Understanding your cat’s language – why do cats meow?

Wouldn’t it be great if cat owners could understand what their pet is saying or thinking? Cats are not able to express their feelings through facial expressions as much as dogs; cats use body language, scent marking and sounds. In fact, the meow sound that cats make is mainly made to humans and not other adult cats. Generally, the only time a cat will meow to another cats is a mother with her kittens in order to return their sounds for attention. With studies showing they’re capable of over 15 variations of the noise, it’s important to learn what each one really means so you can better understand your feline friend’s needs!

It seems cats have learnt that meowing is the most effective way of getting our attention and conveying their mood or desire; it’s therefore widely believed to have been developed by cats to communicate just to humans. Many recognise their cat’s meow as they circle their food bowl and associate it with hunger, and by acknowledging this noise with the act of giving them food cats quickly see it as an effective method. Whether we like it or not, we all know who’s really in control!

Often when your cat meows we are able to guess further about the reason from the particular context such as location or time of day, but what about those harder to read noises, where the reason behind them is not quite as clear? There are several different types of meow that vary in pitch, volume and length, and these aspects can help you to understand what your cat is saying.

A short, high-pitched meow is most commonly a greeting noise, several of which together display a greater enthusiasm (so be sure to show your cat some attention if you hear this!). More lower pitched, harsher sounds indicate cats expressing more negative feelings like annoyance or anger. Demands for actions are often more drawn out noises, such as a desire to be let in or to be fed.

Some cats are more vocal than others, so if your usually quiet cat is exhibiting a change in behaviour which includes excessive meowing, then this could be caused by an underlying medical issue which means it’s always best to seek expert advice if you’re concerned by this.

There will be times when your cat simply wants some extra love and attention. In 2009, animal vocalisation experts identified a special manipulative purr that felines have evolved, in part, to get what they want from people. This is called ‘solicitation purring’ and owners must be careful not to interpret this as a need for food because most often it’s just a need for attention; if owners indulge their cats with food every time they purr they could be at risk of developing an obesity problem. It is best to indulge a purring cat by petting and playing with them. Paying attention to the situations in which you cat commonly meows and the types of sounds these are will help you to better understand your pet and lead to a very happy cat!

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