Feline Vocal Language is Universal: Is it Like Music?

Oriental shorthairs in a box

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Feline vocal language is universal. In the same way that music is referred to as the Universal Language, no matter what part of the world in which we live, the familiar sounds that cats make when expressing emotions are also considered truly “universal” by feline aficionados around the world. In fact, some of their amazingly expressive vocal communications are considered “music” to their ears.

All domestic felines vocally communicate using chirps, chatters, purrs, hisses and growls. The “meow” is the most common of all their sounds.

Kittens will meow to their mothers; however older domestic felines rarely “meow” to other cats. They do meow to humans, especially to their human companions.

Since kitty guardians who are acutely “tuned” in to their cats are aware that all their meows don’t mean the same thing, just by listening to the different types of meows their cats are uttering will reveal to them if their kitty wants attention, is hungry, angry, or is just plain content and happy.

For example, take the feline “chirping” sound. Since we live in a crowded, heavily trafficked area, our cats are strictly indoor only dwellers. I love to watch them sitting by the window perch that we recently constructed for the pleasure they derive from spending time basking in the sun while watching the huge variety of birds and other wildlife outside the window. This is the best kitty TV that can entertain them for hours on end.

If I am lucky enough, I often can catch them in the act of bird and squirrel watching as they make those fascinating little sounds that resemble a cross between a meow and a bleat while they are swiftly moving the ends of their tails, and their ears pointing forward in anticipation. However, while these pleasant chirping sounds are generally expressing excitement, it might also be from frustration since they are unable to pursue this tantalizing prey.

While kittens are more communicative than older cats, our two senior kitties, Dr. Hush Puppy and Sir Hubble Pinkerton are both extremely vocal. I must admit that sometimes it’s difficult to understand exactly what they are trying to convey when they are yammering away at me; but over the years I have learned that their incessant chatter means that they are seeking my attention, inviting me to play with them, or scolding me about my tardiness when I am late serving them their dinner.

Most people make the assumption that cats purr when they are happy and content. In reality however, felines often purr for a variety of other reasons such as feeling threatened, frightened or to sooth themselves when they are in pain, or close to death.

Depending on the situation, cats hiss for a variety of reasons. However the majority of hisses are generally made in response to fear. Hisses can be targeted at other cats or animals, and sometimes can even be directed at a human. While a cat is hissing, it’s wise to give the kitty plenty of space until the cat calms down to avoid being attacked.

The ear-splitting wailing sound of a caterwaul generally means that a cat is in heat and is looking for a mate. Caterwauling can also be symptomatic of deafness, insecurity, disorientation or senility. To check out any underlying medical conditions, if your cat is frequently prone to caterwauling, a visit to the vet is always wise.

Just by paying close attention to your cat’s meows, other sounds, and by observing your kitty’s behavior and body language, these are excellent ways that kitty guardians can interpret what their kitty is trying to tell them.

How fluent are you in kitty language? Tell us what you have observed in a comment.

Jo

Photo credit: Jo Singer Sir Hubble Pinkerton and Dr. Hush Puppy

P.S. from Michael. You can see a difference between domestic and wild cats in the vocalizations of these jaguarundi kittens. The sound track was edited a bit to bring the vocalisations closer together to avoid silent gaps but it is still noisy! It reminds me of the F2 Savannah kittens playing.

32 thoughts on “Feline Vocal Language is Universal: Is it Like Music?”

  1. I know that this is a bit postmortem, but MuckyLucky never bothered. She never sounded off. When you would say, “MuckyLucky, bebe! Do you want me to pick you up? Or, would you rather I gave you fresh water for your thirst?” She would respond [to me], bright-eyed and with a low, low gutteral sound that was so pleasant, “I would like whatever you lay on me, Mama! 😉

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  2. Something interesting I learned when I first started the originally Estonian owned UnitedCat.com was that cat sounds are called many different things in other languages. I liked the “ronron” sound that if I remember correctly, is made by South American kitties.
    My Pancho runs around the house meowing at the top of his voice to the world in general, from what I can tell. Cisco only meows at me, but Pancho’s meow is for general circulation.

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