Do cats really develop their own distinctive ways of ‘talking’ to their owners?
I like to think that my cat, Badger, is rather blessed in the handsomeness department – look at this distinguished gentleman, such luxuriant fur! And what beautiful eyes and magnificent whiskers. I’d recognise him anywhere, I like to think.
But he’s not much of a talker. I suppose he’s never had to get by on his small talk with beauty like that.
Rachael Lawrence, however, knew her cat’s voice so well that she could identify him down a phone line. Two-year-old Barnaby had been missing for eight months when Lawrence, from Braintree in Essex, said she “recognised” a miaow in the background when she rang the vet to check on her other cat Torvi, 11 months, who was in for a procedure.
She was told that the miaows were coming from a stray who’d been brought in, but she phoned back later and asked for details of the cat as its distinctive cry “was bugging me”, she said. Lawrence was so sure she could recognise her cat’s miaow that she called the vet again asking if the “stray” she had heard over the phone was black, with a white patch on one of his back feet.
When the surgery confirmed the description she took photographs of Barnaby to show to staff. She said she “knew it was him” as soon as he was brought into the room. Cue great rejoicing as Barnaby the chatty cat – or, a cynic might posit, a smooth-talking lookalike – was returned to the family home.
Could the average cat parent differentiate between miaows? “Yes definitely!,” says Sammy Milton. “My cat has a certain miaow when he has a ‘present’ for us. Nothing like working at your laptop and hearing that miaow coming through the flat, knowing you’re about to be presented with a dead squirrel.”
In fact, adult cats miaow only to humans, not to each other, so it’s not totally wild to be familiar with their vocalisations. And as with human voices, how a cat sounds when it “speaks” depends on a number of factors.
According to the Washington Post, the following have an effect: “anatomy, such as body size or length of vocal cords; gender; the amount of effort the cat puts into talking; and no small dash of personality”.
There’s one cat I’ve encountered who I could pick out blindfolded – a small, beige fellow who lives near my parents’ house. He has the most plaintive miaow, and it sounds exactly as though he is saying “now”. It feels as though you can have a bit of a chat with him.
Laura Laker tells me that “my sister used to have one who said ‘mack’ – very distinctive” while Regula Ysewijn insists that “I’d recognise my cats for sure! They all sound different.”
Heartbreakingly, she says that “listening to a recording of my dead cat is like listening to someone you once knew”.
Do cats have accents? Not exactly. One study of South Korean cats found that domestic felines make shorter and higher-pitched miaows than feral cats, suggesting that socialisation matters.
Researcher turned novelist Nicholas Nicastro, who published two studies on miaows in the noughties, discovered that African wild cats make lower miaows that human subjects he surveyed found to be “much less pleasant to listen to” than those of their domesticated descendants.
And cats have a wide vocabulary of sounds – according to Modern Cat Magazine, next to birds, cats possess the widest range of vocalisations of any domestic pet. As well as miaows, they can chirp, yowl, purr, scream, chatter, hiss, growl, trill and chirrup. It’s amazing we can get a word in edgeways.
(Story source: Inews)