By Langley Cornwell
Our cat has a very specific language and I know what he is ‘saying’ almost every time he meows. My husband marvels at how well I interpret our cat’s sounds, but it seems natural to me. I spend a lot of time with the little guy and tend to his needs. We understand each other. Moreover, he’s extremely communicative.
Jack, a neighbor’s cat, and our cat are best friends. They hang out on front porches and patrol the neighborhood together most of the day. If our cat is out and Jack isn’t, he’ll go to Jack’s door as if to say “can Jack come out and play?” and vice-versa. Their interactions provide entertainment for the whole neighborhood; everybody tells “Jack and Jet” stories. In total, I’ve probably watched these cats for more hours than I care to admit. One thing that stands out to me is that these two never meow to each other. All of their communications –of which there are many– are primarily inaudible. This observation got me thinking about how well my cat communicates with me through meows and why I never hear him and his buddy meow to each other.
In researching this, I learned that cats only meow to people, not to other cats. Cats communicate with one another through scent, facial expressions, body language and physical touch. Think about it. You’ve probably heard a cat caterwauling for mating, hissing to scare off intruders, screeching when he’s hurt or fearful, or chattering when he identifies prey, but I bet you’ve never heard a cat meow to another cat. They save that for humans.
According to Cornell News, only a mother cat and her young kittens meow to one another. A kitten mews to get attention from her mother cat and once the kitten is grown, they stop. This begs the question, why do cats meow to people? Cornell University did an evolutionary psychology study and determined that cats meow to people because it works. Cats have figured out how to get what they want from humans.
Since we evidently don’t understand the scent-messages the cat leaves us, and most of us are not entirely fluent in cat body language, cats have to resort to some manner by which to communicate with their humans. Because our cats are dependent on us in every way, they have to meow to get what they want. So cats are bilingual – they speak cat language to one another and they’ve developed a second meow-language to communicate with humans. Brilliant!