Monday 21 March 2011

Cat Talk

I 'd like to write about a particular aspect of cat talk and the popular videos that are built on it. I am not talking about us talking to cats in cat language. I am talking about cats talking to cats in cat language.

The particular sound that I would like to write about is the sound that cats make when they confront another cat that has entered their territory or home range and they want to get the intruding cat to leave their territory without a fight.

The language cats use to communicate this message is very particular and of amusement to people. That is why there are a good number of high hitting videos on YouTube that show cats using these sounds. People sometimes add human language to the sound because they are somewhat similar to those that we make as humans. Well not exactly, but they are so different to the usual hiss and meow as to be surprising.

It appears that you could categorize cat sounds into three brackets:
  1. the purr,
  2. the sound that I am writing about in this article and which is almost impossible to describe in words and
  3. the hiss or growl.
The cat talk that I am referring to is an intermediate sound and it accompanies the flattening of the ears. Ears are flattened to protect them from an impending fight. In wildcats the flattening of the ears also shows the ocelli or spot on the back of the ear flat which is a signal to the opposing cat that this cat means business and to clear off (see cat body language).

How far can and do we go when communicating with our cat?

I am yet to see any explanation from scientists on this intermediate sound. The sound could be described as: aohhuu...with long drawn out vowels. Here is the video:

Prevention is the best medicine for your pet's health.The hiss is meant to mimic the snake. The purr is a signal of contentment and more (i.e. not always a sign of contentment). The aohhuu sound is a very clear statement to the other cat to leave the territory without a fight.

The recipient of the aohhuu sound nearly always stands his or her ground for a considerable time and either (a) returns the sound (b) returns the sound but less forcefully or (c) is silent.

After perhaps several minutes the recipient/intruder either backs off slowly - almost in slow motion - or stands and fights. It appears that the usual scenario is that the intruder gets the message and reluctantly goes. When departing they walk in slow motion. This is probably to retain face and status. They don't want to lose face but also don't want to risk injury in a fight. Domestic cats think like wildcats and in the wild an injury might well mean death as hunting prey may become limited leading to starvation.

I have written about cat sounds quite extensively on other pages:

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