Talking to your cat

Do you and your cat carry on long conversations together? Do you swear sometimes your cat is talking back to you and that all those different meows mean different things? If your answer is yes then you are in luck. Dr. Gary Weitzman, president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA, explains the ways cats talk to us in his new book “How to Speak Cat.”

The book hypothesizes cats have 16 different meows they use to communicate with humans. “There are probably one to two dozen different vocalizations per cat that we would classify as ‘meow’, Weitzman told Salon.com. “However, you couldn’t get a Webster’s dictionary or a Fodor’s translation cat-to-English or English-to-cat and define those meows, because they’re individual for every single cat.”

They have different ones for “feed me” or “let me out” or even “pay attention to me.” And no two meows are the same for all. “You can’t translate a particular meow as being universal for all cats, but every cat will make up to two dozen meow vocalizations that mean specific and consistent things,” Weitzman said. Cats have learned how to use these different meows to get what they want from their owners. So they really do have us trained.

Cats might use these meows to talk to us, but most of their communication to each other is nonverbal. Cats don’t pair up or socialize the same way dogs or other animals do. For example, feral cat colonies might be a place where there are many cats, but they don’t live on top of each other. They are pretty loud when they are young, but as they age they grow out of talking to each other.

“But they do with us, which I think is one of the most charming, wonderful things cats do. That proves there’s an incredible bond, because they vocalize to humans,” Weitzman said.

One of the other main ways cats communicate with us is through their eyes, specifically the slow eye-blink. “It really does represent affection and acceptance and it’s really a quite a gorgeous, subtle, physical movement that they do to show they’re comfortable with us. I think that’s really nice,” Weitzman said.

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