Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cat Chat: The Meaning of Meow

The kitties we adopted a few months ago have settled right in.  They quickly endeared themselves to our two dogs, and we humans are getting much better at understanding the meaning of “meow”.  Did you know that adult cats meow to people, but not other cats?  The only meowing in cat language is done between a momma cat and her babies.  Kittens “mew” to solicit care and attention from mom.   Adult cats communicate through scent, facial expression and body language.   Vocal communication between cats includes chattering, hissing or shrieking.  

So, why do cats meow to people?  Cats depend on us.   It doesn’t take them too long to realize that we aren’t picking up on the scent messages and body language.  “Meow” is a multi-purpose word.   It can be a greeting, a request or demand, an objection, or an announcement.    A short meow or mew is the standard “hello”!  Multiple meows or mews.... an excited greeting. “I’m so very glad to see you!” The mid-pitched meow is usually a plea for something. “Feed me, please!”  The drawn out meow is a demand.  Finally, that high pitched RRRROWW is anger or pain. “Ouch!  That’s my tail you just stepped on!”

What about some of the other vocalizations?  Chirps or trills are how a mother cat tells her kittens to follow her.  If you have more than one cat they may communicate with each other this way.  If kitty is chirping at you then it’s a request for you to follow….perhaps to the food bowl.    The purr is a sign of contentment.  Our kitties purr loudly when they are eating.  Sometimes cats purr when anxious or sick.  They do this as a way to comfort themselves.   Growling, hissing, spitting  “Leave me alone”!  Enough said….  The yowl or howl usually indicates some kind of distress.  Looking for you, stuck in a closet (a frequent occurrence in our house), or in pain.  Elderly cats sometimes howl because they are disoriented.   Chattering  is the noise that your cat makes when he is sitting in the window watching the birds.  Some experts think that this is an exaggeration of the “killing bite”, when the cat grabs its prey by the neck.  

If you watch what you cat is doing when he meows and listen carefully, you will soon learn the meaning behind “meow”.   Next month I will explore how cats communicate with body language.  Stay tuned….

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