Revisiting the “two talking cats” video and understanding what they are saying

The truly unique “two talking cats” video on YouTube has been seen 103 million times which is unsurprising. Or perhaps it might be fair to say that it’s unique to capture on video cats talking to themselves like this. It possibly happens from time to time but it must be extremely rare. But what are they saying? This is the big challenge. Note that the sounds they are using not straightforward meows as these sounds are reserved for humans when making polite demands.

The unique ‘two talking cats’ video is fascinating but what are they saying to each other. That’s the big challenge.

We might be able to glean something in translating this couple of cats’ chirruping/purring/meowing by looking at their background story. Their vocalisations are not straight purrs and they are not straight meows. They are a combination of a range of sounds that domestic cats make.

One thing is clear, their sounds are friendly. The clear impression is that they are like a couple of friends chatting over a cup of coffee at the breakfast table in the kitchen.

Mustn’t humanize them

We sense that they are chatting about something of mutual interest. But we have to avoid anthropomorphising (humanizing) this cute couple. What I mean is we don’t want to project our human thoughts onto them and translate their “conversation” in strictly human terms. We have to get into their heads and think in feline terms; put aside entirely the human world.

And that, I think, is the first point to make; these cats don’t read the newspaper! They can’t talk about world affairs. They can’t talk about the kind of things that interest humans. If they are truly communicating information it’s going to be about stuff which happens in their world which is probably the kind of stuff that happens inside the home where they live.

About feelings and observations

The talk would be limited to how they feel and what they have done in the day and what they see around them in the home and what their owner does. It would be quite a restricted world that they talk about.

The two talking cats. Trying to figure out what they are saying to each other.
The two talking cats. I have improved the image quality. Screenshot.

Background info

The owner helpfully provides some background information. Their names are Stina and Mossy. I should say “were” because they have almost certainly passed over the rainbow bridge by now because the video was published on YouTube in 2007. At the time this couple of female tabby-and-white random-bred cats were 10 years of age. Domestic cats very exceptionally reach 23 years of age.

And the owner states that they talked like this for about one hour. Extraordinary. And it was constant chatter. She also says that at the time they were healthy and vigorous and that they “usually fight instead of communicate”. I take that to mean that they play-fight. This is instinctive and it does not indicate aggression or animosity as they are clearly friends.

Imprecise or precise communication

Having discussed briefly the background information, what are they saying? Well, I don’t think cats communicate in the kind of precise way that humans often communicate with very distinct meanings. What I mean is this: a wife might say to her husband, “How was your day darling?” He responds by telling her in some detail about how his work day went. And he asks his wife how she feels and how her day went. Some detail is passed between them in human language. It is very precise compared to the language of domestic cats. In the human world specific facts are often communicated. In the cat world it is probably much more to do with feelings.

Feelings and impressions

I believe that these two cats are communicating information in a much more generalised way. The conversation would be along the lines of, “I am feeling okay today, how are you?” The response would be something like, “I am fine too, thank you”.

To be clear, though, each cat does not hear those words. They simply get the impression from the other that they are okay and feeling all right. And they reciprocate by returning the same kind of vocalisation carrying the same kind of generalised information.

But as mentioned, they “gossiped” for about one hour. They couldn’t be just saying the same thing for an entire hour. However, I do believe that they will repeat what they are communicating so quite a large part of the one hour’s talking might be repetitive. Something else must have come into the “conversation”. What is it? It is perhaps just conceivable that they talked about an event that took place earlier such as a cat that they both saw out of the window making them feel a little nervous or aggressive.

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Their feline world

I would doubt that their conversation extended beyond those kinds of topics. It would be quite basic and very personal and about how they felt. This is not an attempt to talk down to domestic cats and imply that they are stupid. I’m just trying to get into their heads and think like a domestic cat. And we have to bear in mind their cognitive abilities compared to humans. Cats are intelligent on matters that concern them such as hunting but not intelligent on things outside of their world. They have no opinion on these other matters. This is different to humans who discuss non-human stuff.

Clearly, this is going to be guesswork because nobody, not even the greatest cat behaviourists in the world have managed, as yet, to get into the minds of domestic cats.

Allogrooming

During the conversation they allogroom, meaning that they groom each other. This once again is a sign of mutual friendship. But it’s clear that they are friendly with each other through the way they vocalise towards each other.

Newborn kittens and mother

When a newborn kitten purrs while drinking their mother’s milk and their mother purrs in response, they are saying to each other that they are there and that they feel okay. It’s just meant to be a reassuring communication. I think we can take that as a guideline as to what these two female cats are saying. Their conversation is about mutual reassurance, each one making the other feel a little better, a little safer. An extension, perhaps, of mutual grooming which achieves the same goal.

RELATED: Language is the biggest communication barrier between human and cat, not the cat’s intelligence

Share your thoughts

This is a moment when visitors can share their thoughts as we are all guessing! Please comment.

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The domestic cat chirrup or ‘rising trill’ translated into English

Maine Coon cats are said the best the best exponents of the trill. Translated into the English language it means “Come with me” and is part of a greeting process. The sound is initially made when a mother wants her kittens to come near to her or follow her. It doubles up as a greeting when she has been away from them for a while.

Chirruping sound
Chirruping sound. Image by MikeB

In relation to adult domestic cats ‘talking’ to their human companions the rising trill is a greeting followed by a ‘come with me’ request. Under these circumstances the adult cat – who’s been acting like a kitten towards her human caregiver – becomes the mother and a true adult as she brings in a prey animal to show her caregiver as part of a food training exercise to show her ‘kitten’ how prey is killed and consumed.

One aspect of describing domestic cat sounds is that they are quite elastic in their production and they can overlap. And each cat has their own version. Some cats don’t trill. As mentioned, it is said that the Maine Coon is known for their trill.

I also feel that cats sounds are customised by individual cats in their own relationship with their human. This may change its meaning and the English translation ????. Essentially the chirrup is a form of greeting. A ‘close call’ sound made close up to the receiver. It is usually made when the cat is on the move.

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