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Did you know that cats only evolved to meow because of humans? It also gives us an insight into their current mood

Ferenczi Deborah

2023. September 1 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

Many people think that the main communication tool of cats is meowing, as this is the main way they try to communicate with us. However, interestingly, they rarely use typical meowing sounds to communicate with each other. Did they evolve meowing just to communicate with humans?

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Bjarne O. Braastad, a professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, has been studying cat behaviour for many years. He believes that meowing is due to instinctive sounds that cats do not use to communicate with each other, but which they use more often to talk to their mothers when they are kittens. This suggests that they actually regard their owners as their parents.

A cat meows only at humans. They use different cues to communicate with their fellows.

A kittenhood habit?

The first way a mother cat tries to communicate with her kittens is by meowing. Then, when they move to a loving owner, they try to express themselves in the same way. And if the owner responds, they will continue to engage in this discourse, as they feel this is how they can connect with humans. Interestingly, a cat only meows at humans, as they do not talk to their conspecifics in this way.

How do cats communicate with each other?

A much more likely way than meowing, for example, is to shout at each other. This is how they scare off their rivals. From now on, females may use a very specific sound to call out to males who want to mate. Hissing and growling are also common, but they all occur when they feel threatened. In addition, their body language, touch and facial expressions are all essential elements of their communication.

Susanne Schötz, a professor at Lund University in Sweden, agrees that cats use meowing to interact with humans because they follow the attention patterns they learnt as young kittens. According to the professor, this works particularly well because humans are also prone to what is known as “meowing”, especially when they are cranky or have a problem. So it’s quite easy to tune in to these cues from cats. And the cat, having seen the success of this means of communication, will use it in the future.

A cat meows only at humans

Interestingly, according to Braastad, the meowing of adult cats is a special language made specifically for humans, and not used between animals. This is so true that cats are able to extend it to the point where they use a range of vocal scales to communicate with humans. The professor thinks that cats can also make very pleasant meows, sounds that are usually intended for someone they really love. But they can also send a message that they don’t really want to be with you. But they will do so in a very different tone of voice.

Types of meowing

Susanne Schötz is currently working on a five-year project to research cat language. To this end, the voices of 70 cats and their owners have been filmed and recorded in different situations. The results clearly show that cats communicate in different vocal tones. The researchers observed that in positive situations, such as when they want to play, the tone of the meowing eventually increases. A similar sound is produced when a human asks a question. While, when they are experiencing negative emotions, distinctly deep sounds are observed. These results are based on biological codes. The high tones indicate love, harmlessness, kindness and a friendly approach, while the lower tones hide more aggressive or even fearful negative feelings.

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