Can domestic cats ‘talk’ in human language using alternative and augmentative communication?

Billi talks to her human companion through an AAC device called Fluent Pet
Billi talks to her human companion through an AAC device called FluentPet? Screenshot.
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It looks like your cat can talk to you by pushing buttons. For a while now, dogs have been communicating with their owners by using an alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) device. The TikTok video below shows you how it works. The dog learns that certain buttons make certain sounds and the sounds are words in the English language in the video we see. The dog responds to a question from their caregiver by pushing the appropriate button. It looks as though animal and human are communicating in a human language. In the video below, Billi, who looks like a slightly diluted tortie-and-white cat, does the same thing.

Note: These are videos from other websites which are embedded here. Sometimes they are deleted at source which stops them working on this site. If that has happened, I apologise but I have no control over it.

There are many ways to communicate with your cat and for her to communicate with you. I discussed these in a series of other articles, a sample of which is at the end of this article.

 

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Dogs are naturally suited to this form of behaviour. But what about cats? Kendra Baker bought a FluentPet AAC device for her 13-year-old cat companion, Billi. You can see the way that Kendra communicates with her cat with the device on her Instagram page (see video above).

There are two discussion points. The first is that dogs appear to use the device more fluently than cats. Dogs string more words together whereas cats are more deliberate about which button to push and use single words. The second and far more important point is whether the dogs and, in this case, Billi (the first cat to use such a device) are truly communicating.

RELATED: Dogs have a grasp of human vocabulary equivalent to a one-year-old infant.

It is possible that they are simply responding in a trained way to the sounds that their caregiver makes. They learn that if they push the ‘right buttons’ (the ones the owner wants them to push), they please their owner. When Bunny the dog is asked a series of questions, Bunny responds. At the moment, I am unconvinced that Bunny is genuinely communicating. In the video he seemed a little bit nonplussed and uncertain.

And this slightly confused mental state applies very much to Billi. Looking at Billi pushing the buttons it seems to me that she is trying to do what her owner wants her to do. She’s looking for a sign that she’s done the right thing while not knowing what the right thing actually means or is. And I wonder whether Bunny, the dog is simply responding to prompts from his caregiver as she re-asks the question until he provides the correct answer. You decide for yourself 😃. From a scientific perspective, the jury is out.

But the AAC is an interesting device because it potentially opens a window to the feline and canine brain. It’s an attempt to enter that holy grail of a world where humans can talk to the animals and they can respond in the same way. The Dr. Dolittle world.

How to communicate with cats

We have to be extremely careful that we don’t misinterpret. It is possible that bunny is talking. That’s completely plausible but the scientists are unsure as I am. The water is being muddied by the fact that dogs are very good at being trained and that humans are very good at reflecting their own feelings and thoughts onto their dog. These are barriers to an accurate interpretation of what is going on.

There is one very useful spin-off from this device: it is highly stimulating to the cat or dog concerned and both caregiver and animal are interacting with each other via the device. Kendra believes that cats can become bored and that far too many are indeed bored. This device helps to stimulate their brains and alleviate boredom.

Can cats learn words?

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