Why do cats meow at people? Scientists have found an unexpected reason

Anna BoklajukNews
Most cats meow only to people. Source: freepik.com

Although cats have a fairly large vocabulary of specific sounds, meowing is not really the main one they use with other cats. But it is how they communicate with humans.

If you have a cat, you've definitely noticed that you can talk to it. Your cat meows at you and you say something or even meow back. But for cats, this is not just communication, it's a way to get attention and get what the cat wants from humans, Inverse writes.

Meowing first appears in kittens who are trying to get their mother's attention.

"We see meowing in kittens when they are demanding care from their mothers. And then we also see it in adult cats, mainly directed at human caregivers," says Mikel Delgado, a Sacramento-based cat behavior consultant.

From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that kittens have evolved to meow at their mothers, asking for attention, whether they are hungry or in danger. When humans began to domesticate cats about 12,000 years ago, cats realized that they could also elicit a response from humans through meowing.

Why do cats meow at people? Scientists have found an unexpected reason

Humans tend to respond when cats meow at us, which creates a cycle that cats learn: the cat meows and the human does something. If the cat meows at the door, the person will open it; if the cat meows over its bowl, the person will feed it; if the cat meows anytime and anywhere, the person will pay attention to it. In fact, our cat trains us, just as we train our cat. So be careful how you react when your cat meows, because you will make her associate certain behaviors.

Why do cats meow at people? Scientists have found an unexpected reason

Cats are very good at distinguishing sounds, even from their humans. A 2023 study published in the journal Animal Cognition showed that cats can distinguish speech directed specifically at them from speech directed at other people when sentences are spoken by their owners. However, when cats hear a stranger's voice, they do not distinguish who is being spoken to. These discoveries add a new dimension to the relationship between humans and cats, as they imply the development of a special communication between humans and cats based on experience.

Of course, the cat-human dialog is not unique. There have been other cases where mammals have responded to the cries of another species. For example, Delgado says that deer have been known to respond to the cries of human babies. It's likely that "distress calls from different species tend to have very similar frequencies." Animals of all types use sounds to communicate - it is not surprising that sometimes this communication occurs between species.

Thus, there does not always have to be a motivation behind meowing. Some cats meow simply because they like to communicate with their humans. "I think some cats really like to know that we pay attention to them," the expert says.

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