Is Your Cat Trying to Tell You Something?

It would be unusual for any cat pawrent not to wonder about what your cat is trying to tell you. Don’t you wish they could actually talk to us? Although cats cannot speak our language, they are amazingly communicative. If we just take the time to learn how to listen to what they are trying to tell us, then we can truly have some fascinating conversations with them.

Athena, Horatio, Abbie, & Augusta snuggled up and watching outside
Even though we may attempt to imitate a cat’s vocal sounds by “meowing” at them, cats don’t normally “meow” to each other. However cats are highly intelligent and have learned that “meowing” to their human gets their attention. This sound can be translated into a variety of thoughts they wish to convey. Depending on the time of day, or the mood they may be in, or depending on the weather conditions, a “meow” could mean “Feed me MEOW”, “I want attention MEOW”, “It’s playtime”, “Let me out! (Meowt) or just a friendly “Hello”.

When your cat is sitting by a window, gazing out at the world, have you ever heard your kitty make little “chattering” sounds? Personally, I find them to be quite charming and fun to listen to. But what really causes cats to make this fascinating noise? What usually sets them off is when they detect a nearby prey animal. Although there is no scientific proof to one popular theory, when you think about it, it actually does make sense. Some folks believe that cats imitate a prey animal’s sound to lull them in closer so they can more easily kill it. These may be cute tones for us to enjoy, but as far as feline predatory animals are concerned, they may be their meal ticket.

Abbie, Leo, Oliver, & Athena watching outside
Of course we must talk about the purr. Did you know that the sound of a cat on your lap purring can lower your blood pressure? Cats make top notch physicians for the human species. Cats purr for several reasons. As very young kittens, purring is bonding behavior between the mamma cat and her babies. Cats often purr while being petted - feeling warmth and contentment. They are telling you they are happy and feeling safe. At feeding time, many cats purr to their humans, letting them know they are anticipating a delicious meal. Although purring is generally considered a positive communication, cats may also purr when they are sick or in pain. Since a purring cat can lower human blood pressure, it may be possible that these frequencies may be helpful in their attempt to heal or comfort themselves.

Speaking of purring, some cats will purr while at the same time making little mewing sounds. This is a communication of extreme pleasure. The name I have given this most pleasing sound is “churtling”. If you hear your kitty “churtling” she is telling you she is experiencing total ecstasy.

Leo receiving kisses from his Mommy
Cats also can make some sounds that are not so pleasant or appealing to humans or to other animals. In fact, they are meant to be quite frightening. Hissing, spitting, lowpitched growling sounds and screams can all have similar meanings - depending on what is causing this reaction. Basically, they all mean the cat is very upset or feeling threatened about something. Cats will often hiss at humans or other animals as a threatening signal to "get out of their way". Low pitched growling can be an escalation of that warning sound, saying, "I am not playing... look out - I am about to attack." These sounds are frequently accompanied by an arched up back and bristled tail. Generally speaking, although these communications can be alarming, unless it is an emergency that takes expert intervention, it’s wiser to give kitty a wide berth until she calms down on her own.

Both domestic pet felines and their big wild cat cousins have a great deal in common in the way they communicate. The feline species are truly remarkable animals; intelligent, crafty, stealthy, and they can be extremely affectionate to those they trust. Enjoy “listening” to the wide range of your cat’s conversations, which is sure to deepen and enrich your relationship.

By: Jo Singer, MSW, CSW, LCSW (Ret.)