What is Your Cat Really Saying?

What is Your Cat Really Saying?

We all may wonder when our cats are trying their best to communicate with us – “what are they really saying” with those tiny little voices? Nonverbal communication from our pets is fascinating to most of us animal lovers, but we may still be left scratching our heads so this fun paper is meant to help you interpret your furry friend’s vocalization patterns a little better! Humans rely heavily on verbal and non-verbal communications with each other and misunderstandings happen all the time (and we are the same species). Imagine how much more difficult is it to understand the body language of a different species- such as our beloved feline companions!?

Compared to dogs, cats are not as obviously vocal. However, certain cats are more vocal than others and it has been shown that cats can learn to use specific vocalization to try to communicate with people. Failure on our parts to read a cat’s dictionary correctly can lead to human injury, a fracture in the human-animal bond, and a decrease in animal welfare; while success in learning their language can greatly enrich our bond. Therefore, it is worth taking the time to familiarize ourselves with some of their common phrases!

Murmur. A soft, rhythmical pulse given on exhalation which usually means a request or greeting.
Meow. Characteristic feline call “mee-ah-oo” which usually is an all purpose greeting.
Purr. Soft, buzzing, rapid contractions of the muscle of the larynx which is usually a sign of contentment; however, a cat may also purr when it’s anxious or sick.
Growl, hiss, and spit. Harsh, low-pitched, open-mouth sound which can be explosive which usually shows that a cat is feeling defensive, frightened, stressed, or aggressive. If you hear this, you want to leave your cat alone!
Squeak. High-pitched, raspy cry which is commonly used in play or feeding.
Shriek. Loud, harsh, high-pitched sound which usually means that a cat is feeling intensively aggressive or painful. You want to stop whatever you are currently doing if you hear this because it is not making your cat happy at all!
Chatter. Teeth chattering together, which can be a very odd thing to see or hear, but usually means that a cat is hunting or wants to be hunting but is being kept from this behavior.
Estrus Call. Long-lasting, variable-pitch sound, where your female cat starts with open mouth then gradually closes it, signifies that your cat is in heat.
Howl and yowl. Loud, harsh, drawn-out calls that can either mean that your cat is feeling aggressive or in distress, but in older cats it can be a sign of cognitive dysfunction (which is similar to dementia in people).
Mowl or caterwaul. Variable-pitch call by a male cat that is looking for a mate.
Mew. High-pitched, medium-amplitude, long “eee” which is usually heard when a mother is interacting with kittens.
Moan. Low-frequency, long-duration “oo” or “uu” which often occurs right before your cat coughs up a hairball so try to get your kitty to a place where clean up is easy!

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