Words and Sounds My Cats Know


As a communications expert, I think it’s important to acknowledge both inter-human and cross-species messages. While my cats might not have the detailed awareness of the English language I do, they know enough to get what they want – which is mostly (but not always) some type of food.

Their Names
When you have three cats, it’s important that they recognise their own names. In order for this to be possible, they need to be different enough so that the cats don’t get confused. It’s just horse shit luck that they ended up that way because I name my cats after their attributes – Kiwi, the all black (a New Zealand reference, for those who don’t get it – you can look it up), Mia (who didn’t have a proper name for a long time – I just called her Mama, and still do, but I didn’t think it was something I could put on the council’s cat registration form without embarrassment) and Jock (who was the most athletic kitten I’d ever seen and is also black and white so was named after the famous Collingwood coach – go Magpies!).

Breakfast, Dinner, Snack, Nom Noms
All of these words, once uttered, have them racing for the kitchen pantry where they know their cat food is stored.

Whether this is in relation to the kitchen bench (the one and only place I don’t allow my cats to climb up on) or my lap, “down” usually has the desired effect. In the first situation, it’s a stern reprimand and in the second, it’s a gentle warning about upcoming cat displacement, which is what makes me think they know the word. They’re not just responding to a tone.

This word is only recognised by Kiwi because he is the only cat that likes to snuggle, which means he gets under the covers with me in the morning, curls into the curve of my body and gets snuggly. My first cat used to do this. She was quite old when I got her so I wonder if it’s something older cats like to do to make the most of their human’s body heat.

My Car’s Engine
My cats spend most of the day sleeping so I know they don’t just sit around waiting for me to get back when I go out. But a lot of time when I come up the driveway in my car, there is Kiwi looking out the window next to the front door, and there is Mia behind the blinds next to the garage and there is Jock peering down from my bedroom window. They seem to recognise the sound of my car’s engine, which makes sense to me because it’s the sort of thing humans do, too.

The Kitchen Pantry Door Opening
I should really get around to fixing this but the kitchen pantry door squeaks when I open it so there’s no opening it in secret. And regardless of whether I’m opening it for myself or for the cats, they come racing as soon as they hear that squeak – even if it’s not breakfast or dinner time – in the hopes they can score some food.

The Clink of the Spoon on the Glass When I’m Making Chocolate Milk
This is another Kiwi specific one. He loves to drink chocolate milk – any milk really – and the sound of the spoon clinking on the side of the glass as I stir the chocolate in makes him come running. He’s a big cat and is on a perpetual diet (my choice in conjunction with the vet, definitely not his) so he takes any opportunity he can to score extra food. This includes stealing my dinner when I get up and walk away from the plate momentarily to answer the phone. He is the most food motivated cat I have ever known.

The Opening of the Bag Containing the Grated Cheese
Perhaps not surprisingly, the sound of the grated cheese bag snaplocking open is also Kiwi-specific. He always comes running when he hears it. Meat and dairy are his two weaknesses. Jock’s favourite is canned asparagus (don’t ask). Mia doesn’t give her secrets away as easily but so far she doesn’t seem as food motivated as the boys. Maybe she’s watching her figure.


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