Why cats gag over combs

It’s one of the strangest viral videos. Cats across the world gagging when their humans run their fingernails (or coins) down a comb. So many of you have been asking, that I thought I’d do some investigation…

Somehow cats have delivered again. Despite being ‘apparently’ the most mysterious member of the furry family, they sure are magnets for intriguing internet content and viral videos. But this so-called ‘comb trick’ even has the web confused.

I should also say I don’t think you should be trying this with your cat. It’s like the cucumber trick. It makes for fascinating reactions but it’s fair to say it’s not a lot of fun for the cats involved. And no doubt, they’ll reserve an especially deep scratch of the furniture of the family member that dares to try. So don’t say you haven’t been warned…

Here’s why I think it happens. For starters, never underestimate just how good a cat’s hearing is with high frequencies. They’re razor sharp with sounds that are often even higher than we can hear because for thousands of years, their lives have depended on it. You see, their prey (like small rodents) produce these high pitched squeaks and locating them meant food. But this sensitivity to high pitched frequencies isn’t new. It’s why a cat always knows when you open a tin of food, or scrunch a packet of their favourite treats. And the fact that running a finger down a comb produces these high pitched sounds is a big factor.

And while some believe this gagging could be a very mild “Audiogenic Reflex Seizure” that can be brought on my certain high pitched sounds (like foil crinkling) I’m not so sure as these are normally more dramatic and in older cats with failing hearing; unlike the broader age group these combs seem to trigger.

So why does it happen then? Well, my feeling is that it’s a combination of two factors. Extreme sensitivity to high frequency sounds AND the fact that comb hits a very unique frequency that is actually making the larynx (your cat’s voice box) vibrate. Much like it does when cats pur. This strange sensation then causes cats to respond by gagging to the unexpected feeling…

Considering most cats love a brush, it’s safe to say the comb will remain off the Christmas card list for a while…

Something to paw over...