NINE LIVES BY STACY N. HACKETT
Jack takes his role as “spokes- cat” of my household seriously. At mealtime, the
7-year-old stands at my feet, meowing to remind me to fill his bowl first,
then the bowl of 3-year-old Phillip.
He chirps his contentment when my
kids and I scratch that special spot
behind his ears, and he chatters at the
birds at the feeder in the backyard.
Phillip, on the other hand, speaks
up only occasionally — most frequently when he loses track of where
we are. His long “merrooww” can be
heard throughout the house, and he
keeps it up until we call to him from
whatever room we’re in.
We’re accustomed to their vocalizations, and we frequently talk back
to them to encourage human-feline
conversations. Becoming familiar
with your cat’s typical “vocabulary” is
an important part of cat ownership,
said Jane Brunt, D.V.M., because if
your cat starts making different noises, it could indicate a medical issue.
“Knowing what’s normal for cats in
general … is important,” she said. “That
way, when the cat exhibits behavior
that’s different from ‘normal,’ you can
respond appropriately. An obvious
example is vocalizing when the cat
has altered urinary function.”
Kittens use meows and other vocalizations to communicate with their
mothers and other caregivers. These
meows typically indicate when a kitten is hungry, cold, or unsure of her
When Jack was a kitten, we lived
in a two-story house. If we were
upstairs and Jack was downstairs, he
would meow over and over until we
walked downstairs to comfort him.
Don’t worry: As a kitten grows
accustomed to her environment, she
might meow to reassure herself that
her mother or caretaker is nearby.
Be concerned: Loud, plaintive
meows that sound different from
your kitten’s typical vocalizations
could mean she’s in pain. Take her to
the vet as soon as possible.
As kittens grow older, though,
they tend to meow less when they
are in the exclusive company of
other cats (unless they are angry or
upset — then they will growl and
hiss). Some studies indicate that cats
learn to meow with humans because
we respond to — and reward—the
“It’s been reported that cats don’t
‘speak’ to each other, though it’s normal for cats to vocalize when threatened by an intruder or predator, and
they don’t have an escape route,” Dr.
Brunt said. “On the other hand, with
people, they often <i>do<i> speak. Pet
cats often vocalize when they desire
food, and since they frequently get
rewarded, the behavior is reinforced.”
You might notice that your adult cat
has his own repertoire of meows