The Cat's Meow...
Learning how to speak cat
Cats constantly talk to their humans. We hear their strange chirps at birds and midnight meows, but what do all these kitty sounds mean, and how do we understand them? Felines and humans have a unique and symbiotic relationship that began thousands of years ago when humans abandoned their hunter-gatherer lifestyles and focused on farming and settling. Cats would benefit from the rodent population that the settlement of humans attracted, and people would benefit from the rodent control cats supplied. Because of this relationship, cats developed a way to communicate with people through their meows and other sounds.
There’s a bit of a learning curve when it comes to understanding cat language, but with a little time and good listening skills, you’ll soon be able to decipher just what it is your cat is trying to tell you. A cat makes over 100 vocalizations, so we’ll just cover some of the common ones here today to help you get a jump start on interpreting just what it is your cat is saying.
The 'Meow' Meows
The most common form of communication that we hear from our cats is the meow. This vocalization is almost entirely specific to human-feline interactions and is used by cats to let us, their humans, know what they need. These meows can have a variety of meanings depending on the tone, length of the meow, and context, so it's important to pay attention in order to discover what your kitty wants and/or needs! Some sounds might be a greeting, whereas others may be more of an announcement, a command sound, or an objection. Let’s say your cat is sitting by the door meowing; they are likely asking to go outside. If they happen to be meowing by their empty food bowl or regular feeding spot, it’s probably a sure sign that your cat is ready for a meal. If your cat produces a long, drawn out meow, he may be asking for something specific, and shorter, repeated meows may indicate that your little furbaby is excited or trying to get your attention. It's also imoportant take into account your cat’s body language when identifying the meaning behind your cat’s meow, so be sure to pay attention to the details. If your cat is making a sound you think is friendly, but their ears are back and their tail is twitching, think twice about pickig him up for a cuddle!
The pitch of the meow is also a factor when it comes to what your cat is communicating, as lower pitches can represent discomfort or aggression. For example, the ‘yowl’ is the low-pitched sound a cat makes when they are in distress, hurt or sick. This sound is very easily identifiable, with its longer duration and sad connotation. Cats also use this sound when in heat or for mating, but if they are spayed/neutered, it is usually a cry of dismay or for help, and should always be attended to immediately. Whether it’s a cat in pain or preparing to fight, you want to make sure your cat is safe, comforted, and under control. To console your cat, you may try speaking in reassuring tones to help them calm down or relax. If they are hurt, be sure to get them to your vet as soon as possible!
You may also hear this yowling sound in the house if your cat gets ‘lost’, scared, or even bored. Your cat needs to know that you hear their calls if you want to reassure them, so be sure to speak to them lovingly in order to help them. If it’s a bordom issue, it would be a very bright idea to make sure that your cat has plenty of stimulation to keep them stimulated! You can never have too many toys, towers, and fun cat accessories!
The Chitter-Chatter, Chirp & Trills
Sometimes, you may notice your cat looking outside at birds or staring at an insect on the wall while making these squeaky, chittering sounds. Cats may chatter and even bare their teeth while making this noise. This unique sound is thought to be of excitement, usually evoked by hunting instincts when they see their ‘prey’ or something they desperately want to get. Some theories suggest that this is a vocalization of frustration if they cannot get to their prey due to an obstruction, like the window, and some experts even believe this may be a hunting tactic for luring prey.
Chirps and trills are also some squeaky sounds your cat makes in excitement. These short, adorable noises usually mean that your cat is excited or happy about something!
These sounds are learned from their mothers during kittenhood when mother cats want to show or teach their kittens something. When your cat makes this sound, they may be trying to get your attention, whether it be to them or something else. These kinds of noises are best-captured on video for your cuteness cravings and entertainment!
When a cat hisses at a person or another animal, you may think the cat is angry and ready to attack, but it's important to understand that most of the time, a cat is hissing because he is scared. He may be scared of being attacked by another animal that is nearby, scared of a stranger, or even scared because he was startled. Lots of things can scare cats, so it's good to know that a hissing cat isn't necessarily a cat that's going to attack you.
When kitties fear they are in danger, they will do anything to protect themselves and warn off predators. Aggressive sounds, like growling, screaming, and hissing are all tactics that cats will use to scare off threats.
They may also display defensive body postures like tucking back or flattening the ears, fast-whipping tails, and puffed-out hair on tails and spines. These sounds are also made at other animals and are not specific to human-feline communication. Owners with multiple cats may recognize these sounds when their cats have altercations due to not wanting to play when another cat does, or if there are territorial disputes within the house. Always check that your cats are not harming each other in brawls, and take note if these situations happen too often or get too aggressive. Even if they love each other, playtime can get out of hand! If the wrestling matches become too quarrelsome, the best thing to do is to separate the cats involved for ten minutes or so. This way, they can calm down before getting back together. This suggestion is for cats that typically get along very well, not for cats that may have issues. For cats who are in dispute or who are new housemates, longer separations would be prudent.
As always, if your cat begins to make irregular noises, check them out, take notes, and make an appointment with your veterinarian immediately to rule out any potential medical concerns.
Cats always surprise us with their strange sounds and behavior, so we may not be able to always understand them, but identifying these familiar sounds adds one more link to our connection with our furry companions! The journey to a better understanding of your cat’s language and behavior will allow you the tools to give them everything they need for a healthy, happy and fulfilled life.
Article Written by Taelyn Livingston