By Chelsie Frasier
Updated on May 25, 2022
We all know those “cat people” who have conversations with their cats. While this is hard to understand for some, most pet owners agree that this is normal behavior. While we know that our cats don’t understand every single word we say, we know that they do have the ability to understand frequently used words and phrases.
Whether cats like being talked to depends on who’s doing the talking and the tone of voice that the speaker is using. Cats recognize their owner’s voice and will pay attention to soft and calm voices. Voices that sound angry or threatening will not be enjoyable for a cat.
Speaking “cat” isn’t just about words. Cats don’t use verbal communication, but they do understand human intentions, actions, and emotions.
Do Cats Like When You Talk to Them?
As a rule, yes, cats like it when you talk to them, and there’s scientific research to back that up. Researchers at the University of Tokyo found that cats pay attention to their owner’s voices, though they are more likely to respond when that voice is calm or soft. Tone and volume are key when it comes to cat conversations.
Cats can understand and recognize their names and can respond to being called by their owners. Many cat owners notice that their cats also respond to their talking by meowing and purring. Cats gather information about your mood by watching your body language and facial expressions.
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Benefits of Talking to Your Cat
Talking to your cat has benefits for both you and your pet. While they may not understand everything that you’re saying, they are fantastic listeners that can give you their full attention. This fact alone makes talking to pets beneficial for your mental health, as people who talk about their problems, worries, and frustrations, even to their pet, tend to experience less stress than those who don’t.
The benefits of conversing with your feline don’t stop with you; it’s beneficial for your cat too. Here are the many reasons that you should talk to your cat.
1. Your cat feels understood
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The more time you spend talking with your cat, the better you get at understanding what your cat’s vocalizations mean. Knowing which meow means “I’m hungry” versus “Please pet me” makes your cat more secure because you respond to them correctly.
2. It strengthens your bond
When you communicate to your cat with affection, your cat will respond and know that you love them.
3. It teaches commands
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The more that you use certain words combined with gestures, the more likely your cat is to learn their meaning. Cats understand tone of voice and body language better than words, but they are smart and can quickly pick up anything that you wish to teach them.
4. You will notice when something is wrong
Animals can’t tell us when they are sick or in pain. The more time you spend with your cat, the more likely that you will notice when something is “off.” Sometimes, subtle cues are the first warning signs of illness.
How to Speak Cat
Use a different tone of voice for positive and negative feedback. “Come for a snuggle” and “You’re such a good kitty” should be in a different tone than “Get down” or “No.” When you are correcting misbehavior, use a firm, loud, and authoritative voice, and gesture along with your verbal command. Use a high-pitched happy voice when calling or praising your cat. Accompany the words with a smile or a pet. Don’t show attention to your cat when they are exhibiting behavior that you don’t like. Use a firm “no,” and nudge your cat away to send the right message.
While cats can often be aloof and hard to read, they do like being talked to by their owners. Cats can identify their owner’s voice and learn various words and commands. While they respond more to tone of voice and body gestures, there are numerous benefits to talking with your cat. These conversations can benefit you and your pet in many ways and strengthen your bond.
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Most cats are neatniks and spend up to 50 percent of their awake time indulging in some form of cat grooming. However, grooming is learned by copy-cat behavior during kittenhood. Kittens learn to lick themselves at a very young age and are self-bathing by the time they’re weaned.
Understanding Why Cats Groom
Grooming does more than keep the cat looking good. This activity maintains healthy skin by stimulating the production of sebum, an oily secretion produced by sebaceous glands at the base of each hair. Licking spreads sebum over the hair coat to lubricate and protect the fur and make it shine. It also removes loose hair and prevents mats, and removes dirt and parasites like fleas.
Grooming is also a barometer for feline health. An unthrifty appearance can signal illness in a cat, and older cats with arthritis or obese cats may be unable to pretzel themselves enough to stay pristine. Emotional or physical illnesses may also trigger excessive grooming behavior such as licking a specific area bald, either because of pain or anxiety. If your elderly or sick kitty is not grooming regularly, gently brushing its coat may help it to feel a bit better as well as preventing painful matted fur. If there are already large knots, it is best to have a professional assist you in removing them to avoid any injuries to the cat’s skin.
Finally, Cats can’t sweat to cool themselves and they rely on the evaporation of saliva spread on the fur through grooming to keep cool. While dogs pant to cool off, a cat that is panting (open mouth breathing) is very concerning and should be examined by a veterinarian.
How Cats Groom
Every cat has her own grooming ritual. Some lick the chin, and whiskers first, followed by each shoulder and foreleg. She’ll then wash both flanks and hind legs, the genitals, and then her tail from tip to end. Not all cats groom from head to tail in one sitting however, and may break up these sessions throughout the day.
A cat uses a dampened forepaw to scrub face, head, and ears and re-dampens her paw by licking after every few swipes. She’ll switch paws depending on which side she’s washing.
Next, she may scratch with rear claws to clean and groom the neck and ears. She nibbles on the rear claws to keep them groomed, and both nibbles and claws an object to file her front claws into shape.
A cat’s tongue has numerous spines, or papillae, that make the tongue’s surface rough. You may notice this when a cat licks your skin and it feels like sandpaper. These papillae help grab onto the fur and comb through it, making grooming even more efficient.
Mutual grooming expresses the friendly relationship between cats. It also helps cats get grooming attention to hard-to-reach areas of the body, usually the back of the head and neck regions.
However, mutual grooming is more of a social activity than a hygienic one. Grooming another cat expresses comfort, companionship, and even love. Cats that groom an owner’s hair, lick your arm and accept the owner’s petting actually are engaging in mutual grooming that expresses trust and affection. You are kitty-blessed!
Cats also use grooming to make themselves feel better emotionally. Behaviors that seem inappropriate to the situation but are self-soothing are termed “displacement” behaviors. Cats use grooming in this function more than any other behavior. Your kitty may suddenly groom herself when feeling fearful, to relieve tension, or when uncertain how to react to a situation.
For example, a cat faced with an aggressive animal may (instead of running) suddenly begin frantically grooming. Or perhaps your cat misjudges a leap and falls and then begins to furiously groom as though embarrassed. In this case, grooming serves as a self-calming (kitty massage) mechanism.
Animal behaviorists believe self-grooming as a displacement behavior helps the cat deal with conflict. Perhaps the touch-sensation has a direct effect on brain chemistry or neurologic impulses that make the distressed cat feel better. In other words, self-grooming may be self-soothing. Or maybe it’s just an unconscious way for the cat to distract herself, the way some people bite their nails to relieve tension.
Some displacement grooming is perfectly normal for cats. But if your cat becomes obsessive about grooming so that it interferes with other normal behavior or causes physical harm (hair loss or skin injury, for example), seek a veterinarian’s advice.
Dogs love to please us. They are trainable and come running when we call them! On the other hand, cats seem happy to ignore us. They have a no-nonsense reputation and often disregard the attention given to them by humans. Why is this? Do cats actually ignore us, or do they they simply not understand people? Let’s investigate.
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Can cats hear us?
If your cat seems to ignore you, it’s not because she can’t hear you. Studies show that cats can recognize their owner’s voice. A study that observed 20 house cats over eight months found that 50 to 70 percent of the cats turned their heads at the sound of their owner’s voice and 30 percent moved their ears. This is known as orienting behavior. When the cats turn their heads or move their ears, it shows that they can indeed hear and somewhat acknowledge human voices. Feline reactions however, are very subtle and not very demonstrative.
Do cats understand us?
Although cats can hear us, it’s still uncertain if they actually comprehend human communication. Cats operate heavily out of instinct, with a concentration on survival. Because of this, their actions are self-motivated. They eat because they’re hungry, not because we say, “Here kitty, kitty, it’s dinner time!” Studies and cat owners will tell you that kitties are capable of high levels of affection and love. This does not necessarily mean they will do what we want them to do. They are essentially the moody teenagers of the domesticated animal kingdom.
Is my cat ignoring me on purpose?
It’s important to understand how exactly cats communicate and, perhaps more importantly, how they don’t communicate. Humans constantly vocalize their emotions, needs, and demands. Dogs, although less vocal, still communicate with each other, as well as humans, through barking, panting, moaning and body language. Dogs actively moderate their behavior to bridge the communication gap between canine and human. They are trained to respond to us and have the natural ability to assimilate to our needs. This is not the case with cats.
Cats ignore humans because they were never bred or trained to listen and obey like dogs. Because cat behavior is based so much on natural survival instincts, they will not communicate if there is no need. Cat mothers in the wild will only use vocal communication with their kittens as a warning or alert to danger. If there is no imminent danger or need to communicate, well, a cat is literally not going to waste her breath. Therefore, if you are calling out to your cat but they don’t need anything from you in that moment, they are not likely to respond.
Sure your kitty loves you, but she isn’t going to vocalize this, or much of anything else, if it’s not absolutely necessary. Cats act independently and aren’t going to disturb their notorious slumber or hours of relaxation just to return your call. And you thought your ex-boyfriend was bad!
Cats use dozens of different meows to communicate. But did you know that the majority of cat communication from one cat to another is through body language and scents?
In fact, cats rarely meow to each other, but will often meow to humans. Why is that? What are cats trying to tell us when they meow?
Cats Meow to Communicate With People
Why is it that cats meow to communicate to humans?
Well, we are not always perceptive enough to read a cat’s body language, and our sense of smell is not sensitive enough to pick up on their subtle scenting. And even if it were, we wouldn’t know how to decode the scents.
As a result, cats adapt to us and learn over time that meowing is one way they can get our attention.
Why Does My Cat Meow So Much?
Different cats will meow more than others. Some cats, in fact, are very vocal and use meows all the time, while others do not.
It’s important to pay attention to how often your cat usually meows. A change in how frequently your cat meows can be one of the first signs a cat is not feeling well. So if you think that your cat seems to be meowing more often, see your veterinarian.
For example, often one of the first signs of hyperthyroid disease in cats is that they start meowing a lot at night. Changes in meowing can also signal that your cat needs or wants, like food.
What Do a Cat’s Meows Mean?
Meows can communicate so many different things. Some meows and mews signal love and affection, while others can be signs of distress, pain, or confusion at times.
Cats can also produce other types of noises such as chatters and yowls, which sound different than meows. Below, we’ll go through the six common reasons why your cat may meow at you.
1. The Greeting Meow
One reason a cat will meow is to greet someone. This is often a short meow or mew to say hello. This meow is your cat telling you that she is happy or interested in you arriving home. Depending on the cat, the meow may indicate happiness or excitement.
2. The ‘I’m Here’ Meow
Another reason a cat may meow is to announce their presence. Often you see this in situations where a cat comes out of a spot they were hiding or sleeping in, or if a cat is thinking about exploring a new bedroom or open door.
This announcement meow helps them gauge whether to pursue something they are interested in. They are usually waiting for a positive response to their feeler meows. Talking to them in a gentle, loving voice may encourage them to explore if they are anxious to check out a new area or object.
3. The Demanding Meow
The third reason why cats meow is to demand that you pay attention to something. Not all cats will do this, but many do. The meaning behind this meow can range from wanting to be fed to wanting attention or for you to let them out of a room they accidentally got stuck in.
Common things that cats may demand include:
A clean litter box
Pets or cuddles
To be let in or out of somewhere
Often when they are demanding things, cats will meow multiple times or give a long, drawn out meow. If you suspect that your cat is meowing to demand something, check their food, water, litter box, and bedding area to make sure that all are in an appropriate state. Often your cat will walk you over to see what they are complaining about.
4. The Anxious Meow
A cat can also meow because they are scared, anxious, or in pain. If they are fearful of a person or other animal, they may let out repeated meows to indicate that they are in a state of stress.
One common source of stress for cats is when we put them in the carrier to go to see the vet. This is why it is so important to talk to your vet about ways to make trips to the vet low-stress.
Vets often recommend things like leaving carriers out year-round and applying catnip and low-stress pheromones to the carrier’s bedding help desensitize them to their carrier.
Cats that are in pain often have loud, high-pitched meows, or if they are very ill, they may emit a quiet meow that is weak and barely audible.
5. The Warning Meow
Another reason a cat can meow is to give a warning sign that they are about to lash out. Often, these meows have a lower tone and are coupled with a growl.
A warning growl may be given when two cats are starting to disagree over something.
Sometimes, if you are holding your cat and she does not want to be held, she may give you a warning meow/growl. It does not take long for a warning meow to turn into a cat lashing out.
6. The Yowl
Cats can often have longer and more expressive meows that are classified more as ‘yowls.’
Yowls can often indicate underlying medical issues such as hyperthyroid disease or dementia. Oftentimes, excessive meowing or yowling can be one of the first signs of a disease. Cats that have not been spayed may yowl because they are in heat.
If you hear your cat yowling, contact your vet to check for illness or dementia so you can find the proper treatment or response.
What to Do When Your Cat Meows
When your cat is meowing, pay attention to the circumstances to see if you can help.
If your cat’s meows seem persistent or inexplicable, look for something obvious that they may need, like food, water, or clean litter, and also make sure that they are safe.
If they continue to meow without an obvious reason, make an appointment with your veterinarian for a thorough checkup.