How can I get my cat to talk back to me?

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In many cases, the real question is how can I get my cat to stop talking? Owners of highly vocal breeds like the Siamese, or an older cat who is exhibiting the phenomenon of night howling would really like kitty to take a vow of silence. The “simple” answer is that in most cases if you attempt to talk to your cat in “felinese,” he will likely answer in kind, although he will be laughing behind his paw and how badly you’re butchering is mother tongue.

The stock standard “meow,” however, is not the best way to go about getting a response from your cat. Adult cats don’t meow at each other, or at least not in the way people think about the “meow.” That is a sound that mother cats reserve for their babies. Cats have much more complex vocalizations, including some sounds that are pitched at frequencies too high for the human ear to detect.

In general, listen for murmuring sounds that include the purr and the distinctive “trill.” The meow falls into what linguists call the “vowel pattern,” but a cat’s meow can cross several diphthongs, which is technically defined as a “gliding vowel.” Pay close attention and you’ll soon realize what you thought was a single meow is one of many that are all appropriate to the cat’s current circumstances or interaction with other cats in the household.

Articulated chirps and chatters are usually in response to frustration, for instance the “clacking” sound a house cat makes when he’s staring at a bird through the window. Finally, hisses and growls fall under the heading of “strained intensity patterns” and are not the kind of conversation you want to be having with your cat.

Spend some time learning the sounds your cat typically makes, and then give it a try. You’ll be surprised how readily your cat will respond. The better you get at imitating his vocalizations, the more he will answer, although neither of you will likely have any idea what the other is saying!

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