Psychologists say 80 percent of communication among humans is body language and only 20 percent is the spoken word. This is so true of cats and dogs as well. They use their whole bodies to convey thoughts and emotions, but they do have some vocal skills too.
It's impossible to know exactly how many different sounds and variations of sounds animals make. There are some cats, such as Siamese, who sound like a newborn baby crying when they meow, something these notoriously vociferous cats do often. There are some dogs who sound more like a canary chirping than the wolves from which they are descended. Dogs and cats use their ability to vocalize for different reasons and they use different sounds depending upon whose attention they are trying to attract. If they are "talking" to their humans, dogs and cats often use several of the same sounds over and over again and they can mean anything from "feed me" to "for heaven's sake, will you sit down and become a human dog or cat bed!" There are vocalizations animals use when speaking to others of their own kind, called intraspecific communication. These vocalizations mean anything from "you're cute, let's go" to "stay away from me, you feline freak!"
As a species, canines have hundreds of ranges of vocalizations. However, each dog individually only has a few vocal sounds he can make to get his needs met. Dogs growl, whine, bark, cry, whimper, yelp, howl, yowl, bay, snarl, yip and yap. They do these things for a variety of reasons and since dogs are creatures of habit and learn very quickly what works and what doesn't, if they try a sound and it gets the job done, they will do it again. For example, if your dog barks by the door and you take that to mean he has to go outside, then take him outside, he will repeat that behavior. Growling is a misunderstood vocalization. Sometimes it is a warning sound that clearly means, "stay away." Other times, however, it can simply mean "I need something and I am just not sure how to communicate this to you so I'm trying all the skills I have."
Cats also have a variety of sounds in their quiver that shoot straight to the heart of what they are trying to convey. Some cats have deep, resounding meows that command respect and attention. Others have tiny, broken meows that elicit teasing from all the other cats. Cats also purr, chirp, snarl, growl, spit and hiss to get their points across. The number of vocalizations cats have is as big and varied as the number of cats in the world and they all have their own distinctive sound. Cats rarely meow with one another, that sound is reserved for their human friends and is meant to convey a very specific meaning.
What's the Buzz?
So what's all this chattering mean? Since animals rarely expend energy unnecessarily, every vocalization has some kind of purpose. Cats can scream and shriek if surprised, hurt or fearful. They can hiss, growl and spit when angry. Cats purr when contented or anxious. They meow to say hello or to express hunger or loneliness. Dogs whine or cry when they feel tormented, lonely, hungry or frightened, growl and snarl when angered, bark for reasons sometimes known only to them, and some dogs, like basset hounds and beagles, bay like a wolf howls at the moon. Most pet owners recognize, and react accordingly, to the sounds their beloved companion animals make. Some have even taught their dogs to "say" something that sounds a lot like "I love you," as evidenced by the plethora of Youtube videos these proud owners have posted.
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