Lost in translation – do you know what your cat is really trying to tell you?

‘Miaow!’ One simple word, so many possible meanings. Is she happy? Is she hungry? Is she scared? It’s all in the tone in which it’s delivered. And that’s just the miaow – researchers have documented 19 different vocal patterns in domestic cats ranging from purrs to chirps to growls, along with countless body language cues. Do you really know how to interpret them? Test your feline language skills below…

1) A deep, rhythmic purr
We’ll start with an easy one – a purr means she’s happy, right? Possibly, but that may not always be the case. In fact, cats purr for many reasons. Young kittens and mother cats purr during nursing, possibly as a way of maintaining contact and communicating contentment. Adult cats purr when they’re in the company of other cats or humans that they are friendly with, especially during grooming or petting or resting together. And as most cat owners probably already know, they also purr when they want something. This ‘solicitation’ purr contains some of the high frequency peaks also found in a human baby’s cry, and it is commonly thought that cats use this to their advantage when asking for food at 5am. But what many people don’t know is that cats will sometimes also purr when they are nervous or even painful. We don’t know exactly why they do it, but the important thing to remember is that purring doesn’t necessarily mean that a cat is happy, you need to look at the rest of their body language for clues. Think of it like a human smile – we do it when we’re happy, but also when we want something or when we’re nervous….

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