Cats, like any other animals, communicate with their body movements. Even more often, they express themselves with sound. While a kitten’s meow may seem indistinguishable from its other meows to the human ear, multiple studies have examined this feature and determined that it might convey a deeper message than it seems.
So why do cats meow? Surprisingly, when a cat says “meow,” it’s normally addressed to a human being, not another cat. With other cats, they tend to rely on visual and olfactory signals. Vocalizing tends to have a better success rate with grabbing humans’ attention than visual actions, which is why we primarily associate them with their distinct “meow” sounds. This applies to other animals as well. For instance, we recognize that dogs use loud barking when they are angry and heavy panting when they are happy.
Another feature that researchers did not fail to include in their project was human reactions to cat behavior. It is likely that the way humans talk to their pets affects how the pets respond to them in return. Most people seem to use a similar speaking style when they talk to cats and when they talk to small children. “They use a higher-than-average pitch, they have a larger pitch range, and the melody of their speech tends to have specific patterns, such as what’s described as ‘sing-song,’” remarks Lund University researcher Suzanne Schötz.
That being said, cats are very attention-seeking and utilize their locations as well as their vocalizations to clarify what they want. For instance, if a cat is purring while laying on your lap, then it’s safe to assume that they are content. On the other hand, if it is meowing at the door, it probably wants to go outside. The easiest giveaway for when a cat is hungry is if it is crying in the kitchen. Knowing the context of the situation and not just paying attention to the noises that the cats produce can help owners indicate what their pet wants.
Just as each human has their own distinct voice, each cat has their own unique purr. They will also alter the tone of the purr depending on what they want to vocalize. If you are an owner of a cat or any pet, over time you will be able to recognize your pet’s voice among a sea of other similar animals. However, trying to communicate to a cat using their meows and their purrs with your own voice will confuse them. That’s because when we try and purr, we use our tongues or vibrate our lips. Cats flicker their larynx and move their diaphragm. In the end, we are speaking a whole different language to them.
The cat language is quite easy to decode once you know the basics. Pet owners, who are the most knowledgeable about their cat’s behavior and habits, will become experts on how to interpret the furry creatures with added experience and exposure. Though we can’t communicate to cats in the language we are accustomed to, they are similar to humans in more ways than we think.