It's 4 a.m. and your cat is meowing in your ear. Is it a set of shorts or a quick succession? If a toddler accidentally pulls on your kitten's tail, what does your cat say when it hisses that little person?
Cats have a large repertoire of sounds. Every year veterinary behaviorists discover more and more sounds when trying to decipher what cats are saying. What complicates their research is that cats can mix multiple tones with different inflections, just like humans mix sentences that can have multiple meanings.
Dr. Sharon Crowell-Davis, professor of behavioral medicine and certified veterinary behavioral researcher at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, says cats vocalize a lot more than dogs and make more than 100 sounds.
The Georgia veterinarian believes, "It's difficult to summarize sounds cats make together. Each kitten is an individual. Sounds don't always mean the same thing from cat to cat. They each have their own voice and dialect." Kitties can also have their own voice.
And the sound means …
We've selected the most common sounds cats make to help you better understand what your cats are trying to say. We have Dr. Crowell-Davis and Dr. Meghan Herron, a board certified veterinary behaviorist, along with Gigi, an Ohio nonprofit animal welfare organization, asked to share her knowledge of cat vocalization.
The two are part of a new book just published by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists called Decoding Your Cat, which will help cat owners translate sounds that kittens make.
Short meowing: Brief meowing is similar to asking a question and is often a greeting. Both vets say if you hear a short meow, your cat may be asking you a social question, such as: B. “Are you worried about me? Can you pick me up so I can dodge the dog? "
Rapid Fire Meow: Dr. Herron believes that rapid-fire meowing "can mean more distress, worry, discomfort, or just something that means the cat needs attention". The general meaning is, "I'm hungry. Feed me now!" Often times the cat is excited.
Twitter or chatter: This type of cat sound can be difficult to describe. Some people think the cat is chirping like a bird, others think it is just chattering its teeth. Whatever you call it, it's often part of a cat's natural hunting instinct.
Dr. Herron says you can often hear this sound when your cat is sitting in front of a window and staring at birds or chipmunks because they are excited about the potential for prey. This can also lead to frustration as your cat cannot reach that bird or wild animal.
Long plaintive meows: Usually, such long plaintive meows can indicate worry, anger, or objection to something. They tend to be repetitive and the cat usually wants something specific. They may want to eat something or get out of the room they are in. This can be the kind of meow that wakes you up when kitty is about to have breakfast.
Growl: Growl is a sound that indicates that a cat fight is about to begin. It's a cat-to-cat sound that says "back". Dr. Herron says, "Think of this as a warning sign that your cat is seriously upset about something and needs some space."
Connected: How to introduce a new cat to your cat
Purr: Of course, purring is a familiar cat sound that people like to mistake for a sign of contentment and happiness. While that may be true, says Dr. Herron on a few occasions: "Purring can be a sign that your cat is in pain or discomfort and that cats are calming down."
Hiss: If you go to a veterinary clinic, you might see a cat hiss. "Cats can hiss animals and people when they feel threatened, afraid or painful," says Dr. Herron. "If kitty is hissing and there's no reason they're being provoked to make this sound, your cat could be in pain."
Trilling: Cat trilling is a sound that kittens make when their mouth is closed. Most cat noises are made with your mouth open. This is how mommy cats will get their kittens to pay attention or to follow them. Dr. Crowell-Davis says, "Trilling almost always means something positive, a friendly, happy greeting."
Related: Cat Trilling: Why Do Cats Trill, and What Does Cat Trilling Mean?
Whine: Female cats in heat often make this sound and try to entice hangovers to relieve cravings. Intense howling can also mean the final warning that a major cat fight is about to begin, and it can also mean the cat is in pain.
While research on cats lags far behind dogs, studies have shown that humans actually often understand what their kittens are saying. Behaviorists are learning more and more about cat language, and both Dr. Crowell-Davis and Herron believe there is still so much to learn.
Both vets believe that society's outlook on cats is changing, and more and more people are welcoming and loving cats as family members.
This puts pressure on her and other animal researchers to learn as much as possible and understand Kitty's special language in order to foster the human-animal bond.
Selected photo: Seregraff | Getty Images
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