Bradshaw in his book “Cat Sense: The Feline Enigma Revealed” writes that cats can modify their meows to suit different situations. Some meows he says coax us to do something while others are more demanding and urgent. These variations of the meow are accomplished by varying the duration and pitch. Sometimes the meow is combined with other sounds such as a chirrup or growl.
Cat owners often say that they understand what their cat is saying by the tone of their cat’s meow. I don’t at the moment because my cat has yet to learn how to meow! He is about 9 months old but doesn’t really meow. He makes cute sounds though. But I understand him from his general behaviour and time of day or circumstancs rather than the quality of the sound that he utters.
Scientists tested whether it was true that cat owners can understand their cat’s meow and low and behold they failed! At least most of the time. They discovered that angry and affectionate meows had their own definite tone and were recognisable (indicating an emotional component the sound). However meows that (a) requested food (b) asked for a door to be opened and (c) asked for help were not identifiable. However these sounds made sense to the cat owners because they were under certain circumstances.
Bradshaw says that cats learn that their human companions respond to meows and then develop a range of meows which they test by trial and error. I am not sure if this is true. It seems a bit far fetched to me but I don’t know.
For example, when a certain sound of meow achieves what the cat wants such as food, the cat and owner develop a language of sorts which they both understand. But this ‘language’ is unique to the individual cats and humans concerned. Cat and human train each other.
The ‘request meow’ works because it occurs under certain situations and attracts the owner’s attention. The context of the meow provides the answer as to what it means.
“If we can decode them, the meows that we inadvertently teach each of our cats to use may provide us with a window into their emotional lives.”