According to Dr. Paola Cueves, a veterinarian at ExcitedCats.com, “studies have found that meowing is a tool for cats to communicate emotional states to their owners—but our interpretation is limited to our experience with our cats and influenced by our affinity towards them.”
Dr. Tabitha Henson, another veterinarian from ExcitedCats, relates, “I definitely know my cat’s different meows. She has one asking for food, one when she’s excited and has caught a bug or critter, one when she’s stressed in the car (and about to vomit), and one when she sees a stray cat out of the window.”
So, one key to understanding your cat is likely listening carefully and paying attention to the context. Owners should also pay close attention to body language as well.
Can technology help us better communicate with our cats?
New technology and apps like MeowTalk claim to help tell us more about our cat’s meows. Since each cat’s meow is unique to their relationship with their owner, the vocalizations are not compared with a central database but rather tailored to each individual cat. In other words, the app must learn what your cat’s meow means via your input.
This creates a lot of space for the interpretation of different cat owners rather than standardized and likely more accurate data. Dr. Cueves notes that “while something similar could be done in a professionally controlled context and might have some interesting results, in real life, people are forcing cats to vocalize—putting cats in abnormal situations, and even meowing themselves. The algorithm will, of course, be negatively affected by this.”
If cats primarily use meowing to communicate with humans, should we be worried if they’re not meowing or meowing a lot?
Dr. Cueves says no—most of the time. “Some cats are simply quiet and that’s alright, too. On the other hand, if your cat usually meows frequently and has stopped doing so, you should make an effort to find out what is going on.”
Dr. Henson says meowing too much is not typically an issue either. “Just make sure your cat’s needs are being met and have them checked out for any underlying health problems. Some cats are just chatterboxes!”
Learning to communicate with your cat takes a concerted effort on your part, and with some time and dedication, it’s certainly possible to get more accurate over time.