cats and can openers

I don’t eat a lot of things that come out of cans. Allegra and Ruby eat mostly raw food, and the occasional canned food they eat comes out of the little flip top cans. So why is it that when I used a can opener the other night to open a can of lentils, both of them came running, even though they had just finished their dinners?

Is it possible that responding to the sound of a can opener is hard wired into our domestic cats’ brains?

Allegra was rescued from a Maryland shelter when she was two or three weeks old and lived in a foster home until I adopted her at the age of seven months, so I suppose it’s possible that she heard the sound of a can opener during the first few months of her life and learned to associate it with food. Ruby was found in someone’s back yard when she was four months old and lived in a foster home for five more months before I adopted her. Even though she didn’t eat canned food in her foster home, the two resident cats may have been eating it.

I suppose it’s possible that both girls did learn to associate the sound of a can opener with food at such an early age that it stuck with them. But, even if that was the case, it still surprised me that, after having lived with me for one and a half and two and a half years, respectively, and never once having been served a meal out of a can that needed to be opened with a can opener, they would still come running at the sound of one.

Do your cats respond to the sound of the can opener?

Photo: istockphoto

48 Comments on Cats and can openers

  1. Definitely the can opener! They also come running when I cut open the individually packaged (raw) chicken breasts that come from Costco. I always cut the tips off the breasts & give them to our kitties, raw. They don’t run when I open other packages, but seem to know the sound of the plastic covering the chicken!

  2. Yes! It happens everytime! I never feed canned food! It is crazy, and my Allie is very persistent! 🙂

  3. Mine also respond to the can opener but I think it is because they are hoping it is tuna. Even though we rarely eat it, I think they make that association, not to mention they all come running to the kitchen within the first 20 seconds because of the smell.

  4. My cats react to any noise I make in the kitchen. I think they have a “you never know” policy. They find cans fascinating though and make a right mess if I leave co empty one on the counter.
    The other day I found prune juice all over the kitchen floor. I mean, prune juice ?!? That’s about as far removed from cat food as you can get.

    • Dos anyone now of any multi -opener that opens cans on a timer that holds 6 cans of food for while your away and is on iPhone to open

  5. I think its hardwired into their brains, I have had 2 of my cats since the day they were born and I never gave them food using a can opener but the first time they heard a can opener being used they ran into the kitchen and started meowing at my feet like they were expecting to get something yummy(forgot to mention it was a can of veggies being opened and not tuna or anything that would be appealing to them scent wise) this happened when they were around a year old. So I fully believe its hard wired into them from birth.

  6. My husband and I have simply coined the term “Pavlov’s Can Opener.” It’s virtually the same concept as the bell. They always came running when I’d touch plastic that has the same sound as their treat package as well. It’s all based on association. And it doesn’t take very long. For most of my Little Girl’s life, she was stuck eating the food that her companion had to eat (strict diet that didn’t come from a can) and had heard the can opener many times to not association. It was when I started giving her a different diet as a 12 year old cat and after the companion died, that she associated it. She got mostly pop tops, but I would let her drink the tuna water that came from our tuna cans. That was enough to wonder constantly what I was doing. I understand a cats constant curiosity, so I always let her sniff what I’m doing when she starts ‘asking.’ Usually then, she turns around and goes and lays down until another trigger may bring her in.

    They associate sounds with many things… even if it’s a spray bottle and the sound it makes to teach them “no.” After a little while, you don’t have to even touch them with water and they are already running from where they shouldn’t be. Cats aren’t stupid as many people make them out to be. They just enjoy their life when it’s not all about having to be constantly out and hunting for their life. So they live it… lazily. Sleep, eat, defecate, play, eat and sleep. And a lazy cat is a happy cat. Heck, we try to achieve that on a daily basis. Imagine if you didn’t have to work to make the bills….

    Cats absolutely love treats/food. They love everything to do with it so learned behavior is very fast in that area. You COULD associate another sound with food if you always did it before so that it is associated with that activity. 🙂

  7. I don’t use an electric can opener (just a manual one), and all of my cats’ food comes in pull-top cans, but anytime I open a can, of any size, I have an attentive feline audience.

  8. My cat is 11 years old, can opener means nothing to him. But if is hears the pop top, a string cheese package, or a twinkie being opened, he is right there begging. He is terrified of plastic bags, so go figure, but Scout is greatly loved.

  9. My girl responds to the sound of the flip-top lid, as well as the sound of her distinct metal food dishes, plus her big bag of dry food or (especially) the somehow louder sound of the treat bag.

  10. yes….no matter what I am opening my cats come running…I always buy the pull off tab…and they know that sound makes me laugh every time. Chloe is 7yrs old and Kirby is 17 yrs old…they are my babies…hate when I hear people say cat’s are no good…they must not have ever took the time …to get to know a cat….because my cat’s love me and they are keeping my life happy…((((hug)))) But like I said when the can opener starts…Chloe will knock you down as she comes running so fast lol

  11. I have shared my life with many cats over the years (I have 6 now), and I have to say that the cats learn to associate a sound or activity with being fed and respond to it. Years ago, when I used a can opener to open their food, it was the can opener. Now, my 6 have different cues they respond to. 3 of them respond to my commands to the dog to sit in her spot, 1 responds to the pantry door being opened, and the other 2 seem to know the time of day (they get fed at 2 pm every day). I think it’s all a classical conditioned response, but cats more than dogs seem to associate whatever they want to being fed. Makes life interesting.

  12. No, mine don’t come running to the sound of the can opener, but pop the top on a can of cat food and they are there in a second, no matter where in the house they were. All that is except my little tortie. She likes canned food and will eat it when it’s presented to her, but the thing she comes running for is……cantaloupe. Yep. Cantaloupe. As soon as I cut into a cantaloupe she’s at my feed begging for it. The other cats think she’s lost her flippin’ mind.

    • I have a cat that likes cantaloupe and watermelon, she even like watermelon flavored foods/candy(suckers, popsicles, jolly ranchers..etc)

      • My tortie likes the juice from watermelon. She won’t eat the fruit like she does with cantaloupe but will lick the juice that runs off from cutting up watermelon.

  13. Hardwired? No. I think it is a conditioned response. Growing up, we fed our cats canned cat food so those cats did respond to the sound of a can opener just as described in this article. The cats we have now have all been brought up on dry food and don’t react to the can opener but they do certainly react to the sound of certain small dishes that may get rattled in the cabinet simply because those small dishes are always used to give them some wet food treats. They also react to the noise the dry food bag makes when getting it out to fill their food bowel. My experience is that these are all conditioned responses.

  14. My kitty, Miss Murphy, comes running to the sound of the can opener also…..even when she is upstairs sleeping (which she always is) she come running down the stairs with gusto….she also was adopted from a friend of a friend at approximately 3 months old…..and she has always responded to the can opener s it is possible she was familiar with this sound at a early age…..

  15. YES! It is Classical Conditioning. It will stay even if not heard for quite some time. There are many things we have learned as very young kids that stay with us as well. It can be a good sound or a bad one, like the sound of Thunder being associated to Lightning. We could have not heard it for many years, say you move to a different climate,, and then back again or there is a rare storm and trust me you will remember.

  16. My brother’s cat looks mildly interested in the can opener ( and she does not get canned food), but she can hear a mayo jar being opened from a block away. And ONLY the mayo jar. No other jar…she will run upstairs and jump on the counter when you open the jar. Not when you take it out of the fridge, not when you get the loaf of bread…
    Also, she hates fish. I believe his cat is an alien. A cute, sweet, furry alien.

  17. My blind cat, Milton, will come running from anywhere in the house… even out of a sound sleep, if he hears the wrapper on the string cheese crinkle as it’s being taken from the refrigerator.

  18. I got my cat from a shelter when he was 12 weeks old. Prior to that he had been a feral living in a van. His canned food is Fancy Feast and comes in a pop top. For the first two years of his life I didn’t even own an electric can opener. Yet, the first time he heard one he came running with his tail up, even though he usually runs away from strange noises.

  19. My cat also responds to the microwave. We do warm up her canned food. So whenever we warm something up for ourselves she’s thinks its for her. Even if she has just eaten.

  20. We do not feed canned to any of out furry children. All are rescues except for one. I don’t know what it us but yes they come running. I use a manual can opener

    I can just get a can or pouch of tuna out and out cat DJ is on the counter trying to get to it before I have started the opening process. What’s up with that?

  21. Both mine come running when I even just pick up a can, doesn’t matter whats in the can. They see a can and think that whatever it is it’s for them. We had a cat a few years ago that learned how to open up the pop top cans. Waiting for one of the new guys to learn the same trick. But they’ll have a hard time learning since all cans are kept in pantry on high shelves

  22. My cats come running too whenever we open any can. Their canned food is in a pop top can so we don’t use the can opener for it. We do give them tuna occasionally and that comes in a can that has to be opened with a can opener. I remember reading in Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper that Homer could smell the tuna in the can even before it was opened He was perpetually looking for tuna in the cabinet. He couldn’t see so I assume he has an accentuated sense of smell. 🙂

  23. This happened at our house recently. We feed mostly raw food, but recently we added a little all-natural canned food for a special needs kitty. When I lifted the pop-top of the can, our tortie Shnoodle (not the special needs cat) came running, her eyes as round as I’ve ever seen them. She’d been in and out of foster homes before she came to live here several years ago, and I think she’ll love that pop-top sound her whole life long. 🙂

  24. No, but i observed a similar behavior with bags and wraps, and i mean all sorts that make some noise when opening, candy wraps, chips bags, even non edible stuff like toys, clothes, all sorts of things. My cat comes running and ‘demands’ inspection of whatever we are opening. I think it has to do with the sound because she doesnt eat anything that comes with noisy wraps, or my cat is just weird.

    • my 3 year old boy geordi loves bags…anytime i come back from the store, he has to poke his head into everything before i put it up. he actually gets a little peeved if i don’t give him the chance. he likes to lick the condensation off of beer cans and will mash the bag around when he’s done inspecting. no interest in canned food but he will come running when i open something.

  25. We use a manual can opener that doesn’t make much noise and none of our current cats show much interest in it although yes they will come running if a tuna can is opened. They eat primarily dry food. I have however noticed this interest in can openers from other cats, both ones I’ve had in the past and others. I agree with the previous poster who thinks it’s a learned thing and that cats are capable of learning much more than many think.

    Best regards

    Tom and the furries.

  26. We eat freeze dried and wet out of a can-and boy oh boy they know the sound of then can opener. They know where the food is kept-just opening the pantry can get a reaction from them.

  27. I think it is a learned behavior but not necessarily from the food we give them. My cats usually eat dry food. I have one cat, Meeko, that has a lot of health issues, including allergies to a lot of different foods. The only thing I have found that he can eat is fancy feast beef, no poultry or anthing. I also have to mix it with cooked brown rice. I ended up having to figure that out on my own because his vet was at a loss at what else to try that wouldn’t make him sick. Now even though he gets canned fancy feast beef to mix with the rice and dry fancy feast, the can is opened by the tab and not the can opener. However, whenever I open a can of something I have 3 little fur babies running to see if they are getting something yummy! I have one cat who will sit at the microwave when it is being used because he knows there is food in there. They are more intelligent then some people give them credit for.

  28. Lucy knows the sound of a flip top lid(don’t really have to use a can opener). It’s like “FOOD!!!” and out she comes. She even does this with the flip lid of a single serve yogurt. Lil Rikki doesn’t ever seem that interested.

  29. My guys know when it’s a tuna can because they come running from wherever they are lazing about. I opened a can of beans last week and ……nothing. But one punch into that tuna can and the bionic noses are n the way!

  30. Ingrid, the same thing happened to me years ago.
    I never use my an opener and my cats eat dry food. But one day I opened up a can of peas and Punky, Tabby and Stirfry were at my feet meowing. It must be a can opener gene that they have.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.