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From gentle head nudges to a quick flick of a tail, cats are masters of subtle communication.
But while most felines aren't too inclined to meow their opinions, there are some cats who are downright chatty.
According to Dr. Ilana Reisner, DVM, PhD, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist at Reisner Veterinary Behavior & Consulting Services in Media, Pa., if it's clear that the object of a cat’s meow is a human, she likely wants something.
“That might be anything from food to opening a door to an indirect communication of ‘worry’ about something else in the environment,” Dr. Reisner says, adding that your chatty kitty could also just be saying that she's happy to see you.
Each kitten is born with a “baseline noisiness,” Dr. Reisner says, noting that some Siamese and other Oriental breeds tend to be very chatty, which points to a genetic basis.
But the baseline can also be affected by experiences. “Vocal cats are usually vocal as juveniles and then through their lives, but learning plays an important role,” Dr. Reisner says.
Dr. Reisner believes that a high concentration of meows in some cats is likely due to human behavior. “For example, if meowing yields food, the food reinforces the vocalization, so the cat will meow again for food,” explains Dr. Reisner. “If food is never given in association with meows, the cat would be less vocal.”
If you talk to your kitty, and wish that she would talk back, Dr. Reisner says that this is possible — within the limits of a cat's individual behavior. “You can reinforce it with something positive, like opening a door if the cat wants to go through it or taking a toy down from a shelf,” she explains.
On the other hand, if your cat’s loose-lipped ways are wearing you down, Dr. Reisner suggests training her to be more reserved by “removing 100 percent of the reinforcement or teaching the cat to do something else for the food, like walking in a circle.” Plus, keep an eye out for less obvious ways that you may be reinforcing the behavior — such as giving your kitty attention when she gets too chatty.
Another thing to keep in mind: Although excessive meowing is often an attention-seeking behavior, it can sometimes indicate pain, anxiety or other medical issues. So when in doubt, consult your veterinarian.
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