You come home from work, and your cat greets you enthusiastically. Along with rubbing your legs, she meows in that special voice youve come to know and love.
Perhaps she simply wants to say hello using her own vocabulary of chirps, brrutts or erows, or she may be letting you know its time to eat, play or groom.
Vocalizing is a method of cat communication in both wild and domestic cats, says Joanna Guglielmino, DVM, of The Cat Doctor Veterinary Center in Federal Way, Washington.
Why Your Cat Talks
Cats may vocalize when they greet another cat in what is the feline equivalent of a high-five. The vocal patterns are generally light and friendly. Cats greet in acknowledgment, says Dr. Guglielmino. Its almost a murmur or chirp.
Cats vocalize when they play, and females use vocal sounds to communicate with their offspring. Kittens and their mothers communicate through distinct sounds called murmur patterns, says Dr. Guglielmino. Mating cats vocalize, but the pitch is higher and more stressed, almost a wail.
Anxiety or fear may elicit vocal responses from cats. Cats may vocalize more in the veterinarians office, or they may growl or shriek when they detect certain smells or sounds from other cats, says Dr. Guglielmino.
Some cats – like some people – talk more than others. The Oriental breeds, such as the Siamese, are very social and talkers, says Dr. Guglielmino. Anyone who has heard the raspy, deep-throated meow of a Siamese is likely not to forget the sound. But vocalizing is not limited to pedigreed cats. Randomly bred domestic cats may also have the gift of gab.
Vocalization accompanied by an arched back and puffed coat means the cat is extremely stimulated, such as before an altercation with another cat. If your cats vocal patterns take on a different pitch or loudness, and the whole tone is one of distress, he may be trying to tell you that something is wrong. If the cat has always been a chatter, then thats normal, says Dr. Guglielmino. Its the quiet cat that isnt in your face with meows that suddenly does become vocal that has to be dealt with. The increased crying may be accompanied by a change in behavior patterns providing added clues that something is amiss.
Is There a Problem?
Know how much talking is normal for your cat. If changes occur in the amount, persistence, tone, or volume or your cats cries, see a veterinarian first. A medical condition may be causing your cat to cry out. For example, if there is an abrupt change in vocal patterns accompanied by loud painful cries, especially if the behavior occurs while the cat is in the litter box, the cause may be a urinary tract blockage. You need to get attention right away, says Dr. Guglielmino.
As a general rule, cats become more talkative as they age. Diseases or conditions commonly affecting cats ages eight to 10 and above, such as hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, brain tumors or hearing loss may result in increased vocalizations. Injury or arthritis generally do not. Very few cats that are in pain from traumatic injuries cry out, says Dr. Guglielmino.
Changes in behavior among older cats may indicate cognitive dysfunction, a form of senility, if no other medical cause can be determined. The cat suffering from cognitive dysfunction may be more vocal and seemingly cry for no reason. As cats age, the potential for them to handle stresses well as they did when they were younger diminishes, says Dr. Guglielmino.
Sometimes cats just need more attention and want to let you know about it. Make sure their environment is enriched, advises Dr. Guglielmino. Interactive toys, climbing trees and window perches with views onto bird feeders can add excitement to an indoor cats day. Fishing pole toys, laser mice or other safe toys ensure that your cat will get enough exercise which should result in decreased pestering. You can also try leaving a radio on for your cat when youre not home, advises Dr. Guglielmino.
If you want your cat to cry less for treats, dont reinforce the behavior. Reinforce positive behavior by giving treats when your cat is not pestering you. If you cant get your cat to quiet down, use time outs by putting him in a spare room until he settles down, advises Dr. Guglielmino.
No matter how much your cat vocalizes, he may be trying to tell you something, so being a good listener is the first step to detecting and solving the problem.