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 Talking With Cats

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Flower Girl
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PostSubject: Talking With Cats   Fri 20 Aug 2010, 17:20

Talking With Cats
You've seen them both at work and games
And learnt about their proper names,
Their habits and their habitat:
But
How would you ad-dress a Cat?
– TS Eliot, The Ad-dressing of Cats
You may want to talk to your cat; if you do, you'd certainly like it to listen to you, and you'd like to get some sort of a response in return. So how do you address a cat, and how do you interpret its response? The philosopher Wittgenstein said: 'If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.' This is probably true of domestic cats as well, but this Entry will attempt to explain those areas where human and feline thought processes do overlap.

Sounds Cats Make

First, we'll explore the range of sounds a cat makes:

The meow - everybody knows that cats meow, but they only do it to humans. Cats don't talk to each other using meows at all, and we'll explain why later in the section on cat psychology. The meow generally means that the cat wants something from the human, perhaps to go out, or in, or out again, or some food. Food is always welcome.
The chirrup - this sound is like a high-pitched trill and usually goes up in pitch. Imagine a Spaniard or Italian rolling their 'r's and saying a long 'rrrr'. The chirrup is a cat's way of saying: 'Hello, I'm pleased to meet you.'

The purr - cats purr deep in their throats as a sign that they are happy. A contented cat can apparently keep up a continuous purring, as they can make the sound while breathing in as well as breathing out. It sounds like a trilled 'r' – once again, using our Spanish or Italian friend to do the trilling, but without a break. Cats also occasionally purr when they are under stress, frightened, sick, in pain, in labour, or even dying. It shouldn't be too hard, though, to work out whether your cat is happy or in pain.
The hiss - is a throaty 'h' sound accompanied by backward-pointing ears. It signifies anger and fright. A cat will hiss as a warning to you not to come any closer. A cat will not normally hiss at his owner. If it does, it will feel mixed emotions while doing so - perhaps shame, perhaps apprehension that it is going to get clouted.

The caterwaul - this wailing noise is not usually used by cats to talk to humans. It is generally reserved for the middle of the night when the cat is on a wall outside in the dark and you are trying to sleep. It sounds like someone with a very high-pitched voice being tortured, and will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. The traditional human response to a caterwaul is to fire a boot at the cat, but this is fairly ineffective. Putting your head under the pillow might help.

The chatter - a cat that is staring intently at a bird before pouncing on it will often make a chattering noise. It sounds like 'ya-ya-ya-ya' and is made while moving the jaw but keeping the rest of the body absolutely stationary. It's not known exactly why cats do this. They are not trying to talk to the bird, quite the opposite. It could perhaps be a method of exercising the jaw before crunching on the bird's neck, but this seems unlikely. All the rest of the cat's muscles are ready for action without the need for any such exercise.

Body Language

Of course, cats don't just talk with their sounds, they also use body language. The most important parts of their body in this are the ears, tail and eyes.

Ears forward is the look of a happy cat. Ears back means apprehension, while ears down means fright.

Tail held high with a little curl at the end means a happy cat. Tail horizontal with end twitching slightly is ambiguous - it can be contentment or interest. Tail horizontal and being lashed from side to side means anger.

Eyes wide open can be a sign of aggression or extreme interest. And extreme interest isn't always the reaction you want from a cat, given that they are hunters. A relaxed, carefree cat will close its eyes slightly, or even blink, to show it is not worried you are about to attack it.

The Psychology of Cat Communication

You can see that there are some ideas in a cat's vocabulary that involve attacking and being attacked. This is because cats communicate for different reasons than we do. Humans are pack animals. We thrive on company and our speech is designed to reinforce a bond of togetherness. Most people think the purpose of speech is to communicate information, but if you examine what the average human says on a night out at the pub, a lot more of it is to be sociable than actually imparting information.

Cats, on the other hand, are solitary creatures. In the wild they tend to live and hunt alone, and if two cats come together a fight usually occurs. Even mating takes place amid an atmosphere of intense dislike between the concerned parties. So cat communication is much more about aggression than human communication is. The main cat-to-cat calls are the caterwaul for distant aggression and the hiss for close-up combat.

That's why there's not much you can do with a cat when it is making either of these sounds, other than step back out of harm's way.

Cats also make great use of their eyes as offensive weapons. Two cats fighting will often do a face-to-face, staring into each other's eyes in an attempt to intimidate the other. This is why when talking to your cat you should avoid staring directly into it eyes – it will take this as aggression.

Of course, the one cat-to-cat interaction that does not involve aggression is a mother cat with her kittens. The kittens will meow when they want food, and this call easily gets transferred to the cat meowing at its owner when it wants food or access through a door. The chirrup is similarly something that cats might do in a family, although it rarely occurs between two adult cats.

Sounds You Should Make

So now it comes to how you should talk to your cat. You've already been told not to stare directly into its eyes. This would be interpreted as a hostile act, especially so if you do it while peeping out from behind something at a height of six inches above the ground. Expect to get your face ripped off if you try this. No, when you are looking into a cat's eyes you should blink slowly. This reassures it that you are not being aggressive.

As an interesting aside, it's worth noting that, because cats are nocturnal creatures, they try to maximise the amount of light into their eyes by widening their pupils. When a cat is about to pounce, you'll see the pupils of its eyes suddenly widen. This means you've got about a quarter of a second to protect yourself. And since the action is completely instinctive and involuntary, the cat doesn't know it's doing it, and doesn't understand how you're always able to anticipate its attack. In its eyes, the force is with you.

So what should you say to your cat? Perhaps it is time to consult TS Eliot again:
I bow, and taking off my hat,
Ad-dress him in this form: O CAT!

This shows that the normal method of talking to dogs, showing them you are the boss, is not appropriate to cats. Eliot is suggesting you acknowledge the cat as your superior. This is an extreme viewpoint, but it's certainly important that you at least acknowledge the cat as your equal. (It is not, but you can fake it.) So you should use a relaxed, familiar tone.

I find that if I talk to the cat as if he is an old friend that I haven't seen in a few months, then he will come over to me and answer back. Not 'Here kitty, kitty' but 'How are you, cat, are you well?' Crouching down and snapping my fingers while talking, the cat will usually approach close enough to allow me to tickle him above the shoulders.
– An h2g2 Researcher

Since cats' meows and caterwauls go up and down in pitch a lot, it is a good idea to do this yourself in your speech. The cat won't understand the words, but will understand the emotion in the speech; exaggerating the up and down will make it more interesting for it.

Like most smaller animals, cats can hear much higher pitched sounds than humans.

Many people use a higher pitched voice than normal when talking to cats, although we're not aware of any experiments which show this helps. One thing is certain, though. A cat will hear a high-pitched 's' sound very clearly at a great distance. If you want to attract a distant cat's attention, a simple 's' will suffice. This is probably why the traditional 'puss-puss-puss' call is used.

If I Could Talk to the Animals

With a bit of practice, you'll have all the cats in the neighbourhood coming to you when you call them. You'll be able to get your cat to roll over when you say: 'Roll over, Grampuss!' And when your cat decides it's had enough and prepares to attack, you'll know the signs and make a hasty retreat in time.

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A47800217
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mrsmarple
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PostSubject: Re: Talking With Cats   Fri 20 Aug 2010, 19:29

Brilliant Flower Girl. I talk to my girls all the time.

You know as silly as this sounds, I never really realized that cats only meow to humans. Even though I know I've never seen them meow to each other. good post
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PostSubject: Re: Talking With Cats   Fri 20 Aug 2010, 20:07

Fascinating stuff Flower Girl. Thank you
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hamster
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PostSubject: Re: Talking With Cats   Fri 20 Aug 2010, 21:11

Thanks, that was really interesting but, like Caz, I could swear I have heard cats miaow to each other.
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PostSubject: Re: Talking With Cats   Fri 20 Aug 2010, 21:32

good post
hehe mine miow to each other. Well actually Georgie miows at the top of her lungs to get Jerry to come and play.

The other thing i read somewhere was the chattering was to warn off other cats from the pray they are stalking.

I talk to the cats all the time. If Paul says food in a high pitch sound they both go crazy. I do it and they just look at me as though i am daft lol
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PostSubject: Re: Talking With Cats   Sun 22 Aug 2010, 22:07

It was ever so strange as there is a cat living around the corner who loves to come visiting Specs. I was in the back garage today and I heard a miaow and there was the neighbours cat miaowing at our cat as she jumped down off the wall - they were looking at each other and there were no humans around.
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PostSubject: Re: Talking With Cats   Tue 24 Aug 2010, 18:33

I talk to Lyra all the time and she talks to me. She can understand certain phrases as well. Probably my tone of voice but if I say to her "I love you" she starts to purr. smile When It's her meal times I shout "plating up" (Jamie Oliver style) and she comes running at top speed from wherever she is.

I make a point of replying to her whenever she meows to try and find out what she wants. She has a distinct meow which is very long and loud sometimes right in my face when she wants to play chase. When she wants me to lift her up onto the kitchen windowsill (which freaks me out by the way) she gives this little plaintiff cry as if to say, "Please mummy let me sit on the window-ledge, I wont fall off honest". She is able to sit outside on the safe bay window which is 18 inches away but she likes to sit on the kitchen sill if I'm in there.

In contrast my stray cat Charlie has never meowed or purred once. All he does is hiss. Maybe one day he'll start to talk to me.

Janice xxx
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PostSubject: Re: Talking With Cats   Tue 24 Aug 2010, 18:56

I love that she responds to "plating up" That's so cute.

My stray sammy cat just hisses too, but now will headbutt my hand as I'm putting the food out for him. I'm much to chicken to pat him though. Maybe someday.
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PostSubject: Re: Talking With Cats   Tue 24 Aug 2010, 19:40

Hi Mrs Marple,

Is head-butting like a thank you? yes How long did it take for Sammy to start doing this? Is he neuteured?

Janice xxx
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PostSubject: Re: Talking With Cats   Tue 24 Aug 2010, 20:12

Hi Janice. I don't think he's neutered we often see little kittens that look a lot like him a mile or so away. It took him quite a few months to come out from under my car when I was putting the food out. I would say almost 6 month until he started headbutting. I think it is him saying thank you. He now comes out hissing or he's sitting on the window ledge outside the kitchen and meows when I walk in. The farmer down the lane said he sees him curled up in the hay sometimes.

We had such a harsh winter last year, I really felt for him. I tried to lure him into our garage (not completely closed in so he can get out) where there are boxes I could fix up as a bed, but he wasn't interested.

Guess I'll just keep it the way it is. Don't think he would make a happy house cat for anyone. I certainly don't think I could catch him to get him neutered. Don't know what options there are?
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