This article is dedicated to all the ‘cat-mothers’ (and fathers) out there who understand their feline vocalizations and really have no need to read this article. You do an awesome job!
However it may be a handy tool which you may want to forward to a friend or ‘Dog person’ to help them better understand why it’s perfectly fine and quite normal to respond to your cat’s mewings with ‘I know, I know… you’re hungry’ – leaving the non-cat person somewhat suspicious of your mental competency.
Cat’s have a range of approximately two dozen different sounds that constitute their cat language and you may be surprised to learn that they have developed it especially for you. Well.. let me re-word that. They have designed their language especially to ‘train’ you. You see cat-speak has been termed the language of PERSUASION! (some of you are nodding and are really not surprised at all at this point!)
In the wild, kittens develop a language to chirp and trill at each other or cry demands for their mother, and a Mother-cat has her own trills and mews to communicate with her brood, but as adult cats, apart from the territorial, warrior calls we all know that build to that deafening crescendo at 2am, cats, as adults don’t ‘talk’ to each other. Rather they communicate via body language and eye signals.
‘Talking’ or the vocalizations we know and love as a Cat-Parent are something they only do WITH YOU!
And here’s where Cat-speak is different from most other animal/human interaction. In most other species, and especially using the example of dogs, we use OUR language and words to train THEM. This is not the case with cats. For anyone who’s ever tried to train their cat the way you would a dog is probably having quite a giggle!
Cat-speak is just for us. And as cat-parents we are quite attuned to their various cries and noises. We’re quite aware that there is a Meow that means – Feed me. There is a Meow that means – Let me out. There is a Meow that means – Pat me. And if we’re very lucky a trill if they are especially pleased with us. All of which we obey diligently and in some perverse way probably enjoy actually wearing the ‘Cat Pleaser and Servant’ title.
But don’t get miffed by their agenda. When you consider in a wild cat colony, they don’t actually ‘commune’ together and therefore have no use for a highly developed language, they have gone to great lengths to learn to communicate with us in a way that makes us respond. And in a lot of ways signifies the incredible bond that forms between a cat and it’s human.
For those who have not had the privilege of being a cat’s ‘Chosen One’ here’s a handy guide to Cat-speak! Enjoy!
“Meow” is an all-purpose word. Perhaps “meow” is a greeting (“Hey, hello?”), a command (“I want up, I want down, more food now”), an objection (“Touch me at your own risk”) or an announcement (“Here’s your mouse”).
“Chirps and trills” are how a mother cat tells her kittens to follow her and the language used by kittens to communicate. Directed at you, it more likely means your cat wants you to follow him/her, usually to the food bowl. If you have more than one cat, you’ll may hear them converse with each other this way if they have been together since birth as litter mates or introduced to each other when very young. Older cats do not continue this language with each if they become co-habitants at older age and will mostly rely on body language and eye signals.
“Purring” is a ultimate sign of contentment or happiness. Cats purr whenever they’re happy, comfortable, in close proximity to their person, and even while they’re eating. Sometimes, however, a cat may purr when they are sick, using her purr to comfort, like a child sucking his thumb. Make sure a purr is never a ‘chest rale’ in older or asthmatic cats or the sign of a chest infection.
“Growling, hissing or spitting” – ATTENTION DOG & NON CAT-people!! This is not a sign to ‘make friends’!!! This means ‘BACK AWAY AND YOU MAY CONTINUE TO LIVE’. Many times I have seen this confused in non-cat people. Where it might soothe a canine to pet and soothe with stroking and calming language, in many cases this just further aggravates or distresses a cat. These noises indicate a cat who is annoyed, frightened, angry or aggressive. Leave this cat alone. Once they settle, allow them to come ‘find you’. You’ll have a friend if you’re just patient.
A yowl or howl (they sound like loud, long and drawn out meows). This tells you your cat is in some kind of distress—stuck in a room, looking for you or in pain or discomfort or very unhappy. Find your cat if he’s making this noise. It’s not uncommon to hear this noise when put into the cat carrier and transported in the car or in unfamiliar and unhappy surroundings. In cats who are reproductive and not yet desexed, a yowl or howl can also be a part of the mating call. Commonly heard throughout the second half of winter once the daylight hours start to increase. This lengthening of the daylight triggers the female cats to come into ‘call’ which in cat-speak is really saying… “hey good-looking! Wanna come make me a Mumma?”
“Chattering, chittering or twittering” are the noises your cat makes when they are often sitting in the window watching birds or other prey. It signals excitement. This can also be directed at you when you’ve rustled the food bag or have just come home and they are happy to see you.
At Cat’s Meow we have to be Cat-Speak linguists to quickly interpret their needs! Lucky for all of us, we’ve gotten pretty darn purrrfect!
What noises does your cat make? Let us know!