Talking to cats, high voice or natural voice?

by George
(Cumberland, MD USA)

Cassie having a conversation with me.

Cassie having a conversation with me.

Some cat owners will talk to their pets in their natural human voice. Others talk to cats using a high falsetto range. Which is better?

My opinion is we should address cats in the auditory range most closely similar to their own. Cat's have a broad range to their vocalizations. But their range is a much higher pitch than human's normal range. We humans can use what's called falsetto to reach the range of cats and we should use it.

Cats can adapt to us whatever the range we use. But speaking to them in a special falsetto range means the cat will immediately know that, when you use a falsetto voice range, you're speaking to them and only them. They will not be confused when you speak to another human in their presence.

Since I speak to my cats using a special falsetto range meant only for them, they can sometimes be surprised when I speak in my normal human voice. My natural human voice is a very deep bass.

When there is danger or when I am angry at my cats, my initial speaking voice will be my natural voice. And this is okay because now my cats realize that if I speak to them in my bass voice, I am intending to surprise them, make them alert to a danger or because they are doing something they shouldn't be doing. My natural voice becomes a means of disciplining them.

This is all well and good. The only time this presents a problem is when I talk on the telephone. The cats cannot know that I am talking to another human on the other end of the line. And because I am using my natural human voice, the cats seem to think I am angry at them. They both will nervously walk around me and on my desk. Concern is written on their expressions. After I hang up the phone I always make a point of talking to my cats in the familiar falsetto and it calms them down.


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Talking to cats, high voice or natural voice?

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Jan 19, 2011 Very funny
by: Gail (Boston, MA USA)

...and did he get his treat? LOL!

Jan 16, 2011 "Treat!"
by: Ruth (Monty's Mom)

My sister noticed the other day that Monty knows the word treat, so now I use that word exclusively instead of breakfast or supper or food. Recently, I had trouble getting Monty to come back inside-- back when we had a brief thaw and he was enjoying the absence of snow. He was off leash and I couldn't catch him. He thought it was a great game. I remembered that he knows the word treat, so I walked to the door, opened it and yelled, "Treat!" and he literally flew in. I wish I could have captured it on film- that chubby little black cat running full speed from the far side of the yard, not slowing even as he ran past me through the open door, through the house and into the kitchen!

Dec 11, 2010 Cat voice
by: Finn Frode, Denmark

Great subject. I'm pretty sure our cats will understand any language, but mainly I talk to them in Danish, maybe with a few nonsense words in between.
Although I basically find "baby talking" a bit foolish, I must admit that I too speak in a slightly higher pitch when with cats and babies. I've noticed that since we got twin grandchildren a couple of months ago... 😉
However, when Snow White and I have serious conversations about the state of the Wold, I usually speak in my normal voice and she does not mind. She has a contralto voice herself - or sometimes she just moves her lips without engaging the vocal cords.

My wife Lene claims that our family's first cat chose to bond with her because her female voice made him more confortable than mine. At any rate, contrary to myself she knew nothing about cats back then and when Rudolf arrived he immediately jumped onto her lap.

Finn Frode avatar

Dec 09, 2010 Cat Sounds/Language
by: Michael

Gail, if I ever meet you in the USA, I'll speak in cat sounds! I am sure we could converse just fine.

If a person is in a foreign country unable to speak the language at all, he or she is dependent on sounds, facial expressions and signals in much the same way that we talk to our cat. A bit of actual language may be thrown into the mix as well.

And you can get by pretty well in a strange country like that.

Michael Avatar

Dec 08, 2010 Sounds/Inflections
by: Gail (Boston, MA USA)

George & Michael, I have to admit that you both have the insider's take on how to summon/understand your felines. I've noticed that I seem to understand the various meows/mews/caterwalling of Abby too. Certain sounds mean "I'm hungry, hurry up!" Others mean "Give me attention." Still others mean "Not in the mood, don't bug me." I find myself answering her in kind with the same type of sounds. Huh. Abby's training me to her way of thinking. Not bad.

Dec 08, 2010 Sounds
by: Michael

Hi George...I am pleased that you understand why I speak in sounds not language. And I can completely empathise with the way cat language evolves from language to sounds (as yours did) because we learn that sounds communicate not actual language.

I think routine has a role to play in communication too. Our cat asks similar questions in similar ways at similar times. We learn this routine and respond in a way familiar to our cat.

This method of communication is learned by both human and cat which reinforces the routine. Cat training human training cat.

Michael Avatar

Dec 07, 2010 Language
by: George

I speak to my cats using English and nonsense words. And, Michael, I think you are right that the actual words and their meanings don't matter. It all has to do with repeated, familiar sounds, inflection, soft versus hard or sharp sounds, all combined with associations, body postures, familiar objects and environmental contexts.

Some of my nonsense words began as real words but evolved into meaninglessness. For example, I used to call either of them, "Pretty cat." That became "pity cat," which became "Peety cat," which became "Pete." When one comes to me I will say, "Hi Pete." Kitty cat became just cat, which became something sounding like "caawt," as in "Hi Peety caawt," silly as it sounds.

I tried to teach them to come to their individual nicknames but gave up because they would both come when I called either of them. That's okay since I usually want both to come when I have something for them. The only time I wish they knew their names is when I can't find one of them. But since they are house-bound, I know they are probably safe even if I can't see them. And whenever they get in trouble, such as the time when Cassie fell behind the armoire, they will call me.

Dec 07, 2010 Cat Language
by: Gail (Boston, MA USA)

Mostly, I speak English interspersed with cutsie phrases like "my little love muffin," "baby Abby" or "sweetie pie." Sometimes I throw in a phrase or two in Polish like "hotch tu ty" (sp?) which means 'come here.'

The question "Mommie feed you?" or "Food?" with a finger to my lips and/or a lipsmacking sound gets her running full-tilt to the kitchen.

Dec 07, 2010 Vision
by: Michael

I found Ruth's concept of talking aloud interesting and had a nice vision of her and her work colleague both talking but not to each other..

The follow up question is, "What language do you use when you talk to you cat?"

I confess that I use a weird unintelligible language that is entirely made up and which flows out of me without thought and fluently. It can be translated but with difficulty! It uses a lot of words to say very little so it is an inefficient language but my cats understand it!!

My "cat language" is a mixture of German/Russian/English/Don't Know What.

"How mishtish dosa gulluna?" = How are you! Only it changes all the time.

I speak it in front of the person I am living with and she accepts it as normal!

She asks what it means and I translate it. My cats understand when I call their names. Well Binnie my 18 year old does, Charlie is still learning.

From the cat's perspective it is all about sound not language. Certain sounds communicate certain meanings. These are combined with visuals such as holding up a comb or a bowl of food, which results in pretty effective communication.

Those are my thoughts. What sort of language do other people use?

Michael Avatar

Dec 06, 2010 Cat's Voice
by: Gail (Boston, MA USA)

Abby knows her name and usually comes when called, but I speak to her in a soft, slightly higher voice than my own but not really falsetto.

If she's getting into something naughty, my voice lowers and all I say is "...Abbeeeee..." She stops immediately since she recognizes the lower tone and the elongated name. (Example being getting under the kitchen sink while I'm cleaning and tossing cleaning chemicals. I don't want her poking around in case anything spilled.)

If she's still being very naughty (like tearing out the insulation from the heating baseboard) and she's not listening to me, I will then revert to "her" language - I growl at her very throaty but firmly and sometimes I'll spit like a cat, then say "NO!" in the lower voice (but not loud). She stops dead in her tracks and waits for what will happen next. Next I just speak softly and say something like "You know better..." at which point she's all silly again and rubs against me for love and kisses which she gets before she toodles off to get into something else.

Dec 06, 2010 calling cats
by: Anonymous

Hi Kathy W. I tried but gave up calling my cats by their individual nicknames. They would both come no matter what name I called. If I want both cats and one is already with me, I will call the missing one. The one beside me will look up at me as if to say, "Why are you calling? Can't you see I'm right here? Doh!"

Dec 06, 2010 me too
by: kathy w

I too have what my sons call a cat voice. I always talk to my cats in my cat voice. My one son always makes fun of me. I do use my normal voice also when they are bad, which is not too often. I dont call my cats kitty kitty. They all know their names.

Dec 06, 2010 another great topic
by: Ruth (Monty's Mom)

Great article! I talk to Monty all the time, sometimes in a higher pitched voice, but usually my natural voice. I talk a lot anyway. I'm a very auditory person, so hearing my thoughts out loud helps me think. If I hear myself say something, I will remember it. My boss at work is like that too. Sometimes we will both be in the office and we're both talking, but not to each other.
Monty looks at me like, "Geez, you sure talk a lot!" Sometimes he seems not to know if I'm talking to him or not. If he's not sure, he just goes off to do his own thing. I often sing to call him to me, and then he knows I'm focused on him.
Once I accidentally butt dialed Pastor on my cell phone. (I call him a lot because I'm the church organist.) He heard me talking to Monty. How embarrassing, but he thought it was funny. He has cats too, and I personally know he also talks to them-- in his usual voice from what I have observed. Too bad his cats are so over weight, though. Viewed from above they look like barrels.

Dec 06, 2010 high pitch
by: Anonymous

Thanks, Michael. Yes, as a human male, the high falsetto voice can be uncomfortable to use, more for social reasons than physical. When I speak to my cats when around other humans, I always feel the need, whether real or not, to explain to the other person why I am sounding like a silly child. Of course, the other person, especially if they are a "cat person", will understand. But their understanding, nevertheless, does not make me feel any more manly when using falsetto range.

It's probably natural for cat caretakers to want to use a "baby voice." And, I'm sure, it works fine. Cats, for many people, are a replacement child. And, as you say, for the cat we are a replacement mother.

Dec 06, 2010 Like this subject
by: Michael

Hi George, you have chosen another excellent subject and one I can get into.

There might be a wider question..what kind of voice do people use to talk to their cats?

A lot of cat caretakers use a baby voice. This is inline with the model that we are the mother to our adult cat who is kept in a perpetual state of kittenhood by us.

So what does a baby voice sound like, high or low? Probably high pitched.

But this is not done for the reasons you state. I like your reasoning.

The other point is that I think it fair to say that most visitors to this site would agree that a quiet voice is very important when speaking to our cats.

As humans, being much larger that our cat, we can intimidate them. And we don't want to frighten our cat in any way whatsoever. The opposite is desired.

So it seems that the ideal is a quiet, high pitched voice.

I'll go away and practice it...!

Michael Avatar

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