Any idea what I just said? Probably not. But there’s a good chance your cat does. Meowing is one of many vocalizations that cats use to communicate. Many have stated that cats only reserve meowing for communicating with humans but I’ve heard cats meow at other cats too.
Many cat owners are curious to know if meowing back at our cats helps them understand what we are trying to say.
I’m guessing no one can safely ascertain if cats understand human meows. But as an avid animal lover, I would like to think that my decades of pet ownership have given me some sort of unexplained superpower to communicate back with my cats.
Let us take a deeper look at this mysterious world of how cats communicate and how we can learn to talk in their language.
Why Do Cats Meow?
A cat’s meow has to be one of the cutest sounds in a cat’s vocabulary. Cats didn’t just start off meowing their heads off when they started to roam the planet.
We first need to understand how cats communicate in the wild.
A wild cat communicates with another cat by leaving a scent trial. Cats will mark their territory by urinating on objects and rubbing their faces on things.
When another cat comes along and smells the scent, it is being indirectly told that this spot is taken and it’s time to get lost.
When two cats meet face to face, they won’t start meowing right off the bat. If both cats are friendly, they communicate by touching noses and rubbing their heads with each other (also called bunting).
This allows the cat to exchange scents with a mutual understanding to keep things friendly.
It was only through the process of domestication that a cat’s meowing started to evolve. Humans welcomed stray and feral cats into their homes and provided shelter in exchange for their pest hunting prowess.
These cats were smart enough to realize that we humans didn’t have a good enough sense of smell to communicate like they do so they had to come up with another more effective way to convey their intentions to us.
This was the moment when different meow sounds started to form.
That being said, newly born kittens have the ability to meow. They do this to communicate with the mother cat when they are feeling hungry, cold or in danger.
Meowing In Feral Cats Vs Domesticated Cats
There’s a stark difference when it comes to meowing between our domestic cats vs feral cats. It seems that our cats carry this mode of communication with humans even when they mature into adult cats while wild cats don’t.
In the journal called Behavioural Process which publishes interesting studies on animal behavior, it was reported that feral cats were more likely to make aggressive vocalizations like growling and hissing as compared to the domestic cat.
House cats were shown to meow more often at humans which means that our cats learn from a young age that meow gets our attention.
Do Cats Understand When We Meow?
Ever since I was a little kid, I was fascinated by the movie “Dr. Dolittle”. This movie was about this doctor who had the amazing gift of being able to communicate with all species of animals.
There haven’t been any concrete studies or evidence that show cats truly understand the way a human meows.
It might seem that way at times when your cat meows back at you. Your cat might not comprehend the exact meaning of your meow but it feels the intention behind it.
Different Types Of Meows
If you were to listen carefully to how your cat meows next time, you’ll notice that a cat uses a certain meow to convey a specific intention.
You can also use this variation of cat meows when trying to meow back to your cat. Here are the different meows and cat sounds that you can hear your cat vocalizing.
The Short Meow
This short and soft meow usually means that the cat is trying to say “hello” to you. I hear this meow from my cat when I return home after being out for a few hours.
It is a happy meow that shows that your cat is happy to see you and wants some affection.
The Long Meow
You can definitely tell the difference between a long and short meow from your cat. When your cat gives you a long meow, it can sound like a fog horn.
It has an underlying demanding tone to it and it’s one meow I hear often when my cat is hungry and wants food.
My cat likes giving me a long meow when I’m on the phone for too long. It is his way of telling me to get off the line and get him some love now!
He emphasizes his point by laying on my phone to try and shorten my call.
High Pitched Meow
Not one meow that I want to hear coming from my cat as it means something is wrong. I’ve heard him emit a sharp high-pitched meow when I accidentally stepped on his tail a few times.
Not on purpose though.
He was sitting quietly behind me while I was doing the dishes. It was an accident waiting to happen.
If you hear your cat meowing like this, make sure to check on your cat to make sure it’s fine.
The Ambulance Meow
I call this the ambulance meow because that is how it sounds like when a female cat is in heat. The correct term would be caterwauling.
The meow starts as a low-pitched sound before it crescendos into an all-out wail. Female cats use this sound to attract nearby roaming male cats to mate with.
Hearing cats caterwauling in the dead of the night can give you goosebumps.
Meow Meow Meow
The rule of thumb when it comes to your cat meowing is that the more number of meows per second, the more excited and happy your cat is at that moment.
Your cat might meow like this when it has not seen you the whole day. It is so happy that you are back and wants lots of love and kisses.
My cat does this when he knows I’m preparing his favorite treat in the kitchen. His meow comes out fast and furious.
The Sad Meow
It is hard to describe this cat meow in words but cat owners will know it when they hear it. It probably sounds lower than a normal meowing it hits you deep in your stomach.
Cats use this meow when they are feeling stressed about something. More often than not, I hear this meow when my cat knows he’s on the way to the vet.
It is the type of meow that just makes you want to hug your cat and say that everything is going to be alright.
Chirping Or Trilling
This is one cat sound that can sound really adorable and interesting. It doesn’t sound quite like a meow but more like a series of high-pitched repetitive noise that comes out in bursts.
A detailed study on the linguistics of cats observed that cats trill when they are happy to see people that are closely bonded with like their owners. It also shows that cats do recognize people that they love.
Another instance that you can hear your cats trilling is when they spot small critters like squirrels, rats and birds.
It usually happens when your cat spots them from behind the window. It kinda frustrates and excites your cat spots a prey but isn’t able to hunt it.
When a cat hisses, be sure to take note. It is your cat’s way of telling you that it is pissed. Cats hiss when they are hurt, in pain, unhappy or getting a shower.
If you hear a cat that you are not familiar with hissing, it would be best to leave it alone. It is a warning sign that the cat can attack you if you get too close.
Last but definitely not least, a cat isn’t complete without its world-renowned purring sound. Cats purr when they are feeling comfortable and contented.
Give your cat a chin scratch or head stroke and hear it purr in total bliss.
Cats also use purring when they are injured. The frequency of a cat’s purr can help to heal minor injuries which is why many say that cats have nine lives.
Do Cats Like It When You Meow Back At Them?
There isn’t an absolute way to tell if your cat likes it when you meow back in response. As close as we can imitate a cat’s meow, it just wouldn’t be the same frequency-wise.
That being said, you don’t have to meow back at your cat to communicate with it. You don’t want to meow back something inappropriate which could translate to insulting your cat’s mother.
When our cats meow back at us, we can respond in a kind, gentle and loving tone to show our love and understanding.
Cat Breeds That Are ‘Meowers’
When it comes to meowing, not all cats meow with the same frequency and loudness. Some cat breeds are known to be very talkative and love engaging in conversation with their owners.
If you are looking for a vocal cat, you can consider these cat breeds:
- Siamese cats
- Japanese bobtail
- Bengal cats
- Tonkinese cats
- Sphynx cats
Is It OK To Scream At Cats?
It is never ok to scream at your cat regardless of how angry or frustrated you are. Using such an angry tone towards your cat can damage the bond that you have created.
This can have a bigger negative impact on cats that have PTSD or an abusive past.
If your cat has done something bad like sitting on your pillow after pooing, count to 10 before addressing the situation.
How To Meow “I Love You”?
When using feline language to communicate your love for your cat, vocalizing it isn’t the best way to do so.
Cats say “I love you” by using their eyes.
When your cat looks at you and slowly starts to blink, it is as good as giving you kisses and saying “I love you” simultaneously.
Make sure to reciprocate the same gesture to let your cat know how much it means to you too.
At the end of the day, it isn’t about sounding like a hairless human feline yourself but about how well you can decode and understand your cat.
That will make your cat feel more loved and understood. The cornerstone of every healthy and loving relationship is effective communication.