Ever wondered why your fine frisky feline sounds like she has an internal combustion engine revving her motor when she purrs? We like to think of heart-shaped coals of contentment combusting inside her, but there's a scientific reason (not surprising really) for "the purr" that involves the voice box, the laryngeal muscles, and the neural oscillator in the brain. Still sounds pretty awesome, right?
Cats actually make a whole lot of different noises. They can vocalise up to 100 sounds, second only to birds when it comes to being sonorous. Different breeds of cat are known for their varying degrees of chit-chat. If you want to have some serious one-on-one, the slinky Siamese are quite famous for their vocalisation, er, skills. What also makes talking about cat-calls interesting is many fall into the category of "onomatopoeia". No, not some rare disease you should know about; onomatopoeia is when a word sounds like the sound - for example "puuurrrrrrrr" sounds like "purr", chiiirrrring sounds like chirring, "meeeeooow" sounds like... well, you get the picture.
Purring is an amazing thing because it is a continuous sound, happening while your cat breathes in and out. (And musicians train for years getting curricular breathing right!) Domesticated cats have a purring frequency of 20 to 30 vibrations per second and each cat's purr is kinda unique - so your fabulous furry Felix is even more "one of a kind" than you thought. :-)
Just picturing a little kitten purring happily makes us want to curl up contentedly and purr too. But it's not always a sound that means everything is hunky dory in cat-land. Cats also purr when they're anxious (or in some cases, waiting to be fed - but that could also be defined as anxiety, right?) The "anxious purr" may be accompanied by a symphony of "lurps" and "yowps" (there's that onomatopoeia again). Research also suggests that cats purr to comfort themselves and help with healing, if they are in pain; in fact some research suggests that the purring of a cat can help us humans with healing too, if we're close enough to it, often enough. Such a reassuring concept, we might be tempted to try a bit of purring ourselves.
Meowing starts during kitten-hood between kittens and mom but becomes more of a cat-human communication as cats get older. Feline lovers (and come on, who isn't?!) will tell you that their gifted cat can communicate many different things through their meows. From "pet-me-now" to "feed-me-now" to "something's-not-right". You'll find your feline is quite stoical when it comes to being sick and hiding her feelings. So watch out for the "something's-not-right" meow - if it's persistent and Felix has no appetite, it's time for a visit to the vet.
Chirring & Chattering
The "chiiiiirrrr" is a lovely trilling sound - in between a meow and a purr. We like to think of it as Feline for "foxy greetings to you, you amazing human being". And when it comes to chattering, did you know that your Felix is an avid ornithologist? You can tell this by the way he chatters excitedly while sitting by the window watching birds (nothing to do with wanting to eat them, of course.)
Calling is more a communication between cats and may mean "foxy greetings to you, you interesting cat" and lead to a flirtation between females and males or sometimes (when there's not so much love involved) cat fights. You'll know when you hear the sound of a "call" - the cat keeps her mouth closed, it's loud and can sound oddly rhythmic to the untrained ear (for the first 20 seconds or so). There is also a variation of calling called caterwauling (used for the way humans communicate sometimes, too). This is not so pleasant cat-speak and highly distinctive (especially at 2am), also meaning "I want to mate" or "I want to fight". Either way, it will keep you up at night, "rest" assured.
When you see snarling and hissing in action you might wonder where your mild-mannered Felix has disappeared to. Well, he's still around, but sometimes he needs to show off some serious defence mechanisms. Witness a cat confronting a dog and see who often comes off the surprising victor. Word to the wise: in the presence of a cat raised to full height, puffed-up, hissing and spitting, it's best we all back down. :-)
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As much as we get to know our cuddly, complicated cats, there will always be an air of feline mystery that surrounds them. And that's what makes then such an enticing enigma, right? No more so than when you receive a dead mouse as a gift and a butt in the face to say "I love you". But that's another story...
Love... and other stuff too