The Language of Cats - Decode Meow, Purr, Hiss, & other Cat Words

The Language of Cats - Decode Meow, Purr, Hiss, & other Cat Words - OutdoorBengal

Cats have a reputation for being good listeners, but do they truly comprehend what we're saying to them? It's natural to wonder about this, as many of us enjoy talking to our feline companions. In this blog post, we'll delve into the fascinating world of cat communication and behavior.

Get ready to uncover some surprising facts and learn more about our beloved pets. Whether you're a cat owner or just a curious reader, this article is a must-read. So let's start exploring!

Do cats understand humans?

A 2013 study published in the journal "Animal Cognition" found that cats can distinguish their name from other words, suggesting that they may have a good level of understanding of human speech.

There are many different theories about how cats process and understand human speech, but much more research is needed. To fully understand this fascinating topic but recent advancements with augmented speech technology have proven that cats can understand words. You can learn more about talking buttons later in this article.

Cats have sharp instincts and can sense our emotions, tone of voice, and body language. While they might not fully grasp the meaning of our speech, they do understand words or commands. Also, they can respond to us in their way, sometimes with body language and sometimes with vocalizations

It is clear that cats are capable of forming close and meaningful bonds with humans, and that they are more than just passive listeners.

Let's get deeper into what and how humans communicate with cats.

Do cats understand when we talk to them?

Absolutely. Most indoor cats will know and even react to their name.

Some cats seem to have a pretty good understanding of their name, while others seem entirely indifferent. If you believe your cat doesn't I recommend you to follow this short tutorial to teach your cat their name and to come when called!

But even if your feline companion doesn't seem to recognize their name, that doesn't mean they're not paying attention to you. Cats are very perceptive creatures and may respond to the tone of your voice or other cues in your body language.

If you think your cat does not know their name, I recommend you to start clicker training and teach it to your cat, it's totally worth it!

How do Cats Communicate with each other?

Cats have an intricate and sophisticated method of conveying their emotions and intentions to each other through various channels - vocalizations, body language, and scent marking.

  1. Vocalizations: The feline species have a vast array of vocal sounds in their repertoire, from purrs and meows to growls and hisses, all serving to express their feelings and desires. A meow, for instance, might be a request for food or attention, whereas a growl or hiss indicates aggression or fear.
  2. Body Language: The way a cat carries itself speaks volumes about its emotional state. A cat that feels at ease exhibits a relaxed, fluid posture, while a feline displaying aggression may puff up its fur, arch its back, and hold its tail upright. You can learn more about cat body language in this video.
  3. Scent Marking: A crucial component of feline communication is scent marking, which they achieve by rubbing their cheeks against objects to leave their scent and through urine marking. This helps establish their territory, mark familiar objects, and convey information to other cats.

While cats can use vocalizations to communicate with other cats, they use them mostly as kittens, towards their mother. When communicating with other cats, they primarily use body language, and scent marking. On the other hand, when communicating with humans, cats may use body language as well, but lean more towards vocalizations and other cues as they are better to get their message across with their human companions.

Words our Cats Talk to Us

In 1944, New York psychologist and cat lover Mildred Moelk showed that cats meow differently to people than to fellow cats to get human attention. 

In her paper “Vocalizing In the House Cat: A Phonetic And Functional Study” in the April 1944 “Journal of Comparative Psychology,” Moelk organized vocalizations into three patterns based on how cats formed the sounds and believed they most often expressed, loosely translated: “hello,” “pay attention to me,” “give me,” “please give me,” and “I like” or “I don’t like” whatever was happening to them in the following way:

  • Soft murmurs or consonants made with the mouth closed – greeting or satisfaction
  • Vowel sounds from an open-to-closing mouth as in meowing – requests or complaints
  • loud sounds called strained intensity patterns, emitted from a wide open mouth – arousal or stress.

Murmur Pattern

  1. Purr (’hrn-rhn-’hrn-rhn)
  2. Request or Greeting (’mhrn’hr’hrn)
  3. Call (’mhrn)
  4. Acknowledgment or Confirmation (’mhng)

Vowel Patterns

  1. Demand (’mhrn-a’:ou)
  2. Begging Demand (’mhrn-a:ou:)
  3. Bewilderment (’maou?)
  4. Complaint (’mhng-a:ou)
  5. Mating Cry – mild form (’mhrn-a:ou)
  6. Anger Wail (wa:ou:)

Strained Intensity Pattern

  1. Growl and Anger Wail (grrr...)
  2. Snarl ('æ:o)
  3. Mating Cry ('∅·∅:ə)
  4. Pain Scream (æ!)
  5. Refusal Rasp ('æz'æz'æ)
  6. Spitting (fft!)

How can you teach new words to your cat?

Teaching a new word to a cat is no easy feat, but it can be done. The 2 best know ways to do it is via Talking Buttons and Clicker Training.

    Just remember, cats are creatures of habit and routine, so don't be surprised if it takes a while for them to grasp the new word fully.

    Talking Button Words

    Talking buttons are a form of communication with our pets. The system is based on alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) devices.

    Each button is paired wit a meaning and pre-recorded to say the word when pressed.The buttons are organized in sound boards and spread in a way that allows our pets to remember where the buttons are. 

    Learn more about Talking buttons in the video below:

    Clicker Training Words

    Clicker training is a form of positive reinforcement. The method has been used for years to train cats.

    With the help of a clicker we can pair certain behaviors to cues and rewards. This method helps cats associate the clicker sound with good things and allows us to encourage them to perform behaviors on command, via verbal of physical cues.

    Learn more about Clicker training in this video below:

    Final Thoughts

    Communicating with cats can be a wild and wacky adventure. While they may never fully understand English or any other language, they have their unique way of expressing themselves through body language and meows. So, next time you're trying to have a heart-to-heart with your feline friend, remember to keep it simple and silly and maybe even offer a treat or two. And who knows, with enough time and patience, you might just have a conversation that rivals that of the great philosophers.

    Stay Wild, Stay Safe, We´ll see you Outdoors!

    Albert & Mia

    Moelk, Mildred. “Vocalizing in the House-Cat; A Phonetic and Functional Study.” The American Journal of Psychology 57, no. 2 (1944): 184–205.
    Saito, A., Shinozuka, K. Vocal recognition of owners by domestic cats (Felis catus). Anim Cogn 16, 685–690 (2013).

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