How well do you understand your cat’s meows?
A study performed by Dr. Nicholas Nicastro, Ph.D., revealed that cat owners could successfully identify the meaning of a cat’s meow 4 times out of 10. The study participants were asked to identify the meaning of the meow in a more general sense (e.g., is the cat happy, discontent, etc.) and they were also asked to translate the cat’s meow in a more specific sense (e.g., Is the cat asking for food? Is the cat injured? Annoyed? Content?)
Dr. Nicastro did his doctoral thesis on humans’ ability to understand meows. The study participants were asked to identify the meaning of the cat’s meow only; they were not provided with any visual cues or context. When provided with visual context, the meow translations are even more accurate. The individuals who didn’t own cats scored much lower on the tests.
Notably, cats who are born and live in the wild — feral cats — do not use meowing to communicate with humans (though some individuals may develop this habit later in life if the feral is successfully tamed and domesticated.) This fact, in addition to many others discovered through research studies, has led many scientists to believe that cats have specifically developed a language intended for exclusive use with humans.