Tuesday, July 14, 2009


This comes as no surprise to us who have cats:

Instead of loud miaowing when they want food, behaviour likely to have them ejected from the bedroom, some cats disguise their cries for attention within an otherwise pleasant purr. The result, according to a study published tonight in the journal Current Biology, is a complex "solicitation" purr with a high-frequency element that triggers a sense of urgency in the human brain. Owners find it irritating, but not irritating enough to kick the cat out, and feel driven to respond.

Dr Karen McComb, a specialist in mammal vocal communication at the University of Sussex, said that by employing an embedded cry, cats appear to be exploiting innate tendencies that humans have for nurturing offspring.

"The embedding of a cry within a call that we normally associate with contentment is quite a subtle means of eliciting a response – and solicitation purring is probably more acceptable to humans than overt meowing," she said.

Several of my cat-owning friends have remarked on how their companions' cries reminded them of human babies. Our kittens, Alvin and Shasta, have yet to learn such feline subtleties. But when we had Maltese, Tara, and Desiree, our first cat generation, overnight visitors would sometimes wake up insisting that we had a baby in the house.

Maltese, our male, would only engage in gentle persuasion for so long. If he felt you were being slow in getting up to feed him his breakfast, he would jump up into bed and bite you on the nose.