises Off: An Introduction to Cat Flatulence

  1. This makes me feel incredibly grateful I’ve never been in the vicinity of a flatulent cat with sound effects! 🙂

    When I was young, The Puss was capable of clearing the living room with her Silent But Deadlys – delivered from her position sprawled on the rug in front of the fire. Fortunately, my two tabbies don’t inflict similar punishments!

  2. Until this post I was really missing the three cats with whom we arrived in France some 10 years ago. All have now shuffled off this mortal coil taking their REM sphincters with them. Living where we do there is enough sulphurous shit without a cat carelessly playing a sonata with its sphincter whilst lying on our bed. I’m grateful for that small mercy:)

  3. OY! things that I believe that I never wanted to cogitate upon. I think that you should consider teaching Macaulay to play the vuvuzela, then you would be able to scare the cat to the point that it would never appear.

    1. We have tried several such schemes, Lou, but the dog seems unable to develop opposable thumbs no matter how much we berate him. The vuvuzela seems an excellent choice, but the nearest we have come to success is the timpani. He made quite a racket scratching himself whilst sitting on it, but disappointed the audience by lying down and going to sleep.

      (I jest :-D)

  4. I think it’s a day of flatulence today, Kate. I’ve just read that the flatulence of the dinosaurs was probably the cause of the global warming that wiped them out all those years ago, and now it’s catulence!
    It must have been a very genial cat that allowed that research… most cats I know wouldn’t let anyone near! I still love that photo!

  5. What an hilarious post Kate. I was wondering what the after effects would be once the flatulence had subsided. How lovely for you that if it is not the cat then it is the dog! This post is not for those of a nervous disposition.

    1. No, I did think of writing a warning at the top, but concluded that the first line was quite offputting enough. It’s a good thing ratings aren’t my primary driver!

  6. Cows have four stomachs, goodness knows what their woodwind section is like. Especially at 2am on your bed. Mind you, I can think of a few other reasons why you wouldn’t want a heifer on your bed. Sweet dreams! 🙂

  7. Now really Kate! Where does your mind go? LOL! I suppose that given your very precise description, I must be in the category of one who has never experienced cat flatulence. I’m now just a wee bit curious, however. Dogs, yes! Preschoolers…yes! You’ve given me a chuckle! Debra

  8. lol, close as I am to my ctas, this is something I have yet to experience. Dog flatulence however has been experienced often enough to make me an avid avoider of these situations

  9. This was so amazingly funny that I had to read it to my wife. Of course I couldn’t read it right through because I was laughing so hard. We have a kitten, who really is now more of a cat, who we sometimes call “Ms. Farts-a-lot”. We really think she uses flatulence as a means to make you let her go when you are doing what she doesn’t want to be held. And those stealthy ones in the middle of the night… whew!! Unreal.

    1. Carnell, thank you. Someone to share my strange sense of humour. Sometimes I have to write a post even though I know it will drop ratings: this cat’s story demanded to be heard. Again.

  10. I am pleased to report (is that a good choice of word?) that Budgies seem to suffer from a lack of flatulence and are therefore denied the joys of tormenting their owners olfactory organs 🙂 As for my Good Lady… It’s amazing how women defy the laws of science by not having eruptions of a gaseuos nature… at least that’s what she likes to tell me. Must have been the house ghost then 😉

    1. It certainly must, Martin 🙂 And thanks for the budgie tip. Good thing, really: that amount of reverberation can’t be good for the little chaps’ constitutions….

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