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Scientists may be exploring the mysterious mind of cats, on the other hand, I dream of the day they’ll create a Google translate of the feline language.
While we talk with our kitties, I wonder how much of what we say, and meow is unintentionally lost in translation.
Is meowing a means of communication or is it just a sound? Do cats want to be meowed back to? And lastly…
Why do cats meow back to you? Cats have developed their meows to communicate with humans. They meow for attention, as a way of saying hello or asking for something. Since it’s a form of communication, owners that talk to their cats are most likely to receive a meow back.
If you want to explore the meaning behind these meows and get a better understanding of why your cat meows back at you keep on reading!
Let’s get to it!
Why Do Cats Meow?
While cats are often times branded as indifferent individuals, they’re actually one of the few domestic animals that evolved their communication skills to specifically interact with humans. According to Anthrozoologist John W.S. Bradshaw, “the domestic cat is the only member of the Felidae (meaning all feline species), to form social relationships with humans.”
Meowing and being vocal is just not part of feline interaction when it comes to their own peers. Bradshaw also adds that “cohesion in colonies of cats is expressed as, and probably maintained, by allorubbing and allogrooming.” This means that the first cats that formed social groups when free-ranging, instead of vocal communication used body language and scent to communicate.
It’s truly astonishing how our cats’ behavior towards us lies in their domestication which according to studies began more than 10.000 years ago in the Near East. But the way they interact with us also has a connection to their kittenhood. Young kittens use meowing to interact with their mother, to bring her attention if they’re hungry or lost. So, the only time you’ll find cats talking to each other is when they’re kittens.
Because of the high-pitched frequency, cat meows are difficult to ignore. Cats do this to grab the attention of humans. In fact, they might be taking advantage of our naturally nurturing response to a baby’s cry, suggests Karen McComb a behavioral ecologist at the University of Sussex.
When we talk back to our cats, we’re also showing them that they have our attention. Once they’ve got that response, usually their meowing will intensify to indicate a need, whether it’s an empty bowl or a good scratch under the chin.
Can Cats Understand Human Meows?
While we humans mainly use language to communicate, cats on the other hand use a variety of other means to communicate with each other, including body language, tail positioning, scent. They use vocal sounds during mating or fighting, but meows are not a part of their repertoire.
These meows are reserved for us especially. But what happens when we talk back to our cats? Well despite their genius minds they won’t understand what we say back to them, but they’ll acknowledge the fact that we’re responding to them.
Some cat parents choose to meow back, while others use words. Once again, the probability of your cat understanding what you’re saying, or meowing is very slim. What they might understand though, is the tone you’re using. Dr. Uri Burstyn, a veterinarian from Vancouver, British Columbia states that using a high-frequency tone to call our cats is more effective.
In a sense, our cats communicate with us the way they talk with their mothers and are more receptive to being talked to in our baby-talk voice. Professor Bjarne O. Braastad of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences claims that “Animals that live with humans tend to use their baby behavior towards humans because they find that it works.”
Braastad also says that many people, especially women, use a higher voice when addressing cats. This might have to do with the fact that cats find higher voices more trusting and deep voices more threatening. Well either way I’m quite guilty of using this technique which is received with purring meows and a good dose of slow blinking.
Do Cats Like It When You Meow Back
While not all cats will engage you in a back and forth communication, there are cats that enjoy this type of interaction. There’s also a great possibility that some cats reserve their meows for their favorite human. One of my cats for example looks at me like I’m an alien the moment I respond with a meow. Perhaps I’ve used a bad word, but I sure hope not!
As I mentioned earlier, cats won’t understand what our meows mean, but they’ll understand the tone and that’s all that matters! And if you’re wondering whether your cat likes it when you meow back, well it truly is up to your cat or your talent in cat linguistics.
Just look at this cat-lingual and his chatty kitty!
Why Do Cats Meow Back At You?
Now that we have an understanding of what it means for a cat to receive a meow back, it’s also important to see why do cats meow back when we talk to them. Of course, the number one reason is that they need something from us. But how do you translate their meows into human language? How do you give them what they want?
As mentioned before a cat’s cry has specifically evolved to attract our attention. An interesting study showed that humans actually consider the voices of domestic cats pleasant. So, no wonder we do as we’re told!
There are millions of reasons why your attention is required. If you’re back from work and you find your cat circling around you and making purring meows, then most likely your furball is greeting you. This vocal greeting is usually combined with a straight-up tail, a signal also expressed by kittens when they greet their mother.
Some cats will draw your attention to some unfulfilled basic needs. A long persistent meow might be followed by your cat running away to the source of their distress. An empty or sometimes even a half-empty bowl might be unacceptable to them. Their litterbox might be in dire need of cleaning or they’re inviting you to play with them. Perhaps they believe they deserve a treat for being so darn cute!
Each cat is different and while there are plenty of cats who prefer to sit in silence, others are talkative and demand your attention. Whatever your situation might be you should know that this is completely normal. In fact, there are breeds that tend to be more on the talkative side. According to ASPCA, “the Siamese are prone to excessive meowing and yowling.”
If on the other hand, you’ve noticed that your usually quiet kitty is meowing excessively, then this could be an indication of some health issue. If this is the case, then try to observe if the meowing happens while your cat is using the litter box, if they’re eating, or even when they’re grooming themselves. Also, be mindful if your usually chatty cat has become suddenly quiet. This too could be a sign of some illness or a stress-related issue.
Increased vocalization could also occur in senior cats. As explained in a recent study by Petra Cerna, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine of Colorado State University, some cats develop age-related cognitive deterioration, which results in behavioral changes. One of these changes is excessive meowing.
Types Of Cat Meows
Now that we know the possible reasons behind your cat’s meowing, it’s important to recognize the difference and the approximate meaning of their meows. Researchers in Japan state that cats most likely have the ability to recognize different words, mostly related to food and their own name. So, it would be rude not to reciprocate.
The most obvious and complicated sound is the “meow”. It’s usually perceived as a greeting sound. The longer the meowing the more urgent their call. It could mean that your kitty is hungry or in need of attention. A low meow could indicate illness or injury.
I tend to recognize my cats’ need for food when their meows are short and loud, and I’ve noticed that the more annoyed they get with me the meow will stretch into infinity. If your kitty keeps on crying even with a full bowl in front of her, then perhaps she wants you to watch her eat. You should also pay attention to your cat’s body language; their tail is always a good indicator.
Purring must be the sweetest sound, the frequency almost hypnotic in its steady rhythm. These frequencies are in fact more than just soothing, they have healing properties and are thought to promote bone growth. So not only is it a sign of happiness but ill cats also purr to promote healing.
According to Gary Weitzman, a Veterinarian and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society, “Purrs at a frequency of 25-100Hz correspond with established healing frequencies in therapeutic medicine for humans.” If this is not magic, I don’t know what is!
This adorable sound is thought to be an expression of excitement overload when a cat sees potential prey that’s just out of reach!
My cats are very active chirpers. They tend to sit on their cat tree by the window and watch the birds fly by almost hoping that by chattering more they may get the bird to come to them!
Perhaps this video will help you recognize this sound!
I’m sure most cat parents would recognize this drawn-out moan. My cats turn on their yowl-mode in the middle of the night when their play-time begins. But yowling could be the indicator for more than just their playful instincts showing.
Cats yowl when they’re in their mating period, but with neutered cats that shouldn’t be the case. Yowling could also be a sign of pain and stress. If you’ve moved to a new house your kitty might be crying over their lost territory or if you’re away for long they might be yowling because they miss you.
If you’ve noticed that your cat is yowling for no particular reason, a good session of play each day should make it go away. But if this behavior persists then a trip to the vet might be necessary.
Hiss, Snarls, and Growls
The sounds that would probably stress out most cat parents are angry sounds their innocent kitty could make. More common in feral or stray cats, this is a behavior that can occur if the cat is extremely frightened or angry.
Cats also use these sounds when they’re fighting with each other. These screams and hissing are accompanied by an arched back, puffed hair, flattened ears, and a bushy tail. In some cases, spitting can also occur. In such moments it’s important to handle your cat with caution. Getting rid of what’s causing their anxiety should be your number one priority.
Should You Stop Your Cat’s Meowing?
While most meows are welcomed, morning cries could become annoying, especially if they work as a replacement to your alarm. Before you do anything, find the source of your cat’s meowing.
If you’re 100% sure it’s attention-seeking, then you should try not to give in. Unless you’ve accepted your role as a royal subject like the rest of us. Just kidding!
If you sleep in the same room, no need to scold your kitty, just place them outside and close the door. By using this tactic a few days in a row your kitty should lose this habit. If nothing changes perhaps you should consider keeping your cat out of the bedroom.
The reason behind morning meows might also be boredom and your cat might be asking for some playtime. Try playing with your cat before going to sleep every night for fifteen to thirty minutes. This should send them to a long slumber and solve your issue.
Lastly, your cat might be out of food. I had this problem for a while and the only thing that saved me without risking overfeeding my cats was an Automatic Wet Food Feeder, specifically the Cat Mate C500 which has a hefty timer. You can check it out Amazon here or if you’re interested, you could read more about this feeder (and my other favorites) by checking our review on these 5 best automatic wet food feeders that also work for dry food.
If your kitty is neutered and if you’ve excluded any possible health issues, but they’re howling in the middle of the night, then they’re most likely bored.
Cats are nocturnal animals and their hunting instincts come out during nighttime. With you sleeping away, your cat has eight hours of free time on their paws. Of course, they use most of it to sleep, but they’ll also hunt. One way of tackling their sleep-hunting it is to have a good play session with them before going to sleep.
You could also leave a few of their favorite toys laying around in case they wake up. Make sure you keep your door closed so they won’t disturb you with they’re jumping and rolling around. Play is important not only good for maintaining their weight, but it keeps your kitty stress free!
What Not To Do
While excessive meowing can become frustrating, it’s important that you don’t ignore your kitty. Only if you’re completely certain that your cat meows to get what she wants and not because there’s something wrong; you could do just that.
Cats are individuals and just like humans they have their own quirky behaviors. If you have a chatty cat or one that likes to express their feelings then for her own happiness you should accept it. Never scold or hit your cat for meowing. While it might result in your cat running away and stopping this behavior, it will eventually lead to stress. Don’t be surprised if you find your kitty avoiding you. Sometimes you’ve got to love someone for who they are!
Each cat is different, some cats use only their bodies to communicate their needs, while others also rely on their vocal cords. Either way, it’s important to listen to your cat, to look for those subtle or sometimes not so subtle signs of love or distress.
I’ve had my cat companions for more than seven years now and I do hope that I’ve come to understand the meaning behind most of their meows. Perhaps they also understand as equally.
To be honest, I think we don’t need a feline google translate after all. We simply should be observant and not afraid if we sound silly when we talk or meow back at them. So, talk to your cat and listen to their mews because they have a lot to tell us and they’re also purrfect listeners!