Meowsic to your ears

I’ll admit it, when I started writing this blog post I just wanted the excuse to sit on Youtube for hours and watch cat videos. Anything for science, right?

Now I’ve heard a lot of weird claims about cats over the years, such as cats domesticating themselves or that their meows purposefully sound like the cries of a baby. But how much of this is true? I wanted to find out the truth behind cat communication.

When I started researching cat meows I was pleasantly surprised at how much information was out there and how much interest we seem to have in the vocalisations of our feline friends. People really like cats and they really like the (mostly) cute noises they make.

In particular, I stumbled across Doctor Suzanne Schötz, a Swedish professor of phonetics who researches cat language as well as human. Doctor Schötz has combined her love of phonetics and her love of cats, and is a cat language researcher. Well, you know what they say: if you’re doing what you love, you never work a day in your life.

Pixie, 16, female. Likes: wet food, chin scratches, sleeping on clean laundry. Image credit: author’s own.


Overcoming the Language Barrier

 Cat-human interactions are actually pretty unique. Unlike other feline species, domestic cats willingly form close relationships with humans. Furthermore, cats have a special way of communicating with us. Have you ever noticed that cats don’t meow at each other? Sure they may growl or hiss, or a mother cat may chirp at her babies, but meowing between adult cats just doesn’t happen. In fact, most cat communication is conveyed through odour or body language.

This secret cat language is mostly lost on us humans, so cats have come up with a way to communicate with their two-legged friends. Cats quickly learned that we couldn’t understand them, so they started vocalising instead. What they couldn’t convey though body language is now said through meows. Hungry? Meow. Want to go outside? Meow. Your favourite mouse toy stuck under the fridge? Meow meow meow.

Knowing that cats use meowing to communicate with us doesn’t seem like rocket science to me. What I really want to know is that do cats have different meows, and if so, can I understand my cat’s secret kitty language?

This meow is a warning: touch my tummy again and you’ll face the consequences.
Video credit: author’s own. 


Communicating in Cat

I quickly found that, yes, cats do have different meows for different situations and that their vocalisations can be pretty complex.

One study showed that people could tell the difference between meows made by cats who wanted food and meows made by cats who were visiting the vet. Another article suggested that humans can sometimes listen to a cat’s meow and identify the situation in which it was made, with just over a fifty percent success rate.

I like to think I have a pretty good ear for understanding what my cat wants. She’s been my fluffy companion for nearly 16 years this year, and I can definitely tell a hungry meow apart from a greeting meow. She also has one particular meow that she uses when she wants to sit in my lap and that I should make myself available ASAP.

Over the years cats have adapted their vocalisations to get a desired response from their human companions, and for the most part we’re pretty good at deciphering what they want.

So thank you to evolution for allowing me to have a conversation with my cat, even if it mostly consists of us meowing at each other from opposite ends of the house.

Me giving Pixie the love she deserves, but does not ask for. Image credit: Author’s own.


Further Reading


10 Responses to “Meowsic to your ears”

  1. Lauren Cain says:

    thanks Oakley! I had a heap of fun writing this one, so I’m glad that showed in my writing. Thanks for your feedback 🙂

  2. Oakley Germech says:

    A purr-fect read 🙂 I loved the personal flair you added to this one! I’m a dog person through and through, but our dog doesn’t bark at all – so I’m slightly jealous of you and your cat’s secret language!

  3. Lauren Cain says:

    Thanks Isabelle! I had a heap of fun writing this piece so I’m glad that my enthusiasm showed in my writing. Definitely recommend getting a cat, they’re pretty low maintenance and despite what some people think, they’re very loving and affectionate.

  4. Lauren Cain says:

    Thanks Georgia! Before I wrote this piece I didn’t realise how much cool research is out there. Definitely recommend having a look if you’re interested in this kind of stuff 🙂

  5. Isabelle Foo says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post! You wrote it in such an interesting way that I didn’t want the post to end. This post makes me want to adopt a cat ASAP.
    p/s: your cat is so fluffy!!

  6. Georgia says:

    This is super interesting! (Your cat is pretty cute too).

  7. Lauren Cain says:

    Hi Bianca, thanks for your comment. I’m glad you liked the photos, I had a lot to choose from haha.

  8. Lauren Cain says:

    Hi Sam! Thanks for the comment 🙂 I am very lucky to have my cat she’s been a great friend to me over the years. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  9. Bianca Fato says:

    I enjoyed this blog! I love the way this was written, and the photos are so cute! Particularly love the captions on them 🙂

  10. Sam Widodo says:

    Nice blog, Lauren. I really enjoyed reading it. The headlines are helpful too. It’s so cool how you wrote this blog based on your friendship (or sibling-hood?) with Pixie. You guys are so lucky to have each other.