Monday, July 21, 2014

Meow, Purr, Hiss – Understanding Talkative Cats By: Nancy Peterson, Cat Programs Manager for The Humane Society of the United States

 One day, Kathy, a client of the veterinary clinic where I worked as a registered veterinary technician, called to confirm our lunch date for the next day. During the call she says, “By the way, a long-haired tri-color cat has been meowing at my door for days. I think her family moved and left her behind.” I immediately asked, “Do you mean a long-haired calico?” I’d been saying for at least a year that my next cat would be a long-haired calico. Could this be her?

When I arrived, the cat was crying at Kathy’s door. “Isn’t Meow Meow beautiful?” Kathy said. That’s what Kathy called the cat because she was very talkative. Poor kitty, she really wanted to get inside. After lunch, I got a better look at her and because the veterinarian I worked for was an angel and often helped homeless cats, I thought it would be okay to bring Meow Meow to the clinic.

Although it was my day off, I drove Meow Meow to the clinic. She didn’t make a peep in the car. After one of the veterinarians examined her and drew blood to test her for feline leukemia, I vaccinated her and gave her a flea bath. She was a great little patient. I was starting to fall in love. “Okay, Meow Meow,” I told her as I prepared to leave for the day, “If your feline leukemia test is negative, I’m going to take you home and introduce you to my cat, Buddy.”

"Daisy" Photo Courtesy of The HSUS


That was the beginning of my wonderful relationship with Meow Meow. Although I renamed her Daisy, she stayed true to her original name, and the house became very quiet when she died at 19 years of age.

You may not know that the meow is rarely used between cats. They rely more on body language and scents than vocalization to communicate with each other, although vocalizations may be used as well. Even we humans understand that a growl, hiss or scream means a cat is stressed. He or she could be saying, “I’m upset because I see a cat outside the window,” “I’m afraid because I don’t like having my nails clipped” or “I’m in pain when you touch me there.”

However, recognizing the meaning of cat body language on its own is not something that most people have mastered. Many are bitten or scratched for failing to take heed of the twitching skin, swishing tail, and grabbing paw that may indicate that a cat is getting upset. That’s because people communicate primarily through verbal language. Leave it to our clever cats to crack the code to effectively communicate with us.

Joelyne King's Cat, NarniaPhotographer: Meredith Lee
The HSUS


 Our cats have mastered the art of meow. I’m sure you’ve learned to recognize what your cat’s different meows mean – wake up, feed me, open the bedroom door and so on – depending on the volume, duration and intensity.

If your cat adopts a new vocalizing behavior, it may mean he or she is in some sort of pain. On the other hand, if your talkative cat stops vocalizing, it may also mean something hurts. It’s best to contact your veterinarian because cats often hide signs of illness until they’re seriously ill, and any change in behavior may be an early sign of a medical problem.

If your cat is new to your home or has just gone through a change – such as a person or other animal moving in or out – and she has just started talking, be patient. Yelling at your cat may scare him or her. If your cat thinks of your yelling as positive attention, he or she may continue to be noisy. If you ignore the chatter, it will probably stop on its own. If it doesn’t, contact your veterinarian.

Joelyne King's Cat, NarniaPhotographer: Meredith Lee
The HSUS



After the death or departure of a person or animal in your cat’s life, he or she may vocalize to express grief. This can be a normal part of the grieving process. The best thing you can do is keep your cat’s normal schedule the same (or as close to it as possible) and spend some extra time cuddling and playing during quiet moments. With time, the vocalizing should subside. If your cat does not return to his or her normal self, consult your veterinarian to make sure there is no underlying medical problem.

As cats age, their hearing may diminish. Daisy gradually became deaf in her older years and I didn’t understand that her frequent yowling meant that she could no longer hear. It’s not unusual for cats to vocalize if they suffer from arthritis and other painful ailments or senility. It’s easy to chalk up the talk to aging, but something more serious could be going on. Again, contacting your veterinarian is the best course of action.
Oriental breeds, such as Siamese cats, are known to be very talkative. If your cat has a pointed face and a long, lean body, chances are he or she has some Oriental heritage and “talking” is just a character trait. If your cat’s chatter bothers you, avoid giving attention when he or she talks, because that will only encourage the vocal behavior. Instead, give attention during quiet moments.

Cats may talk because they want your attention. If you talk back, feeding, petting or even picking him or her up and temporarily putting  them in another room – assuming your cat likes to be picked up – encourages the chatter. I know it can be hard to ignore a talkative cat, but you need to ignore the behavior in order to discourage it. Only pay attention to your cat when he or she is quiet: pour on the love, have playtime, or once in a while, reward with a treat. This will teach your cat which behaviors you would like to continue.

How often do you talk to your cat? To learn more about chatty cats, read “The Cat’s Meow: Understanding Your Feline Friend.”


63 comments:

  1. I just adopted a mother cat from the human society -- partly because I just loved her talking. She talks all the time, unlike any other cats we've ever had, and I felt like she was saying to me -- "please adopt me. I need a home." We fostered her and her five kittens. We ended up keeping her and one of her kittens. Twice we've failed as foster parents of kittens -- we just end up loving them too much to give them back to the humane society.

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    1. Lorilyn I HAVE to say how much I LOVED your comment!!!! I bet she WAS saying "Please adopt me"....I would say that you didn't "fail" at all, everything turned out just the way that it was supposed to and you have one AMAZING heart of gold! Thanks so much for sharing your story!

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  2. This Nancy human is very smart! It's hard to get humans to understand kitty language, since all they ever think about is meows. Maybe I should teach a course in Cat?

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  3. Great read! Our Mommy often wishes she knew what Princeton's meows meant. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to fit into any the above categories. Our vet seems to think he is just a "talkative" kitty. It's probably good that Mommy can't understand him. She thinks he might end up in a "time out". HahaMeow!

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  4. We all so wish we could understand animal speak better. We have missed you.
    Have a marvellous Monday.
    Best wishes Molly

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    1. Ohhh Molly! We have missed you too! Are you back???????????

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  5. Wonderful review.....the book sounds fascinating. Sammy's always been a talker and we have many happy and long conversations every day. It's always amused me that some of his "sentences" are questions with that tell-tale upward inflection at the end! They are so darn smart......and I guess we must be too because we UNDERSTAND them.....anyway, sounds like a most interesting book. Without Sammy's chatter, our house would indeed be quiet.....too much so.

    Hugs, Pam

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    1. Ohhhh Pam I LOVED THIS!! My Angel Bobo also used to speak with an "upward inflection" at the end!! He did it primarily at meal time....I translated it to mean "For me???" because he ALWAYS said that when he wanted to be fed. For 18 years at meal time I would say to him "For Me????" and he would reply in kind. Love it!!!

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  6. Mommy loves it when we "talk" with her. She can recognize our different mews and what our mews mean. Daddy laughs when he hears us talk to Mommy and Mommy talk back. But quite often Mommy hears him having a Daddy / Daughter chat with Ling when he thinks no one is listening. :)

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    1. that is ADORABLE!!!!!!!! Your Daddy is a sweetheart!!!!!

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  7. Sounds like a fascinating book! Ashton has been a "talker" with the head peep since the beginning. We were never sure if this was because she was inclined to interact that way or because she was in a cage at first while she convalesced and she wasn't able to interact in other ways some of the time. She still verbalizes a lot, especially when he wants something (usually food), so that nearly all of the head peep's friends have heard Ashton on the phone at some point.

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    1. Ok it's early, so maybe that's why you thought this was a book? lol :) It is a guest post from HSUS but that's ok!!!! LOVE that your friends hear Ashton on the phone, my Angel Bobo was like that. Cody talks but not that much, mostly to his Dad!

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    2. DUH!! MY BAD!! What a jerk! I read the post when Nancy sent it to me and I NEVER SAW the book title listed at the bottom!!! lol! So sorry!!!!! xoxoxoxo

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  8. Wow, this is interesting post ! Thanks a lot Caren :)

    You know Caren, when I first adopted my pawrents, I didn't meow for years, but they talk to me a lot, my mom even sing for me ( only me , happy to listen to her song..MOL ), and then I start to talk, more year..I do more meow...in general, I was whining..
    Like...why you come home so late, I'm starving till dead...or...my bowl is empty ....Or....open da door ..or..I'm here, stop pretend you not see me...or wake up Sleepy head....blar..blar...blar :)

    I only do howling when I have to face with evil situation. Such as 3 metre before our car park at the VET., or go to the cattery.

    If I meow, my mom love it..because she know I'm heathy & happy but howling, it's not a kind of sound anyone like it. Because they know I'm stress. But once in the blue moon, I have to deal with it.

    And me & mom love you too
    xox

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    1. Puddy I LOVE that you shared this information about you!!!!! I sing to Cody too, (he could care less lol)....you know who Cody talks to the MOST? His Daddy!!! Go figure!!!!!! I am the "cat person" and he talks to Lenny the most! Hmmm...maybe he is telling him off? No, seriously, he LOVES his Daddy and he knows that Daddy is a pushover for food. Oh and Cody whines too but he doesn't howl....Dakota does the howling!!!! Love you Puddy and your Mom too! xoxo

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  9. That's a very interesting post ! We're both rather talkative ; Zorro adopted a new meow to call me, the "C'mon little kitten I'm a good brofur" meow, which was rather mrrrew than meow. Mum is better than Dad in cat speaking, she's able to understand many meows and our body language, and is even able to answer us with a strange human accent ! Purrs

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  10. Great post!

    Athena meows at me a lot, but I believe she communicates with me telepathically!

    Purrs xx

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  11. What a wonderful and insightful post. All of Little One's life, she barely meowed. It was almost like a whisper, but occasionally she would meow loud and it always got our attention twice as fast as her regular meowing. You could tell by the way she acted that she knew that. Since her death, Traveler has become more talkative when I come home. I'm sure it has a lot to do with him being lonely while I'm gone.

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    1. Mason that was so sweet.....poor Traveler (BTW I love that name!) (((hugs)))

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  12. I love when kitties talk to you. My BearBear became deaf towards the end and he became very vocal when he couldn't find or see me near. I have a kitten who does that too if she cannot find me. She saying mom where are you? Enjoyed this post.
    Sue B

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    1. Sue I do too. You just reminded me, at the end of Bobo's life he became deaf as well. It devastated me. I ALWAYS used to talk to him and he would reply. I remember crying my eyes out when I realized he could no longer hear my voice. Just thinking of it makes me want to break down again. So glad you liked the post, Nancy will be providing a number of guest posts until the end of the year.

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  13. My cats are very chatty. They have so many vocalizations. Especially at meal time! The king photo is hilarious.

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  14. I LOVE talking to Katie & Waffles. Both will happily talk back, though Waffles is a REAL chatterbox. And sometimes, Waffles will actually meow or talk at Katie! I was so surprised when he did this. It's usually when he's wanting to touch her and they are sitting still at a staredown. haha!

    Really wonderful post! Loved it. : )

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    1. Yes we LOVE when Nancy guest posts. Her posts are meowvelous!! Why does that NOT surprise me about Waffles? lol. Adorable!!

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  15. What a fascinating post! My Truffles is a tortie and *very* talkative...she chats all the time! And over the past year I've pretty much learned what each different meow means. And yes, I often talk back MOL

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  16. Chucky lets us know when he's hungry, and Angel makes chirping noises when the hubby is petting her fur just right. If we try to sleep in, that's when Angel will meow loudly, and Chuck will meow when he's ready for bed but we are still watching TV!

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    1. love the "chirping" noises. My Angel Bobo used to do that when he watched the birds. Cody doesn't. I am beginning to think that Cody is a super strange cat lol

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  17. Very interesting! I talk to my kitties all the time! And the dogs too!
    I call my kitties my very own lion pride, and they talk back to me too! Love it!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

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    1. It doesn't surprise me that they do Jenna, that's because I know you are a wonderful doggy, kitty and human mama! xoxo

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  18. What I think is so sweet is when Annabelle opens her mouth and nothing comes out but a silent meow. It is so cute!

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    1. OMG Cody does that too sometimes! I love it!! It's the tiniest little thing too when they open their mouths :)

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  19. My cats each have their own times to talk...sometimes it is really irritating, but they talk for a reason at least. Mom had a Siamese mix as a little girl. Fluffy(I know, the cat wasn't at all fluffy, but Mom liked that name from a book she was reading in second grade) talked all the time for no reason. That I have heard was irritating.

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  20. I loooooooove the talkative ones! Some people find it "annoying" - but it's music to my ears :) (That is, of course, if it's their natural tendency, and not because they're upset or in pain.)
    Very informative piece!

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  21. I love this post, Caren! Moosey and Zoe are the big talkers here. We actually have funny conversations with them both. Gracie is more true to what Nancy is saying ... when she vocalizes, we almost always know why (and it is usually food-related, ha ha).

    Hugs!

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    1. Thank you!! I love having Nancy as a guest blogger! She writes the BEST posts!!! lol about Gracie!!! (((hugs)))) back

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  22. mostly everybody hear isn't so chatty. well the kittens get rowdy around dinner time yelling "feed me feed me". but the calico girl that mom rescued recently is a TALKER. that is how she got found - she was sitting outside nearby condos trying to demand to be let in. even now at our rescue's adoption center, if you start talking to Mae, she will happliy answer you and hold on a long conversation :)

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    1. I sooo loved that story! Maybe it was a female thing? Love the name Mae too, so sweet!

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  23. Great post! :-D Tigerlino talks A LOT! He has to have the last word about EVERYTHING.. MOL :lol: xx Roxy & Tigerlino <3

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    1. yes Nancy did a great job! Love that Tigerlino has to have the last word! Typical kitty!

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  24. The only time my Siamese cat Ting Ting is quiet is when she's either eating or sleeping. Jax, on the other hand, speaks when Ting has sneaked out (he worries about her, silly girl) or if something else is wrong. Even when he's letting me know that the food dish is not full almost to the rim, he sits quietly and patiently, waiting for me to notice.

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  25. We know this will totally and completely surprise you (not) but Faraday's a bit talkative. Even to Max & Allie. Always has been. And you shoulda heard the foul things Ryker used to say to Allie - it coulda stripped PAINT! MOL!!

    Interestingly enough, we were just trying to sign onto her webinar on this topic offered for free at PetSmart Charities!

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    1. MOL MOL MOL!!!!! "coulda stripped paint" MOL!!!!! If you go to the webinar, blog about it please!!

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  26. This is really very interesting.
    Loustiquette is a talkative cat. She even speaks with Hisia sometime.
    Hisia, like many abys, is not talkative, but she is very very good at body language.
    And me ... I understand cats very well. I have more affinities with cats than with humans.
    Douce soirée
    Nat à Chat

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    1. Nat a Chat, I feel the same. I MUCH prefer cats to most humans. Cats are so relaxing and I inherently understand them better myself. Hoping you are feeling well!!!

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  27. This is a terrific post with excellent information. Of course, I found out that I have been handling Mr. Non-Stop Talker, Mauricio, all wrong by giving him attention and talking back to him. Now that he is nearly ten year's old, it's probably too late to change his behavior. At least now I know what to do if I ever end up with another talker. Thanks for visiting on our 2nd blogoversary to celebrate with us! XO, Lily Olivia, Mauricio, Misty May, Giulietta, Fiona, Astrid, Lisbeth and Calista Jo

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    1. you didn't do anything wrong! I think a talkative cat is GREAT!! I am always talking to Cody! You are most welcome! Of course we would visit you on your blogoversary and many, many other days! xoxo

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  28. What a great post!
    All of my cats talk to me and I talk to them too. Georgia is the most vocal and lets me know when she wants something or when she isn't getting her way with the other cats. With all of my cats and the fosters I'm getting pretty good at interrupting cat speak.

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  29. We enjoyed this too! Two of my sisters chat a lot, Gracie and Kit. I never have much to say, bit if I do it is important!

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  30. The mom talks to us all the time...and we talk back to her. But for some reason she never seems to understand what we're saying. We need a translator. :)

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  31. What a fabulous and fascinating post, thoroughly enjoyed it! Me, Clooney, I am a big talker, Neytiri is a back-talker! Regardless, my Human enjoys all the talking!

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  32. This is a great post and very interesting. Flynn has always been very talkative and always has to have the last word. He will chirrup to me like a kitten does when he wants me to play. If he just wants attention but not to play he will "raaaohhh" to me. He does little "meeps" if his food bowl is empty. When it is dark he likes to walk around the (escape proof) garden yowling at the top of his voice. He gets shut indoors when I go to bed, and also yowls and headbutts me around 3am. If I ignore him, he does the boob dance until I open my eyes and speak to him.

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    1. the "boob dance" MOL MOL MOL!! Cody tried that last night and I about went through the ceiling!! He's HEAVY!!

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  33. Hello everyone. It's Nancy Peterson. I'm happy to see at the chatter my post has generated. The more we know about our cats, the better we can care for them. There's a special meow that I didn't mention. Can anyone guess what it is?

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  34. Even though Ragdolls aren't suppose to meow a lot--Nico was very talkative. ;-)

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