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How Cats and Dogs Communicate

Image of a barking dog trying to get attention

Cats and Dogs: What are they Saying?

Cats and Dogs are both intelligent animals that are able to communicate with us to express their needs. Even though we may not understand what they’re saying, they clearly communicate in different ways.

Dogs primarily use vocalizations such as barking, whining, and growling to communicate with humans or other dogs. These vocalizations can indicate excitement, fear, pain, hunger, or even just a need for attention. They may also use body language, such as lowering their head or wagging their tail, to communicate their feelings.

Cats, on the other hand, primarily rely on body language to express themselves. Flattened ears, hissing, and tail twitching can all be indicators of cats communicating fear or aggression. Both cats and dogs will also rub up against people or objects to mark their territory.

Humans also use body language and facial expressions to communicate with cats and dogs, such as smiling, speaking in a gentle voice, or making eye contact. This helps cats and dogs understand that we’re friendly and can help them to build a better bond with us.

Why Cats and Dogs Meow and Bark

Our pets are always chatty, with more than enough to say. They each make their own kinds of sounds. For example, dogs will growl, bark and whine, while cats will purr, hiss and meow, often at various volumes. Clearly they’re making an attempt to communicate with us, but of course in a language that none of us speak.

As our pets depend on us, they may use these sounds and noises as a way to not just communicate, but also to control us to some degree. When a cat jumps on your lap and meows, they usually want food. When a dog barks, they most likely want to play or go outside. Of course, we don’t have the answers, but these certain vocalizations do have some meaning behind them.

So, what’s behind all of this meowing and barking? Are our pets just chatty and like to make noise just because they can? One theory, and probably the most plausible one, is that they want our attention. Some dogs may just like to bark for no real reason. For cats, they may want food, or they want to be pet.

Another idea is that cats and dogs use different types of vocalizations based on how they feel at that particular moment. For example, a dog may use a happy sounding bark if they’re happy and a sad one if they feel down. A lot of this may also rely on the expression in their face and eyes.

Also, dogs and cats will offer different sounding meows and barks, as they’re attempting to communicate something specific to you. A dog may bark excessively trying to say “Let me outside or I’ll poop on the floor.” A cat may meow more aggressively to tell you “Feed me or I’ll spray the walls.”

But are these sounds a specific language in which our pets are trying to express something? It’s very likely.

How Cats Communicate

The Nicastro Study

In 2002 Nicholas Nicastro, a student at Cornell University, conducted a study that sought to understand the different variations in cats’ meows and how people reacted to them. Nicastro recorded hundreds of different cat sounds, including:

  • A cat wanting to be fed
  • An angry cat being brushed
  • A cat purring while rubbing against its owner
  • A cat crying to be released from a room
  • A cat running back and forth inside a car

Nicastro played his recordings to individuals who had a familiarity with cats, but had no connection to the actual cats that were recorded. Participants were asked if they could tell, based on the recordings, what type of situation the cats were experiencing.

Based on the recordings, participants were able to only correctly match 41% of the specific sounds or meows they heard. They were also unable to recognize that one cat’s meow resembled another cat in a smilier situation. Therefore, one cat crying for food apparently doesn’t sound any more like another cat seeking for food than if it just wants attention. Some listeners were also unable to differentiate if the cats were feeling good or bad; many for them perceived the meows as sounding negative.

Based on this study, it’s clear that cats use meows to communicate with us, but we’re not entirely sure of their emotional state from the sounds that they make. Nicastro claimed that domestication has allowed cats to meow to people, but the meows alone do not signify specific requests Meowing may be seen as a form of provocation.

However, if you have cats, you clearly have developed a rapport with them and have a tendency to understand what in fact they are trying to communicate, without fully understanding it. While cats may not be as vocal as dogs when it comes to verbal communication, cats are still able to express themselves in a variety of ways.

Cat Communication through Body Language, Vocalization and Scent

Cats communicate primarily through body language, and they can convey a range of emotions through their postures, facial expressions, and movements. Their tail, ears, eyes, and whiskers all provide important signals regarding cats’ feelings or intentions. For example, cats that tuck their tails between their legs may be feeling scared or uncomfortable; cats that arch their backs may be expressing aggression; cats that blink slowly may be showing love; cats that approach with a lowered head may be trying to make friends.

Cats also communicate through vocalizations, including purring, meowing, chirping, and hissing. Purring is cats’ way of expressing contentment or pleasure; cats that are playing with one another may also purr. Meowing is cats’ main form of verbal communication, which cats may use to express a range of emotions from happiness to distress. Cats also chirp and trill, which cats may use to communicate with their human companions; cats may also use this sound when playing or when trying to find one another in the house. Hissing is cats’ way of expressing aggression or fear.

Cats may also communicate through scent marking, which cats use to claim their territory. Scent marking can take the form of urine spraying, scratching, or rubbing objects with their faces. Cats that are feeling anxious may urinate outside of the litter box to mark their territory and feel more secure in their environment.

How Dogs Communicate

Dogs use a variety of barks for many different reasons. Barking is one of the most common forms that dogs use to communicate. Barks can range from high pitched yips when excited, or sharp barks when warning of danger or intruders. They can also use different types of barks depending on the situation, such as a short bark to alert their owners that someone is at the door.

Dogs, like cats, also use body language to communicate with people and other dogs. The position of their ears, eyes and tails can indicate whether they are feeling relaxed or alert. They may also use body postures to express dominance or submission towards other dogs or humans. Dogs may wag their tail when they are excited or fearful, and dogs may also curl their lips or growl when feeling threatened.

Dog Communication Through Facial Expressions

Facial expressions are another manner in which dogs communicate with humans, such as blinking slowly and licking their lips to show they trust someone. They’ll also tend to look away when they are feeling anxious or scared.

Vocalizations are another way dogs communicate with humans and other dogs. Barking and whining are two of the most common ways for them to get their point across. They may use these sounds to express excitement or fear, or to alert owners of danger.

Dogs also communicate through scent. They have a powerful sense of smell that they use to detect predators as well as food sources. Dogs can also recognize individual dogs and humans by their scent, and use it to build relationships.

In addition to these communication methods, dogs are very sensitive to their owners’ tones of voice and body language. Therefore, dogs can be attuned to their owner’s mood and respond accordingly.

Overall, dogs are incredibly effective communicators with humans as well as other dogs. Through their various forms of communication, dogs can convey their needs, emotions, and intentions to those around them. With the right understanding of canine communication, owners can better understand their four-legged companions and develop deeper bonds with them.

Of course there’s no question that our cats and dogs communicate with us, but, we can only gauge so much. If you feel that your cat or dog is trying to communicate something with you, such as pain or an underlying health issue, please feel free to contact us.