by Barbara George, Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
All kittens mew to communicate with their mothers and siblings. Once they leave the safety of the family home, they no longer have any need to mew.
Studies have shown that only cats that come into regular contact with people meow – vocalising is the easiest way to communicate with us and the negative sounds of growling and hissing do not produce the results the cats are aiming for. Do they perhaps use this as an extension of the kitten mewing which alerted their mothers to their needs?
Wild cats use body language and scent to communicate, only using growling, hissing and yowling when necessary to communicate with other cats; there is no record of them meowing. Feral and stray cats that are monitored by people may develop a range of sounds.
Not all cats that meow do so in a range that we can hear. A cat may seem to us as though it is meowing, focusing on us with her mouth open, but we do not her a sound. The sound may be out of range for our ears, or really the ‘silent meow’.
Some cats will use chirps or chatter instead of meows. These generally have the same effect, getting attention and a reward.
There is a vast range of meows, each with its own purpose and meaning. Cats will adapt their vocalisation based on the way we respond to them, creating a complete language that is unique to each cat-person relationship.
Yes, there are cats that never meow, chirp or chatter to their human friends. This may be because the people understand the cat’s body language so there is no need for verbal communication. The cat may have damaged vocal cords, or too timid to make a sound.
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