A bizarre video posted on Youtube shows a cat perched on a windowsill, while a loud barking sound can be heard. It wasn’t the neighbor’s dog; it was actually the cat barking in a skillful impression of a dog. This isn’t the first time a cat owner has documented this strange behavior – since the original, videos have popped up all over the web. Is this a new phenomenon? Who knew that cats could bark?
For veterinary behaviorist Nicholas Dodman, it’s easily explained. In fact, cats and dogs have a similar arrangement of the trachea, larynx, and diaphragm, and all that is needed is a strong rush of air through the larynx to produce the barking sound. Of course, the cat needs a motive to make the sound in the first place. Dodman says barking cats probably learned the behavior from a dog living in the same household. But since there are many cats who live with dogs, that still doesn’t quite explain why some cats make this weird sound, while others don’t.
It may have something to do with catching prey. Another, similar cat behavior is known as chattering, or opening and closing the jaws rapidly and emitting a high-pitched yapping sound that could easily be mistaken for the bark of a chihuahua or Yorkie. Usually cats do this while watching small animals like birds and rodents. Apparently, the evolutionary explanation behind this behavior is that the open-close motion simulates the movement of a cat clamping down on the neck of its prey. So why do some cats stick to chattering while others go for the full-on bark? So far, animal behaviorists aren’t sure. In fact, there’s no concrete evidence that chattering and barking are even directly related, although they can sound similar. It’s possible that barking is an attempt to scare away other animals, while chattering is a prelude to catching another animal. Until we can read cats’ minds, we may never know the real truth behind these bizarre, sometimes funny, behaviors.