By Marissa Leotaud
There’s nothing wrong with a daily chat with your cat. Pet parents love to talk to their feline friends who communicate with us either verbally or through body language. But we must admit, there is a bit of a language barrier. So what is it that cats are trying to tell us that we may be misunderstanding or missing out on completely?
How do cats communicate?
It’s hard to know what cats are really trying to tell us as felines are independent creatures. Dogs, on the other hand, descend from wolves and are evolutionarily inclined to communicate with their families. Dogs will even adapt their behavior and methods of communication to accommodate the needs and practices of humans. Cats … not so much.
Cats can live in packs but just as easily lead solitary lives where they do not need to communicate with or accommodate others. Because house cats do not aim to please or make communication easier with humans, researchers have much more trouble assessing their communication patterns. Animal behaviorist Kurt Kotrschal, the head of the Konrad Lorenz Research Center, admits, “I don’t think anyone fully understands cats, but everyone seems to be fascinated by what they are doing.”
Although cats are less willing to share their thoughts blatantly like dogs, they still give certain cues that humans can use to understand their pets. Generally, cats will communicate with movements in their ears and tails. Kotrschal also explains that cats make about 10 different vocalizations but researchers still don’t understand them perfectly. Vocal noises are specific to individual cats. Even the basic purr can have multiple meanings.
Why do cats purr?
Sharon Cromwell-Davis, a professor of veterinary behavior at the University of Georgia, explains that humans often misunderstand what cats are trying to say or just don’t see it. Cromwell-Davis explains that purring, for example, doesn’t always point to a happy cat. “You can have cats that are happy and content purring, but also a cat that’s injured or sick will purr,” she said. Purring can be translated as, “please, don’t go anywhere!” It points to a need of care and comfort as opposed to “I’m as happy as can be!” Because cats are historically so independent, they don’t have a clear way of asking for help. Purring can be the closest thing to a cat S.O.S.
Why do cats rub against people?
Feral cats that live in packs are known to greet by rubbing against each other and intertwining their tales. Cromwell-Davis tells The Cut, “When cats are coming back from hunting, what we commonly see in the feral situation is they may spend several minutes rubbing up and down, against each other. They’ll also wrap their tails over each other’s backs — it’s like a human hug.” We love it.
Cats display this show of affection with their humans as well! When you come home from work and your cat walks in between your legs and rubs against you, he’s probably saying, “fill my bowl!” but he’s also saying, “I missed you, Mom!”
The slow blink
Perhaps the closest thing to a cat smile, is the “slow blink.” When a cat closes his eyes slowly and reveals just a sliver of his pupils, he is showing the utmost cat contentment. Gary Weitzman, a veterinarian and author explains, “The slow blink really is an acceptance gesture. They do that when they’re absolutely comfortable with you, and they do it with other cats as well.” Although it’s unknown exactly why cats express contentedness with the slow blink, it’s a strong equivalent to, “I trust you. You make me happy.” Melt our hearts!
There’s an app for that.
In 2003, Japanese toy company Takara Tomy released the Meowlingual Cat Translation Device, a handheld gadget that supposedly interprets over 200 words from “cat chat” to Japanese and deciphers 21 specific emotions from a cat’s movements and behavior. How do you say, “that’s amazing!” in cat? There are also multiple apps that claim to translate hisses and meows.
Animal researchers would not suggest pet owners put much stock into these techy devices. Cat experts claim that we can comprehend our cats better through a deeper understanding of their personalities and temperaments.
What does “meow” mean?
Swedish phonetics researcher (and cat lover) Suzanne Schötz is working to find out exactly what “meow” means. Meows are a prominent way for cats to communicate with humans, especially their owners. Interestingly, cats usually don’t use this vocalization to communicate with other cats. Feline peers usually communicate with visual and olfactory signals. They simply can’t be bothered to speak to each other!
Schötz is studying the melody of specific meows. The researcher wants to find if certain breeds use certain melodies or if similar melodies are used when cats are hungry, for example. Schötz explains to National Geographic, “If most cats use similar melodies to say, ‘I’m slightly hungry, I would like a snack now,’ and they also use similar melodies to say, ‘I’m really hungry, I’m starving,’ we can begin to try to understand what they’re saying.”
Although cat communication is a tricky field, there are cat cues to help us understand what exactly are pets are trying to tell us. Most of the time we’re going to go with, “I love you, Mom and Dad.”
COMMENTS FROM LOVINMYPUP.COM:
This was a very interesting article on your cat’s communication skills.