We know the meow originates as a way kittens communicate with their mothers, and adults generally don’t meow to each other. In fact, the iconic vocalization — which is the cat’s actual name in some languages — is a feline’s attempt to communicate with us, their human caretakers.
Give the little stinkers the credit they deserve: They know we don’t read tail, whisker, ear or even feline facial expressions very well, and they know we communicate verbally, so they meow to us.
We also know house cats develop exclusive “languages” with their favorite humans, forming personal and proprietary ways of exchanging information.
They’re even capable of meowing at the same frequency as a human baby’s cries by embedding the infant-like call in their purrs: Because we humans are hard-wired by evolution to respond urgently to those frequencies, our feline friends quickly realize their “solicitation purrs” are the most effective way to get our attention.
Clearly they’re manipulating us, not the other way around.
Have you decoded your cat’s repertoire of meows and other vocalizations? In addition to the meow — which comes in several different types and forms — cats can chirp, trill, chatter, growl, chirrup and purr.
Buddy is a very vocal kitty, and he likes to use trills to communicate. Here are Buddy’s favorite “words” and sentiments:
Hrrrruuuhh – “Okay then”/”I have no idea what you’re talking about”/”Sorry, not interested”
Brrrrr! Brrrrt! – “I don’t like this!” or “I don’t know about this!” (Heavy trill sound.)
(The brrrrt sound goes all the way back to Bud’s babyhood, when he wasn’t litter box trained and got nervous every time he had to eliminate. To this day, he makes that sound when he’s nervous and unsure of what to do.)
Brrrrruuuup! – “I’m fast! Watch me run! I’m running!”
(A vocalization that serves as a prelude to an energy-expending burst of activity.)
Rrrrooow! – “No!”/An expression of annoyance. May also mean “Get away from me!” in certain contexts.
Ahhhhmmmm – “Interesting!” High-pitched.
Hurrrrr – Affirmation. “Bud, do you want turkey tonight?” “Hurrrrr!”
Mmmmohhh! – “Oh, but I want to!” (Reserved for when he’s told not to do something, like scratch the couch.)
Excited chatter – About to receive catnip or one of his favorite foods.
Mrrrump! – Straining or jumping down. Often heard as he hits the ground when jumping down from a couch or bed.
Nyeeea – Okay, I’m awake!
Mmmyeoowww! – I WANT FOOD!
Mrrrrrrrooww! – I WANT FOOD!
Mrrooww! Mrrooww! – FOOD NOW!
Bah! Bah! – You jerk!
Mnyakk ak ak! – A chattering sound. “I see birds! I see birds and I can’t attack them!”
Incessant crying – Open the door so I can come in, and after five minutes I’ll cry again until you let me out. Then I’ll do it again until you let me in…
You, dear reader, have your own private language with your cat(s) too, whether you’re consciously aware of it or not. If you haven’t given it much thought, pay close attention to the sounds your cat makes and the ways you respond…and don’t get too freaked out when you realize who really runs your home. 🙂