Do you speak cat?
Many might correctly guess that a feline “meow” usually translates to “feed me” in English, and many pet experts agree, believing that their chattiness is actually a means of manipulation — a shameless trick to garner human attention.
But their inscrutable dispatches don’t end there: Cryptic kitties also send signals, through purring, hissing and, primarily, facial expressions — which can be difficult for humans to interpret.
“Anyone who writes cats off as sort of moody or distant is probably underestimating them,” said Georgia Mason, a veterinary researcher and author of a study analyzing humans’ ability to understand cats. Her work was published last month in the journal “Animal Welfare.”
She told Vice, “The point is they are signaling. It’s just subtle, and you need expertise — and maybe intuition — to see it.”
Mason and her colleagues were interested in gauging how accurately humans pick up on feline emotions written in their fuzzy little faces. Researchers asked more than 6,000 participants to watch 20 context-free cat clips, collected via veterinarians or YouTube, and to decide whether the featured feline was experiencing a negative or positive emotion.
The average number of correct responses was a disappointing 11.85 out of 20 — about as accurate as if they’d simply ventured a guess for every answer.
Nevertheless, researchers found a few cat whisperers in their participant pool — 15% of whom scored 15 or higher on the test. However, those intuitive folks were more likely to have had veterinary training.
Even cat owners had no advantage over the average person. According to Mason, this indicates that our furry friends’ furrowed brows are unique, so that a pet parent who becomes skilled at reading their own fur-baby’s face may not be as spot-on when it comes to understanding other felines.
Researchers also noted that women performed better than men, and younger participants tended to score higher than middle-aged ones.
According to Mason, data also show that cat owners are generally less bonded to their pets than dog owners — contributing to the sad outcome that, compared to dogs, cats are more likely to be neglected, abandoned and passed-over for adoption.
“We’re hoping [to conduct] more research to develop tools to help people read their cat better,” added Mason. “That would make living with a cat more rewarding.”