Every day, your cat walks into your office, looks at you indignantly, and emits a discouraged “meow.” You may not speak cat, but its meaning is clear: “You haven’t fed me yet, you monster!” »
Domestic cats are unique in the way they use their voice to communicate with their human companions – they rarely meow at each other. So what makes our feline friends so chatty with us?
The answer has to do with domestication, experts told Live Science.
Before cats moved in with humans almost 10,000 years ago, they were solitary, wrote John Bradshaw and Charlotte Cameron-Beaumont in the book “The Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behavior” (Cambridge University Press 2000). Because these ancestral cats rarely encountered other members of their own species, they did not need to use their voices to communicate. Instead, these feral cats communicated through their sense of smell, or by rubbing or urinating on objects like trees. This way, the cats didn’t have to come face-to-face with other fiery felines to send a message. It’s still largely how cats communicate with each other, said John Wright, a psychologist who studies animal behavior at Mercer University in Georgia..
“Why use vocalization when it is so effective to use the other senses? Wright told Live Science.
But humans don’t have a keen sense of smell like felines. (And we’re unlikely to appreciate a cat spraying urine on a new couch.) So cats communicate with their humans in the way most likely to get what they want: by meowing. “They’re manipulative,” Wright said. “Voice communication becomes a tool. »
Many cats even develop a repertoire of meows to express different needs and feelings or elicit different responses. For example, your cat may greet you, squeal a friendly request to go out, or demand food with a loud meow.
Meowing at humans is partly a learned behavior. All cats meow like kittens to get their mother’s attention when they are hurt, cold or she accidentally sits on them. While domestic cats carry this behavior into adulthood, feral cats (domestic cats without owners who live outdoors) usually outgrow it. A study published in the journal Behavioral processes, found that feral cats were much more likely to growl or hiss than domestic cats that had owners. When feral cats mewed, it was blind – in humans, dolls and dogs. Domestic cats meowed much more often, and only in humans, suggesting that they developed meowing as a language specifically for their owners. In other words, your cat is meowing at you because he realized early on that it was getting your attention.
If you’re curious about what your cat has to say, it’s possible to encourage communication, Wright said. If humans respond with words and attention to the chirps and meows of their cats, they can create a back and forth – almost like a conversation. “If you make your responses positive enough and predictive enough that she can listen to your vocalization, then she [the cat] may attempt to communicate with you,” Wright said.