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Want to Speak Your Cat’s Language? Here’s How

Brown Oriental shorthair cat lies and yawns

As an attuned cat parent, you might insist that you and your cat speak a secret language. A shared alphabet that you swear is mutually understood. Believe it or not, this concept is more scientifically supported than not. Your cat likely does try to communicate with you – but what do those meows mean? Turns out, your little chatterboxes might be more eloquent than you think. Let’s set our Google Translate to ‘cat’ and get fluent in feline.

Tale As Old as Time

Long before the dawn of viral videos, cats and humans struck an alliance when farmers realized the need to protect their harvest. The story dates back around 10,000 years ago, when our ancestors’ granaries became all-you-can-eat buffets for rodents. Cats, the savvy hunters they are, took this as an open invitation to harvest their mouse-filled meals.

Research explains how DNA evidence indicates that the domestication of cats was a gradual process that aligned with the advent of agriculture. This relationship was mutually beneficial: humans got top-notch pest control, and cats got a steady food supply and warm places to nap.

Today, this partnership has moved from the barns to our living rooms. But despite cats’ domesticated status, they still speak in the tongues of their ancestors. Those meows that seem tailor-made for our ears? They’re an evolution of the ancient feline vocabulary, adapted for the human world.

So, What’s the Meow All About?

Cut to modern day, science has delved into the nuances of the cat’s meow. It’s not just a simple cry for food or attention—there’s a whole feline glossary if you listen closely.

Professor Bjarne Braastad from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences unpacks this further, noting that cats refine their meow into a sophisticated tool to communicate with their human ‘parents.’

For example, a low-pitched meow might mean your cat is complaining or unhappy, while a high-pitched meow could be a friendly greeting or a request for something pleasurable, like treats or petting. His cheat sheet also includes other cat sounds:

  • When the throaty “mrr” at the beginning of a meow is emphasized, it could be a sign of affection – cat speak for “Hey, you’re my person, and I dig you.”
  • If the “ee” sound is stressed in a meow, it could indicate stress or discomfort. You might want to double-check that your cat isn’t too hot, cold, or hungry.
  • A drawn-out “aah” proceeding the “ow” might be code for a demanding cat. Something like, “Hey – my bowl’s empty” or “I’m bored!”

In general, the longer the vocalization, the more imminent the request.

The Rhythm of Cat Chat

There’s a certain music to the way cats communicate, a rhythm in their meows that’s as unique as a fingerprint. As you likely know by now, they’re just random noises but a look into their desires, emotions, and commentary on their well-being.

Paying attention to not just vowels but vocal rhythms can give us a sneak peek into our cat’s mind.

  • Short and choppy? They may be mildly annoyed or just giving you a quick greeting.
  • Long, with a melodious rise and fall? That could be a serenade for some attention or a meal.

Recognizing these patterns helps us tune in to their needs, creating harmony in the human-cat household.

Surprisingly, research reveals that regardless of gender or how seasoned we are with cats, many of us are still scratching our heads when speaking ‘cat.’ And while dogs have had their day with plenty of studies, our feline friends haven’t had the same spotlight in the research world.

What’s the takeaway? The more we attune to our cat’s verbal and non-verbal signals, the better we can learn to understand their needs – even if it takes a bit of time and effort.

Got It From my Mama

In the cozy nest of newborn kittens, each meow is like a tiny bid for connection, meant just for mama cat’s ears. According to animal behaviorist Dr. Nicholas Dodman, kittens vocalize from birth to communicate their needs, whether they’re cold, hungry, or need some TLC. These early meows are a survival mechanism, a direct request for mom’s care.

In nature, as kittens grow into their adult forms in the wild, they typically quiet down, since silent communication is the feline gold standard for staying off predator radars. But in the comfy confines of a human home, kittens don’t need to change their tactics as they mature.

Cats, the ever-observant creatures they are, observe that their human moms and dads do respond to their vocalizations much like their feline mothers once did, so they stick to what works. Dr. John Bradshaw, in his book “Cat Sense,” explains that domestic cats remain somewhat juvenile in their behavior, partly because of the way humans interact with them.

All About the Give and Take

Imagine a tiny kitten with a mighty voice. When your little lion meows for attention and you answer with a scoop of food or gentle stroke, you’re rewarding future conversations. This is where the barter system starts to develop between pet and parent. A study by the University of Georgia revealed that cats develop a private language with their owners, and meows play a big role.

When you respond to your kitten’s cries, you reinforce their use of vocals to communicate. Animal behaviorist Dr. Myrna Milani suggests that by responding to our cats’ vocal cues, we’re acknowledging their needs and reinforcing the behavior. This transaction forms the foundation of our long-term communication.

Each meow, purr, and hiss is part of a complex feline dialogue that’s been perfected over time. And fun fact: Cats learn to vocalize more with humans who talk back to them! If you’re a fan of sharing frequent conversations with your feline, the more reciprocal chatter, the better.

Cat Language FAQs Answered

Still scratching your head at your kitty’s calls? Let’s address some common cat vocalization questions that might help clear things up:

How can I tell if my cat is happy?

A happy cat often has a softer, more rhythmic purr and will exhibit relaxed body language. Look for slow blinks, a raised tail, and a penchant for belly rubs—they’re signs you’re doing something right!

Are certain meows related to specific illnesses or issues?

Sharp, persistent meows could signal discomfort. If these cries are out of the ordinary, it might be time for a vet visit. Cats are masters of disguise, especially when ill, so keep an ear out for unusual vocal cues.

Can I train my cat to vocalize more or less?

Training your cat to adjust their vocal habits can be tricky but not impossible. Positive reinforcement for quiet behavior and consistent responses to necessary meows—like mealtime calls—can encourage a more agreeable level of chatter.

Are some cat breeds more vocal than others?

Indeed, some breeds are chattier than others. Siamese cats, for example, are known for their vocal prowess, while Persians are more soft-spoken. It’s part genetics, part personality!

Can cats develop new meows or sounds over time?

As cats get older, their meows might change. They can become more vocal due to sensory losses or less so if they mellow with age. A sudden change, however, warrants a health check.

Why does my cat meow at night?

A nocturnal meow-fest is often a cat’s way of saying they’re bored or looking for attention. Encourage a good night’s sleep for both of you by tiring them out with evening play sessions.

Can understanding my cat’s meows help me introduce new pets into the home more effectively?

Each cat has a unique way of expressing itself. In a multi-cat home, balancing attention and respecting each cat’s communication style can promote peace.

Could my cat be mimicking sounds or trying to communicate in a more human-like way?

Cats are observant and can mimic sounds they frequently hear. Some may develop a meow that sounds suspiciously like a baby crying or even mimic human intonations.

Remember, not all meows are your cat communicating something pressing. They may just feel like throwing some banter your way. But picking up on patterns and keeping your ears perked can be the secret to becoming even more fluent in your feline’s language.

In Tune with Your Cat

Translating your cat’s meows goes beyond just novelty—it’s about providing the best care for your curious confidante. By tuning in when your cat talks and understanding what they’re trying to say, you can better serve their wants and needs.

With a little patience, you can ensure your cat is heard and understood. Embrace the challenge and let the language of meows open a whole new world in your shared lives. It’s not just about talking cat—it’s about understanding the nuances of cat meow meaning, and truly learning how to speak cat.

Edited by: Lizz Caputo, 4/18/2024

Cecily Kellogg

By Cecily Kellogg

Cecily Kellogg, Felix guest blogger, spent eight years working as a veterinary technician before applying her knowledge and experience as a writer.

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