Cat Sounds: What is Your Cat Telling You?

Cat Sounds - we have long been interested in and fascinated by the sounds that cats make. The standard "Meow" that is frequently the only sound reported in articles, books, novels, and other stories about cats is far from standardized. I have lived with up to 14 cats at one time and could tell you from upstairs which cat was "talking" downstairs. They all have their own unique inflection, their own unique voice.

Researchers have looked into these different cat sounds made by cats, trying to make sense of their language. I currently have a cat that has a sort of high-pitched trill mixed in with his loud roaring type of purr. Research reported a year or so ago in the journal "Current Biology" deciphered this type of meow as one that controls the human beings who live with cats. I can certainly attest to the fact that when my cat makes this type of noise, it's impossible to ignore him. In fact, the researchers named this type of purring with a cry embedded in it "solicitation purring".

Almost every cat owner I meet thinks that their cat is happy when he purrs. While that is often true, cats also purr in a variety of other situations, such as when they're frightened, want to be fed, or even when they are ill.

It was postulated that we possibly react more to solicitation purring because it is in some ways similar to the cries of an infant. All of us who are parents or have cared for a human baby know all too well the automatic response we have to a baby crying.

Non-cat lovers who have never lived with a cat before have great difficulty believing those of us who insist we know the difference between the cries/purrs of our different cats and that we know the difference between each individual cat's various cat sounds. But you know (I say "you" because if you're reading this, you must be a cat lover), that it's true.

I know which cry means "I'm hungry" and which meow sounds mean "I want attention" and which one means "I'm annoyed". You do too, right? In fact, I have one cat that has so many different sounds that it really seems like he has a complete language all his own. It's fascinating to listen to - he seems to carry on quite a conversation with himself, often late at night. I desperately want to get a recording of it to share with you, but cats being cats ...every time he sees me with my camera, he's suddenly amazingly silent.

The interesting thing about the research that was reported in the "Current Biology" journal was that even people who had never been around cats before could easily distinguish between the urgency embedded within different sounds from cats. So you don't have to be well-trained to understand cat language least to some extent.

It also appears that cats know when they can train their humans and who they can't train. Cats that have the most one to one relationship with a person tend to emit sounds that are more manipulative than cats that live with many different people who are all pretty much equal in relationship to the cat. (And yes, I DID mean "train their humans".) It's no surprise to us cat lovers that our kitties manipulate us with their cat sounds. We are well aware that cats manipulate us in many different ways. You know the old saying "Dogs have masters, cats have servants"? That didn't just come out of thin air. It came out of real reactions by us mere humans to the demands of the true owners of our homes, our cats.

cat drinking from glass

For example, I have one client who brought her cat in to board and brought a fine crystal goblet, telling us that her cat will only drink water from that particular glass. Another client came to visit her sick cat while he was in the hospital and brought a bottle of Perrier and sat by his cage, giving him sips from the lid. She said that was the only way he would drink.

Those were two cats that were GREAT at training their humans!

And that is only two examples among hundreds I could give you of how cats with their meow sounds and other enticing mannerisms get us to do what they want us to do.


cat sounds orange tabby cat

If you want to read the research about meow sounds that appeared in the Current Biology journal, you can find it here.

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