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Why Do Cats Meow?

Did you know that cats meow to people, but not to other cats? Here’s why that happens, and how you can interpret your cat’s language to better understand her.

From Mothers to Humans—the Evolution of the Meow

Meows are the most frequent cat-to-human vocalizations. But they are uncommon in cat-to-cat communication. Cats communicate with each other through scent, facial expression, marking, body language and vocalization. Vocalizations used in cat-to-cat communication include caterwauls for mating, hissing to ward off an intruder or shrieking when hurt or afraid.

Kittens meow to solicit attention and care from their mothers. Once the kittens are grown, they stop meowing to other cats. Meowing is usually not part of adult cat-to-cat communication—it is used almost exclusively with humans. So why do cats meow to people? Because meowing is what works.

Researchers have compared the vocalizations of the domestic cat to the vocalizations of its closest relative, the African wild cat, a species that also vocalizes a lot. They have also discovered that the vocalizations of the domestic cat have evolved to become more pleasant to the human ear.

Their meows are less threatening, more high-pitched and more kitten-like. Humans are more sensitive to this type of sound and also more likely to respond positively, such as by providing care—like we do when an infant cries.

Cat People Know Cat Language

Meowing can develop into a language used by your cat to communicate with you. Some scientists would say that cats have refined their meows specifically to manipulate people—and it works!

Cats can learn to modify the characteristics of their meows, such as their frequencies or duration, to let people know exactly what they want.

Not surprisingly, the more experience people have with cats, the better they are at understanding what their cats want when they meow at them. Some research suggests that, based on the sound alone, experienced cat owners can identify the meaning of about 40 percent of the meows.

That’s a pretty remarkable result, considering that in that research, the respondents didn’t have any visual clues to help them.

A Better Understanding of Cats & Why They Meow

Hopefully this guide has helped you learn more about why and how your cat communicates with you. The better you understand her special language, the better you will be able to understand your cat.