Categories: communication

Talk to your cat: Interspecies conversations can be quite revealing

Do you get into serious conversations with your cats? If so, do you ever suspect that they actually do understand what you are saying to them?

Photo: Flickr User: Vern Hart

I realize that some of our readers may think that these two questions I posed are completely preposterous. Nonetheless I was prompted to ask my fellow cat lovers if I have simply lost my mind, or if my recent interaction with Sir Hubble Pinkerton was completely normal.

The other morning while I was getting dressed I found myself in a rather animated discussion with Sir Hubble Pinkerton, our senior Blue-eyed white Oriental Shorthair kitty.

I was prattling on and on, asking him questions about whether he had enjoyed his breakfast, about any adventures he might be planning today to embark upon and that I was interested in how he felt about the latest episode of Jackson Galaxy’s “My Cat from Hell” which he had watched this past Saturday night. By now you may be thinking that I have really gone off the deep end.

Even though I assumed that I was having a one-way conversation with Sir Hubble, I was totally blown away when he started meowing back to me as if he were answering my questions and commenting on everything I was telling him. That was when I started believing that Sir Hubble understood my every word and it was obvious to me that he was responding.

I often say “hello” to Sir Hubble Pinkerton. I swear that he has learned to imitate that sound – and he now says “hello” back to me with a deep-throated “meow.”

There are plenty of folks who think it’s silly to talk to a cat since they don’t believe that their cat can understand what they are saying. However, cats actually do receive information from the tone of our voices and the manner in which we praise them or show our disapproval of their behavior. Cats not only are comforted by the words we use and the ways in which we communicate with them; our words can also bolster their confidence which makes them feel more secure.

In fact, the more we talk to our cats, the more they will “speak” back to us. These two-way conversations can help us learn more about what they are thinking and feeling. Cats have an uncanny way of building a rather extensive vocabulary.

For example, when I am getting ready to give Dr. Hush Puppy his senior vitamin chews, I say the word “treats” and immediately offer them to him. Within just a couple of days he would come running when he heard the word. Both cats have learned the words. “Dinner is served.”

Opening cat food cans with an electric can opener is basically no longer necessary. But these three words get them running to their food dishes just as quickly as that whirring sound.

Since our cats are senior catizens, play time is not as spirited as it was years ago. But since they still enjoy a few daily play sessions, both are eager to start the moment I say “play”; even interrupting their naps.

The majority of cats have easily learned their names and they will come if they are in the mood, or unless something more important has caught their interest. Cats do have a mind of their own!

But if we keep our minds open and can learn to interpret the wide variety of meows, chirps and other sounds our cats make, we will learn a lot about what our kitties are feeling. A “churtling” sound may translate into an expression of affection and want to be petted; while a loud yowling sound might mean that the cat is feeling insecure or may be physically hurting.

While talking to your cats may seem like a silly idea, connecting verbally with our kitties a lot fun and highly enjoyable for those of us who are open to inter-species communication.

Do you have conversations with your cats? Tell us about them in a comment.

Please comment here using either Facebook or WordPress (when available).
Jo Singer

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  • teddy the explorer wants to go out so badly - but now that he is almost 13 his vision is fading -- cataracts. the other day i sat him down and patiently explained to him just why he cn no longer go outside -- he can't see out of one eye. he hung his head. i feel quite certain he understood what i was saying.

  • Hi Cousin Judy,

    Shakti is quite an old lady! That shows me what a good kitty mom you must be. I think as they get up in years, as well as just making conversation, sometimes these rather loud sounds may be that our cats may be going somewhat deaf or that they want reassurance or may just be confused.

    Dr. Hush Puppy, who is 15 now (wow time just flies) has a particularly loud yowling sound when he is feeling insecure and wants me to pay attention to him. He can sit in the hallway and yowl for quite a long time until I get up and find him and pick him up- petting him and talking quietly to him- reassuring him that all is ok.

    Once we have this interaction, he happily jumps into the window seat and watches the lizards on the window sill, and seems totally content.

    They really do let us know what they are feeling-thinking. Cats are simply amazing. Thanks for visiting!

  • When I first brought my little semi-feral home from the shelter, she was very quiet. And her purr was so soft it was inaudible, but I could feel it when I was holding her.

    During the 4 years I've had her, I've noticed that she's starting talking more with many variations on her sounds. (Her purr is still inaudible.)

    She sometimes combines sound with body language. Sometimes she cries because she wants to go out. She starts with a regular meow, but it progresses to a really pitiful cry that must be meant to touch my heart.
    I usually scoop her up, and distract her with a toy, or a tummy rub, or a cuddle.

    When she's in my lap, and I'm on the computer, she will utter a kind of soft growling meow to get my attention.
    She stops when I look at her and talk to her.

    She's got all the regular meow sounds for food that I understand because it's time for her to eat.

    But there are increasingly more unusual sounds that are a real mystery to me. All the bases are covered, and I'm open to doing whatever she wants, but I just don't know what that is.

    Sometimes she comes when I call, and other times, she stays very still, thinking that she's hidden behind the curtain, but of course I see her silhouette.

    Sometimes she cries during the night, and I don't want to get up to find out what she wants, and I just pat the bed, and say "chin scratch". After a couple of minutes or less, she'll jump up, and lay on my chest,
    sometimes going to sleep for awhile.

    I think that she's become more talkative because I talk to her. Although it doesn't work with all cats. I had two sisters before, and one was a big talker, and the other one was a big eater, and rarely meowed at all.

  • Of course I carry on conversations with my cats....always have..... do hey always respond with their voices? Not necessarily, but since cats use body language to communicate when I ask something I make sure to see how they respond (if they do.....heck, sometimes my hubby asks me something and I don't answer right away...LOL). Sometimes I am "asked" for something by one of them- granted it's usually food but still.... Anyway, After I'd tripped over Shadow a couple of time and stepped on her paw once because I did not see her (her name isn't Shadow for nothing....) now when she is going to run ahead of me from one room to another she usually meows and looks up at me to make sure I've seen her. When I look at her and say..."good deal, I see you!" she will run ahead. I think that qualifies as two way communication!

  • My 17-year old kitty Shakti has become quite conversational in the past few years. She has several different yowls: sometimes the meaning is obvious, as in "hurry up with my dinner" (pose: seated in front of her dish), or as in "stroke my tummy and under my chin" (pose: stretched out on her side full length on the rug). Sometimes I don't have a clue what she is telling me. The other side of the coin is, I often find myself explaining things to her, or trying to negotiate with her, at great length. I don't really imagine she understands a bit of it, but I still really enjoy the "conversation."

  • Since there are no other humans here, my entire day and night evolves around cat and me talk. It's very unique and we have our own way of communicating. I know, pretty much, what every sound means. Linel's loud meow every morn means that he wants tuna and I can pretty much toss anything else out the door. Restart wants me to move someone aside so she can eat. Damon has shredded the roll of paper towels, wants to be forgiven, and still feels that he deserves the shredded chicken in the frig.
    I believe, also, that they understand me clearly.

  • Ahhh jmuhj I feel totally vindicated!

    I have very serious conversations with my cats at times. I ask them serious questions. Perhaps it is similar to the toy that was floating around several years ago where you ask a question to a ball, shake it a few times, and then turn it right side up and voila- there's your answer.

    I take it seriously when a cat "meows" back to me when I ask a yes or no question. If there is no "meow" back, then I know I am on the wrong track- it is their "no". When they respond it is usally a resounding "yes". !!!!

  • Since "experts" say cats make over 100 different vocalizations, and since cats are one of the more intelligent of species, I've never thought it a question of, "Do they understand us?" but more along the lines of, "Do we understand THEM?" to which the answer is generally a resounding "not a clue" on the part of the general population. For those of us born into a family including felines, and/or those who love and care for cats, I hope the answer is at least a "sometimes". (Oh, how I love that "churtling"!)

  • "Do you get into serious conversations with your cats?" This is not the same as talking to your cat, which I do in the usual "Where are you?", "Who did this?","Where are your toys?" sort of way. But surely a serious two way conversation is a bit out of the question and would always be one sided or the stuff of kid's movies. I don't think the odd meow when you pause counts as serious conversation, the cat meowing at such a point may well be a plea for you to shut up!

    • Come on Alan! You must have had a serious conversation with your cat ;) . Seriously though, you are right of course. It is at best a quite short conversation and the subject matter is usually about one or two different things such as food or a greeting or put me down and those sorts of things.

      I think Jo is deliberately exaggerating a bit to make the article more amusing.

      • On reflection, if I lived alone, I would probably talk to the cat a lot more than I do now, however as things are I get blamed enough already, "you love that cat more than me!" To which there is no safe answer (just in case the cat CAN understand my words). Laughing it off seems the best course of action all feelings considered. :-)

  • Yes, I am guilty as charged for this!! I carry on conversations with my 12 all the time!! I always tell them I love them -- and for the most part they meow back to me. When I am doing my readings before going to sleep, I converse with them as well -- I get mrrts, chirps and purrs. . . I don't ever plan on stopping. I have found that the more I converse with them, they more they respond and converse with me. It is a most pawsome feeling!! ♥♥♥

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