“Cat Talk” – communication via intimacy and familiarity

cat lover

From intimacy comes instinctive understanding and then communication

“Cat Talk” or “Cat Speak” is a form of communication arising out of an intimate and close relationship. All of us, who have travelled to foreign countries, without foreign language skills, know that it is possible to manage; to get by and make ourselves understood. We use gestures, expressions, bits of the language, pointing and all manner of alternative means to communicate. We get the message across. We can communicate without having a common language.

And so it is with the domestic cat but we use a different way of finding a means to communicate.  All cat lovers end up understanding their cat. And vice-versa. It happens naturally, through years of close interaction. An observant and caring cat caretaker quickly learns what their cat wants, likes, desires; her moods and routines. Cats learn about our routines and they learn how we respond to their requests.

For example, a cat makes a request to go outside, or for food, by meowing (language), facial expression, body posture (body language) and by the fact that these forms of communication are made within the context of routines. “Cat talk” is a combination of:

  • Meows and other vocalizations (sounds) made by the cat,
  • The time and place when these sounds were made (the context),
  • The body language of the cat,
  • The routines of cat and cat caretaker when taken together.

Bundle these elements together and you have excellent communication without a common language.

The more intimate and frequent the interaction between person and cat, the greater the understanding between them. To a cat lover this just happens. It is fun. However, to some cat owners there probably needs to be a slight adjustment to the relationship in which the person becomes more observant and connected to their cat.

This is the joy of “cat ownership” – getting inside the head of your cat so you truly understand him. This only happens when there is plenty of close contact – stroking, lying together, playing together, looking at each other, talking to each other (he meows, you make some sort of cat talk sounds that you have made up), eating together, going outside together and so on.

The better a person knows their partner – be they husband or wife or common law partners – the more able they are to communicate without saying anything. A person who is very close to another person is able to read that person’s mood, emotions and desires without uttering a word. It is about intimacy, a strong bond, a connection born from a loving interaction. From that we are able to talk cat –  communicate without language.

P.S. Jo Singer’s article, recently published, inspired me to write this and we briefly touched on this subject in a Skype conversation.

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“Cat Talk” – communication via intimacy and familiarity — 11 Comments

  1. I love how we get to know new cats in our family, at first we are strangers to each other, but day by day we learn more about each other and a bond of love and respect grows and it seems like we have always been together.

        • It has to be the best feeling in the world especially when they are comfortable as well and they know they are safe. I love the time spent with my cats especially Ozzie who regularly gets what he wants with a series of chirrups, meowling and huffing 🙂

  2. I see much of the communication as intuitive. There is non verbal communication going on frequently. Sometimes just a meow that says “pay attention. I’m trying to tell you something please” is all it takes. Then, you look at your cat, re-focus your attention and for many of us, we almost immediately know what the cat wants.

    Marvin, on the other hand, is quite verbose! “Come on, come on, come on! – do it, do it do it!”. So I do, and he thanks me with an earth shattering head bump, and gurgling purr. There isn’t another one like Marvin.

    Then, there is Yellow Cat, my little waif of a feral. She has never made a peep. It is all eye contact and body language. She does have a strong purr though.

    • Good comparison DW. Each cat has their own way and, for us, understanding is intuitive, as you say. It is information built up over time so we understand without thinking about it.

    • I agree – it’s intuitive and often comes down to just body language. Gigi meows and looks at me in the eyes but the others are mostly body language.

      Marvin is demanding 🙂

      I talk to my cats almost all the time except when I am reading. Lilly occasionally meows but it’s more of a high pitched grunt but still a low sound for a cat.

      I very much agree with the ‘familiarity’ part in Michael’s title – the repetition and habit is a huge part of it. If I get up in the night Molly comes and joins me and leads me into the kitchen and then flops over for full on cuddles. I love it. We have our time and understand eachother perfectly. Obviously because I oblige to what she wants and we have made a habit of it.

      Gigi is getting much better. I usually spend an hour or so at some point each evening where she leads me around and tells me things in meows or simply by looking at things. She will look up at a cupboard door for me to open it for her so she can go in. We have our little time looking at stuff and then we go back to the others and I sit while they play stalking eachother and I play with them with the wand toy in amongst them chasing eachother. Gigi is getting more motivated. It’s not easy though and she still has a ways to go.

      • Your description is good as it gives the feeling of what it is like to relate and communicate. It is about knowing each other well, knowing habits and routines and understanding the signals. All these factors are bundled together to allow communication to happen.

  3. my Rebel is very much a talker and complains alot. If i ignore him he starts stratching on the wall, then will meow in a loud pitch voice. If i dont follow him down the hallway he turns back around to make sure im coming as im sure he knows im going to shut the door as he doesnt stop meowing. i dont think hes hungry he just wants my attention usually its at old times of the night. i.e later in night early morning. my other cats dont talk as much as he does must be something to do with being a ginger/red cat

    • You understand when he needs attention. I sense that you have a dialogue going on. As Marc says communicating with our cat is intuitive after a while.

  4. I haven’t read this yet, Michael, but where is that photo from? That cat could be a *dead* cat? Where are the credits? 🙁 [where is the video to *prove* that the cat is breathing, hmm?)

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