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What is Kitty Trying to Tell You?

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Speaking Felinese
Animal behaviorists have identified sixteen distinct feline vocal patterns, including chirps and trills, hisses and growls, purrs, and meows. Recently, researchers from England determined that besides the regular persistent meows that cats use to get what they want, they also have a special “soliciting purr” that’s a meow embedded into a purr, and it’s especially useful when asking for a midnight snack or belly rub since the frequency and pitch mimic the urgent cries of human babies.

To cat owners, this isn’t news. Cats love to communicate with us, but they know that we prefer vocal communication to body language. Cats are experts at learning simple commands (words like “treat” and “play”) and their name, but what they usually respond to is the particular tone and pitch that humans use when talking to cats, and not necessarily the words themselves. The way we speak to pets is the same way we speak to babies, a simplified language called “baby talk” or “motherese,” and it’s full of repeated syllables, simplified words, and exaggerated facial expressions.Cats learn to respond to humans’ vocalizations by creating vocalizations of their own, even though their larynxes aren’t built for actual speech. They reply to human vocal communication in much the same way that babies learn to speak, through listening and imitation.

Cats and humans both use high-pitched tones to indicate friendliness or affection, and low-pitched grumbles when they’re displeased or upset. They even learn that certain sounds can serve different purposes. In my house, a request for dinner or a demand for play sound nothing like the particular sound made when my cat just wants to say hello. Cats quickly learn that when they respond to our vocalizations, they’re rewarded with food or attention. They learn to mimic our tone and expression just like babies do, so it’s no wonder that people think of their pets as furry children.

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Read more: Behavior & Communication, Cats, Pets

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7:45PM PDT on Mar 23, 2015

Meow, Meow, just don't stand there looking at me, I'm hungry. Cute adorable little kitten.

7:42PM PDT on Mar 23, 2015

Thank you for sharing, kitty just asking for tucker.

5:07AM PST on Dec 22, 2014


8:09PM PST on Dec 20, 2014

Thanks for sharing

3:37AM PST on Nov 15, 2014

Knowing one's need is the way to love them

7:55AM PDT on Aug 31, 2014

I love reading about why cats do different things. Thank you.

3:34AM PDT on Aug 18, 2014


3:57AM PDT on Aug 10, 2014

Cats are fascinating.

9:17AM PDT on Aug 8, 2014

My cat wakes me up every morning at about the same time by meowing. She has food, so I know she is wanting a good morning petting. And as the author stated - there are few things better than seeing kitty run to the front door when I get home, ready to greet me with head bunts and friendly banter. Priceless.

7:59PM PDT on Aug 5, 2014

Yes, John S, while cats sleep more often than do dogs, they still manage to pack a lot into a purrfect day and evening.

The cat that owns me believes that a meowing opera is in order as soon as I go into the kitchen a prepare a meal, even if it is salad. She sings a non-stop opera while I am in the kitchen, even with a food bowl that is full.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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